I've been anxiously awaiting East by Northeast since I first heard about it in the early fall. It did not disappoint.
They open at 5. We arrived around 5:30 and found the place completely empty. They are going to do fine, and I appreciate that they did not go the route of trying to get a DailyCandy post and have the place swamped from the getgo. Opening with less noise is smarter for them and better for us, I think.
The pickled veggies (daikon, beet, and rutabaga) were perfect. The sweet potato fritters were fine, but the amuse bouche of seafood fritters was better. The scallion pancake was well-fried and not greasy, but the star of that dish was the tasty roasted garlic sauce. The man tou bread with pork belly was outstanding. It compared well to the exemplary version of the dish at Shangri-La in Belmont, but had a deeper pork flavor with a great crispness on the edges.
The hand-rolled short rice noodles were a very pleasant surprise, one of the stars of the night. The noodles are similar to gnocchi, the chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the daikon provided a fabulous contrast. It's one of those dishes that is comforting in a very familiar way, even though you've never had anything quite like it. We did not get a thick noodle dish off the menu because they had a special of smoked pork meatball noodle soup with the same noodles. Great smokiness in the broth, and the noodles had a great toothsome quality. Other specials we ordered included fried Maine shrimp with smoked salt and pepper - very strong, great touch with the frying; and a braised pork shoulder with sticky rice - great texture on the pork, but needed a bit more seasoning.
The dumplings. The early reports about this restaurant and the painstaking efforts to develop the right dumpling dough are what really excited me about the place. The pork dumplings had a great wrapper and the squash puree with the five spice jus was delicious. This will be a fun dish to watch as the chef likely rotates in another seasonal vegetable. The filling, however, needed a bit more punch. The shrimp dumplings, on the other hand, had no such deficiencies. They were easily one of the best dumplings I have ever had.
Atmosphere is very simple with probably about 25 seats and 4 bar seats. They smartly have two heavy curtains up to block drafts from coming in - something all small restaurants without a vestibule should do (you hear that, Coppa?). Service was very friendly and quick - no problems whatsoever.
The Cilantro/lime soda was unimpressive, decent cilantro flavor but too much sugar and not enough lime. I wish prices were a bit lower given the small portion size, but it's still a good value. Dinner for four with two drinks each was $145 before tip. I don't mind paying that much, a premium is fine, especially when they are getting their meats from the awesome Vermont Quality Meats.
Given the quality of the food and the lack of hiccups in service during the first week, this place definitely has the potential to be something really special. I can't wait to go back.
Here's the menu: