Dinner at East by Northeast.

Two points, before we begin:

Knowing these little facts about me, you would think that I would love East by Northeast, the new Chinese-fusion small-plate-based restaurant in Inman Square, right?

We-ell…

Here’s the thing: I have money issues.  I can easily consider purchasing a $600 pair of great boots because I’ll wear them for six months out of the year for several years to come.  I feel the same way about bags, chairs, and other items meant to last a while**.  With food, I’ll have little problem spending a good amount of money at the market or on a memorable meal; when it comes to a “normal” meal out, though, I want value for dollar.

Am I trying to say that dinner at East by Northeast is expensive?  Of course not; plates average at about $10.  But $10 seems, to me, to be too much to pay for two mini pork belly sandwiches, especially when I’ve eaten two larger, similar sandwiches across the river at Myers + Chang and at Momofukus Noodle and Ssäm — for the pretty much the same price.  I don’t think this makes me stingy though; it just makes me realize I won’t order the pork belly sandwiches at East by Northeast again.

What will I reorder?

The candied pecans ($4.00), for sure, and the celery root/poached chicken/apple salad ($7.00). I’d definitely go back for the pork dumplings with butternut squash ($8.00) and the cilantro-lime soda ($5.00).  If the braised pork with sticky rice ($9.00) and fried shrimp with smoked salt ($6.00) specials were added to the permanent menu, no one would be happier than me.  I’m interested to try one of the delicious-sounding mixed drinks, like the goji-pomegranate cocktail, and order a dish featuring the hand-rolled noodles.  I found the spicy broth in the beef shank noodle soup ($10.00) to be a bit too spicy for my spice-averse taste buds, but the wide noodles were so chewy and lush that I’d skip the meat altogether for the vegetarian version.

See, this is why I feel awful for complaining about price — the food was good.  It was beyond good.  And the service was both speedy and friendly.  And the intimate space is warm and cozy.  And the chef/owner is only twenty-seven!  I’m certain the restaurant will become a neighborhood favorite.

Just… the plates were a bit too small.

East by Northeast
1128 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139
617.876-0286
exnecambridge.com

East by Northeast on Urbanspoon

* Half, but it still counts.
** This doesn’t mean I do it often, but that’s the point.
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Lunch at Hakkasan.

Here’s the thing about Alan Yau’s Soho restaurant Hakkasan: there’s a no-photo policy.  Normally I don’t ask when I’m about to photograph my meal, but Keith had read about the policy; since I am a self-conscious ninny, I asked him to double-check with our server, who backed away from our table with his hands up.

hakkasanSo please, instead be satisfied with my words, your imagination and the only picture I was able to take: the discreet sign lighting the way.

Speaking of things discreet, Hakkasan’s location is nothing but.  In order to descend its sleek steps, you first have to stumble around Tottenham Court Road looking for Hanway Place, which is little more than a glorified alley.  Then you have to scratch your head curiously since, from the foot of the alley, it appears as though the street dead-ends.  Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the alley does in fact come to an abrupt dead end, but that the dim light glowing from one of the doorways — which you won’t have noticed until that very second — is the restaurant’s entrance.  After you make your way down into the foyer, you’ll find yourself peering into what just might be the most highly stylized dining room ever.

Décor-wise, Hakkasan is beyond chic; even the coolest of the cool will be impressed with its sleek combination of modern and traditional Chinese designs.  It is dark, moody and undeniably sexy, with atmospheric lighting casting a flattering glitter on each surface.

I could go on about the interior — the intricate paneling, for example, deserves mention, as does the streamlined restroom and its graceful trough sink — but what I really want to discuss is the food.

Oh, the food.

Hakkasan offers à la carte options for lunch, but Keith and I specifically were interested in its dim sum; it’s a more affordable way to experience the restaurant’s inventive cuisine.  We decided to split six orders, all of which I wish I could have photographed to share with you all:

  • xo pork noodles (£12.50)
  • char sui bun (£3.90)
  • sticky rice lotus leaf (£4.50)
  • crispy duck roll (£6.50)
  • mango spring roll (£4.20)
  • baked venison puff (£4.20)

We also each ordered a juice; I chose the Red Monsoon (£5.50), a mix of strawberry, raspberry, watermelon and guava spritzed into ginger beer.  It was incredibly refreshing not only in flavor, but also in seeing a selection of non-alcoholic beverages on the menu.

If I had to pick one of our little plates as being the most traditional, I would select the char sui bun without hesitation.  Does that mean that it was boring?  Of course not.  It was familiar, and something that I’ve mentioned loving before, but it was still altogether sweet and tangy.  Also on the more conventional side was the rectangle of sticky rice steamed inside a lotus leaf, but like the barbecue-stuffed bun, it was still immensely tasty.

The most creative of our choices were certainly the baked venison puff and the mango spring roll; both took elements of the new and blended them with elements of the old.  The spring roll, for example, not only featured the delicious addition of a tropical fruit but also the surprising combination of aïoli, adding a wonderful sweetness and zip to each bite.  The puff, on the other hand, brought to mind the idea of a shepherd’s pie — but one that could be held in the hand, or clasped between two chopsticks.  The pastry enveloped a meaty center which, when bitten into, immediately conjured up thoughts of warmth and comfort.

It’s incredible to believe a restaurant as glamorous as Hakkasan was created by the same mind behind Wagamama, but there you have it.  Regardless, the two couldn’t be more far apart.  In one you’ll find noodle-based dishes and a frenetic pace, and in another you’ll find a mixture of Eastern and Western flavors against an upscale, highly-polished backdrop.  I know which one I prefer.

Hakkasan
8, Hanway Place
London W1T 1
England
+44 020 7927 7000
hakkasan.com

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon