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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Dinner at Momofuku Ko.

Momofuku Ko, 2I’ve read Momofuku Ko reservations are really tricky to get, which is why I surprised that I was able to snag a pair on my first try.  To make a reservation, you need to make an account on the company website, then log in at ten AM one week before with the hopes of getting through to the actual reservations page.  When I created an account last week, I didn’t expect to get a table (well, two chairs — I’ll tell you about that in just a sec) on my first try, but stranger things have happened…

So let’s say you are able to get reservations to Ko.  Here’s what your night might be like, if you had been dining next to me.

First, we’d find a convenient parking spot directly in front of Momofuku Noodle Bar.  Then we’d stand outside Ko, looking at the exterior — which New York Magazine describes as being Momofuku Ko, 1“sheathed in what looks like high-tech chicken wire” — before heading inside, giving the hostess our printed-out reservation confirmation, and sitting at the twelve-seat bar.  Our backless wooden barstools would be close together, but still, we’d be able to overhear the couple on my left flirting and the foursome to your right offering to buy the chefs a beer.  We’d chat, clink our glasses together, and watch the three men in the kitchen work.  We wouldn’t take pictures of our food (since it’s not allowed) but we’d eat.  And we’d eat well.

We’d start with two flat-bottomed ceramic Chinese soup spoons, one of which would be cradling something like a creamed corn; the other would hold a bite of shrimp suspended over a thick gel that tasted like miso soup.  After slurping up each of these and arguing which was our favorite — mine would be the shrimp, you’d vote for the corn — we’d have a few horseradishy greens with Spanish mackerel crudo dotted with some refreshing Meyer lemon zest.  The black pepper biscuit that followed, presented to us on an angular slab of slate alongside a housemade chicharrón, would be so delicious that I would run several scenarios through my head on how I’d be able to distract you enough to steal yours.  Instead, I’d tell you how envious I am of Strawberry Shortcake, and how she’s able to live in her favorite food.

“I’d move in here,” I’d say, brandishing my biscuit.  “Can you imagine,” I’d ask, “walls made of this?”

My dreamy rambles, rather than distracting you, would instead befuddle me so much that I would forget in what order some of our courses arrived.  At one point, a chef would place in front of us two bowls of ravioli made with a fragrant matsutake mushroom and yet another piece of slate.  On it, he’d set a cup of traditional matsutake tea and a perfect little cube of French toast.  We’d comment to each other about the toast’s lovely custard center, and each ravioli’s creamy interior.

It would be impossible for us to know that we’d be talking about a gently boiled egg days later.  Split open, its yolk would be smothered in generous spoonfuls of caviar that spilled onto teensy little fingerling potato chips and the creamiest buttery onions.  We’d scoop each black pearl up and smile at each other over our empty plates.

We’d rock in our Momofuku Ko, 3seats to music by the Rolling Stones while spooning short-rib tortellini out of a clear oxtail consommé; we’d tap our fingers against bowls of monkfish bobbing a spicy lobster and shrimp broth to The Hold Steady; we’d ooh as the veritable cloud of grated frozen foie gras floating over a Riesling gelée and slivers of lychee melted in our mouths while Bruce Springsteen played in the background; we’d aah with Elton John over a celeriac purée sprayed out of a whipped cream canister next to venison and shaved Brussels sprouts.

Our two desserts would be cause for more debate — I’d favor the animal cracker ice cream over heirloom peaches and doused in carbonated peach juice, even though I’d confess to you that I’d never had an animal cracker before. I don’t have a frame of reference, I’d tell you, and you’d reassure me that the flavor was spot on, even if you preferred the black pepper crumble with macerated blueberries, a tangy ice cream and black pepper crème fraîche.

Before we slipped back into our coats, we would clink our glasses and finish our beers — Ommegang Hennepin for me, and Two Brothers Domaine DuPage for you.  As we made our way home, we’d discuss our night, the food and, of course, the price.  $125.00 is a lot for one person’s meal, we’d reason.  $350.00 (two dinners, tax, tip and two beers) is even more.

“Was it worth it?” one of us would ask the other.

“Yes,” the other would say, “but I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone because of it.”

Then I’d think, driving through the East Village, I’d come back for that foie.  But would you?

Momofuku Ko
163 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
212.475.7899
momofuku.com/ko

Momofuku Ko on Urbanspoon

A few things to note: the photo of Momofuku Ko’s interior is from their website, the restaurant currently does not accomodate vegetarians, and has a general policy of not providing a printed menu.  As a result, my description of my meal is based solely on memory.

