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Restaurants & Bars 9

Unique Chinese is back

lipoff | Jan 15, 201201:58 AM

The highlights:

- Unique Chinese is now open again.

- No more Beijing crepes (jian bing).

- New ownership promises a more Shanghainese menu in the near future.

- Spicy beef steak noodle soup was fantastic. And unique.

The details:

Unique Chinese, the small restaurant on Harvard Ave in Allston, had been shuttered for a while. I noticed recently that it has reopened, but under new management. The regular menu looks pretty much the same at the moment, but the most unique item, the jian bing (Beijing-style crepe) saidly is no longer present. The rest of the special menu of other Northern pastries is also gone. Indeed, while the previous owner was from Northern China, the new owner is from Shanghai.

In its previous incarnation, Unique had some serious Northern Chinese snacks, including homemade dumplings and being the only place around that made jian bing. I believe it was actually the owner himself who would make the jian bing, since a couple times I was told that they couldn't make it because he wasn't in. I was thus particularly sad when Unique closed, because it really lived up to its name.

In other ways, it was an odd restaurant too. It was so cold in the winter inside that they had a small space heater placed on the floor to (sort of) heat one of the small tables. The staff member behind the counter would wear a full winter parka inside. Presumably the kitchen itself was heated by the woks. I get that it's primarily a take-out restaurant, but still.

I stopped in for a late night dinner around 11 PM the other day and found a few more tables set up inside, the interior slightly warmer (although still not really what you'd call heated) and very friendly and enthusiastic new staff.

I ordered two items --- chicken and cabbage dumplings (boiled) and the "spicy beef steak noodle soup" (shiu3 zhu3 niu2 rou4 tang1 mian4). The dumplings, unfortunately, are now nothing special. They taste like reheated frozen dumplings from the Chinatown Spaghetti Factory. One saving grace is that they were topped with a nicely blended sauce of soy, vinegar, and Sichuan red oil.

However, the "spicy beef steak noodle soup" was fantastic. I've never seen this name in English before (the only Google hit is for Unique's menu) and while shiu3 zhu3 niu2 rou4 is a common Sichuan dish (water boiled beef), this is not your mama's shiu3 zhu3 niu2 rou4 as a noodle soup, which might be nice too, but I've never heard of that either. It actually lives up to the English name, with slices of very tender, thinly sliced beef steak floating in a very fiery broth with chopped watercress, cilantro and cabbage. The noodles are definitely Japanese udon, and I would be floored if they were homemade, but they still were toothsome and soaked up the broth well. This was definitely a unique dish, and admittedly after just one try, my favorite beef noodle soup in the Boston area. My only disclaimer is that I was really hungry by 11 PM that night, so I hope that didn't color my taste buds. =)

They do one infuriating thing though --- not providing English translations for a couple of cold appetizers on their menu. For your reference, B1, zhao1 feng4 zhao3, is pickled chicken feet. B5, fu1 qi1 fei4 pian4, are "husband and wife's lung slices" which is a nickname for a famous Sichuan dish with sliced beef brisket, tendon, and sometimes tripe in red oil, usually with crushed peanuts. B7, hong2 you2 niu2 du4, is beef stomach in red oil, and B8, ma2 la4 zhu1 er3, is spicy and numbing pig's ear. I get that cold pickled chicken feet are not at the top of the list for most Americans, but is the mere mention of chicken feet really going to send drunk BU students packing for Asia Wok for their late night crab rangoons?

Anyway, I look forward to their impending move to more Shanghainese food and cross my fingers that it really happens. Shanghai Gate is great, but now that Wing's Kitchen is no longer Shanghainese, Shanghai Gate is basically the only game in town for Shanghainese food, other than for soup dumplings, which can be found at many locations. But I also really hope they keep this beef noodle soup, and I hope it's just as good in the future.

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