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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Breakfast at Hei La Moon.

It’s been a while since I’ve had dim sum, so when Beth asked me to meet up at Hei La Moon this past Sunday I almost felt as though I had no say in the matter. As I was running a little late — I blame the Sunday subway schedule! — by the time I maneuvered through the throngs of tourists and market-goers crowding Chinatown’s streets, more than a few carts had rolled past my friends’ table.

Truthfully, I can’t even fully describe the sheer amount of food we plowed through. Yes, there were six of us — Alyssa, Beth, Dan, Guillaume, Kristy and me — but frankly, the food came and went so quickly that not even a diner with photographic memory could recall it all. Heck, not even my camera could capture it all. There were the shrimp folded into rice noodles, char siu baau (barbecue pork dumplings), the spring rolls, the sticky fried rice, jiaozi (steamed pork and vegetable dumplings), meatballs rolled in rice, dou hua (silken tofu with sweet syrup), dumplings stuffed with bean paste…

My favorite, hands down, were the char siu baau. The sweet barbecue cradled inside the steamed buns is delicious, but that’s not the only reason why I like them so much. It’s sentimental, since the flavor brings to mind two things — sho pao (also spelled sio pao), a similar Filipino item, and the long strips of barbecued meat that hang in the windows of Hong Kong take-out shops — that both remind me of my maternal grandfather, who died less than three weeks ago. He was a great lover of food, and just as great a lover of travel; from when I was a little girl up until my late teens, it was mostly with him that I traipsed around Asia, eating everything that looked interesting, or at least smelled good. Walking through Chinatown to get to Hei La Moon made me think about him too, and how difficult it would have been, towards the end of his life, for me to push his wheelchair past the hunchbacked Chinese grannies haggling over the price of bok choy. I don’t think I would have minded, though. He would have loved the dim sum.

But back to the topic at hand…

One thing that is absolutely amazing about Hei La Moon is its sheer size. Like so many other restaurants in Chinatown, the space is cavernous. And like a cavern, sound echoes. In this case it’s the sonance of waitstaff trying to tempt diners with the contents of their carts, children teasing each other across the table, chopsticks clicking and the raised voices of your tablemates. Trust me, you’ll be shouting.

A big plus about breakfast at Hei La Moon? Our meal came to twelve dollars a person, including tip. That’s pretty tough to top, considering we almost ate our collective weight in dumplings. How I would love to have my own little dim sum cart to wake me up each Sunday — a very dangerous thought indeed. It would be far better for my waistline to take a walk down Beach Street.

Hei La Moon
88 Beach Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111
617.338.8813

Hei la Moon on Urbanspoon