Lunch at Myers + Chang.

Not too long ago, Stephanie and I met up for some food and a bit of catching up.  We had put together a list of restaurants open for a weekday lunch; one spot after another got crossed off until we were left with Myers and Chang, an Asian restaurant on Washington in the South End.  We had both been wanting to check it since it opened, so we had made plans to meet up at noon.

myers-chang-2Myers and Chang calls itself an “indie diner” serving variations on traditional Asian fare.  I don’t know if I would personally describe the restaurant as a diner per se, mostly because the space is way too stylish and slick to be your everyday greasy spoon.  After all, the first thing I noticed when I walked in, even before I saw Stephanie at our table, was the bold and graphic dragon decal emblazoned across the floor-to-ceiling window.  What other diner has décor like that?

myers-changAfter much deliberation, Stephanie and I decided to share a few small plates — the better to tour the menu, right?   We chose the pork belly buns ($9.00), the crispy spring rolls ($5.00) and what the menu described as “Mama Chang’s pork dumplings” ($11.00).

The first of our dishes to arrive were the spring rolls, which were made with chives, bamboo shoots and shiitake mushroom.  They had a pleasantly green flavor, very fresh, and weren’t the least bit greasy, even though they had clearly been deep-fried.

While we were busy eating and having a gossip, the pork buns appeared.  While these pieces of braised pork smeared with hoisin were nothing compared with Momofuku Noodle Bar‘s drool-worthy buns, Myers and Chang’s little sandwiches were still quite nice, moist and fatty.

Our last dish were the potsticker dumplings, which, like the buns and rolls before them, were nice.  I guess that’s where I have trouble with Myers and Chang.  Everything was fine.  And that’s it.  I left scratching my head a bit.  Where were the chefs’ personal touches and updates on these typical Chinese and Korean dishes?  Our food tasted good, don’t misunderstand, but why would I be drawn into a self-stylized diner with Chinatown a few subway stops away?  I’d give Myers and Chang another chance to blow me away with their food — they’ve won me with their aesthetic and with their servers’ cheerful demeanors — but I’ll make sure I’ve got a few Chinatown backups at the ready.

Myers + Chang
1145 Washington Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02118
617.542.5200
myersandchang.com

Myers & Chang on Urbanspoon

Dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar.

If there’s too long a line at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the East Village, walk an extra five minutes or so around the corner to its sibling on First Avenue, Momofuku Noodle Bar.  The music is just as loud, the scene just as sceney, and the food just as lip-smacking.  It’s also a good deal cheaper, with large plates ranging from fifteen to twenty dollars, as opposed to Ssäm’s twenty to thirty.  Most importantly, you can get Chef David Chang’s not-to-be-missed buns at both spots.

momofuku-noodle-1When I say these buns are an essential order, I am not exaggerating.  If anything, they’re a revelation — soft steamed buns brushed with hoisin, sprinkled with scallions and layered with thinly-sliced cucumber, in the middle of which is the most glorious piece of pork.  The buns can be made with chicken or shiitake instead of pork ($9.00, regardless of protein), but I can’t see why anyone would want to have anything aside from the pork.  Honestly, I can’t stress how completely amazing it is; there’s impossibly tender meat under the most incredible strip of luscious fat.  Each bite of bun is an incomparable combination of flavors: sweet, fresh, crisp and just plain divine.

momofuku-noodle-2I went a different route than usual with my main course, ordering the sole vegetarian entrée from the restaurant’s menu: ginger scallion ramen ($11.00).  While the Momofuku ramen, with its three different pork preparations and its poached egg, is almost twice the size, the meatless dish is tasty in its own way.  The ginger scallion ramen is served warm and is tossed with seasonal vegetables.  In my case these vegetables were roasted cauliflower and cucumbers coated with a sweet and tangy dressing.  These were actually the high point of the bowl for me, even more so than the salty, nutty noodles (which, it should be said, were tremendous).

The restaurant’s walls are paneled in chunky slats of blond wood which play off the black ceiling, chalkboards and slate floor really nicely.  While most of the seats are at communal tables lined with squarish stools, I highly recommend getting a seat that overlooks the kitchen; from that vantage point, it’s possible to watch the chefs prepare each dish — and, of course, drool.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Avenue
New York, New York 10003
212.777.7773
momofuku.com/noodle

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon