Still in mourning for the loss of New Taste of Asia! The chef, Xiao Long, was invited to participate in the new venture at the former Shalom Hunan, but declined, darn it!
So I went to Zoe's yesterday for lunch, and was very pleased. A dish off the menu but recommended by the owner and his wife, a Hunan specialty that they described as a sort of casserole, but it came on a plate; chopped smoked chicken with peppers and leeks, and a slightly tangy spicy "sauce" (jus really). Fantastic! I also managed to get lamb with cumin, a really nice dish of bright fresh cilantro topped with stir fried lamb slices. We also ordered crispy fish with chilies. This was funny as it came out in a huge bowl and the waitress started to serve it like soup, into small bowls. I asked her if she was sure it was soup and she said yes, then went to ask. I could tell that in fact the fish, along with a hundred or so dried red peppers and some bean sprouts, was sitting in a huge bowl full of oil! Ha. We never did figure out if that's what they intended, and if so, what a waste of oil, but the fish, once "fished out" of the bowl and drained, was very tasty.
I also heard that they intend to add more Hunan specialties to the menu, though for now the "real" Chinese food is listed on pages titled "Szechuan" and "North-South" (don't know what that means).
I'd like to hear from others on this as it definitely has a lot of potential and is a welcome addition to the area.
By the way, they also had a $6.95 buffet, which I didn't even look at but if you're after that kind of thing the place will answer as well.
I was bright red, my eyes were tearing, and sweat was dripping down my face; and that was just from trying to order! I tell ya, the communication gulf in this place is the widest I've seen.
In an effort to get spicy fish that were NOT swimming in oil, we ended up going back and forth over about 5 different menu options, and ended up getting the SAME dish I got last time...This time, however, they actually did it with less oil, as I had requested, and it was the same fish, silken tofu and bean sprouts, in a broth with only a tiny bit of oil, garlic, and a million chilies. Very good, actually, but I was really looking for a chili sauce. there seemed to be a fish fillets with tofu, or tofu blossoms, as it's listed on another part of the menu, that looked easier to eat, but still minus the red sauce I usually like with nappa cabbage...
TC got boneless spareribs, which he loved, and we shared a dish of cold tofu skin stuffed with vegetables, which was one of my favorite versions ever of this dish- lots of sprouts, carrot and ginger slivers in the filling.
We tried to have the page of specials from the old Zoe's translated, because they only had it in Chinese, but this was totally outside the realm of possibility ...Anyone here have it transated?
Liquor licence still hasn't been transferred...
I ate there with my wife and a friend over the weekend. We were offered that same smoky Hunan chicken dish. The waitress explained to me in Mandarin that the thing is on the "Chinese language menu" but that said menu hasn't been printed yet. I did not recognize the name of the dish, and could not read her handwriting on the check, except for the first character "tu - ??? - ji" (earth - ??? - chicken). The chicken chunks unfortunately were still loaded with bone chunks and gristle, a typical result when you hack at a chicken with a cleaver without deboning it first, and one that reminded me not so fondly of many meals in Changsha, Hunan from my past. However, gristle aside, the flavor was a very pleasant surprise -- smoky almost to the borderline of southern BBQ, but those peppers are spicy la jiao peppers, unseeded on my plate, and give the dish quite a kick!
The cumin lamb was also excellent in my serving -- cumin possibly even with caraway seeds? -- and flavorful without being excessively spicy (my wife isn't so fond of the unadulterated heat). The mapo doufu was something of a disappointment -- not enough black bean flavor or Sichuan peppercorn for my taste -- which makes it all the more tantalizing that Xiao Long was offered a job here.
The "North-South" on the menu appears to basically translate roughly into a collection of northern/Beijing style dishes and a collection of Shanghai/Yangzi delta style dishes. I was really psyched for some eel (which gets done very nicely at Wing's in Chinatown), but unfortunately they were fresh out.
So on the first trip, not the most divine Chinese food that I've had in years, and in some ways a similar mix of pleasing and disappointing that I remember from trips to Zoe's on the Cambridge/Somerville line. But it's good enough that I'll be back at some point.
I was there this past weekend, and we somehow ended up getting
the buffet. It was more than respectable, I'd say. Along with
the more common chow foon and fried rice, they had pig's ear,
tripe, and an interesting dumpling (along with a rather good
um..gyoza, whatever it is called in Chinese). And, in addition
to the buffet, they came around with a dim sum cart from which
we got an interesting chicken in a very thick gravy-ish thing,
a sticky rice with fruit cooked in, and a tapioca dumpling,
filled w/red bean..
Last weekend, I think, might've been the first buffet lunch?
They seemed a bit disorganized, and each time I went back to
the buffet there were new dishes added.
Had dinner there last night and found it to not be the replacement for New Taste of Asia that I was hoping for. Started with scallion pancake which was very good. But the double cooked pork (too fatty for my wife and daughter) and eggplant with garlic just floated on oil, a turnoff for my dinner mates. I was hoping for more but last night didn't do it for me.
We have gone a couple of times, and would be inclined to agree with the reviewer who called it a "mix of pleasing and disappointing." A couple of dishes are really wonderful -- the lamb with cumin that others have mentioned, and the spicy dumplings. There were also some duds, including the corn with pine nuts (weak in flavor, and frozen corn) and the spicy dry chicken and beef (one-level spicing), and the rice. They are also apparently still figuring out how to do service in the space. Our guess is that with experience, we will find the meal's worth of good items on the menu. In general, it is definitely worth a visit, and even repeat visits, but the unevenness is apparent. It's a nice addition to the neighborhood (we never tried the restaurant that was in the place before). Somehow, though, I always leave there wishing I could have gone to New taste of Asia.
I went again last weekend and tried a dish of whole fish Hunan style; it was deep fried, then possibly steamed (or just doused with sauce) and was really excellent; very fresh, perfectly cooked, and a nice spicy sauce. Also had the twice cooked pork which was pretty good, but still not up to New Taste's level. Sigh. The owner was pushing the menu with all Hunan-style dishes, but I had to rely on my Chinese speaking friends to order. I hope they will get around to translating that.
Don't go for the lunch buffet. It was pretty awful. Very much standard suburban Chinese food. I spoke to the owner and asked him if he would consider adding luncheon specials similar to those in the Somerwille site. He said no because he thought this wouldn't attract the Brookline crowd but then he did say he would make luncheon specials on individual request with similar prices as in Somerville.
I think he's trying to figure out who he is attracting. Had I not tried the dinner menu first, and read this board, I would never have gone back after eating the buffet. And I suspect there are others with a similar feeling. I don't think this restaurant is a replacement for New Taste of Asia, though I had mixed meals there too, but I do hope they'll move closer to the food of the Somerville branch.
Ah, so the owner of Zoe's in Somerville has turned his attention elsewhere. That explains its precipitous decline.
We typically get takeout from Zoe's at least once every other week, and it used to be outstanding. In recent months it has seemed that grown-ups are no longer in charge. Walk in to pick up your order on time and they haven't even handed it off to the kitchen yet. Waiters and cooks screeching at each other angrily. A new person answering the phone each week, all of them unfamiliar with the menu and the English language. And most important, tried-and-true dishes rendered nowhere near as tastily as in the past.
And it sounds like the good stuff hasn't simply moved over to Brookline, but rather it's spread too thinly over two locations, like a good album's worth of music misguidedly turned into a double-disk.
re: greasy spoon
Last time I was at Zoe's for dim sum, it was a few years ago, and at the Somerville location. It's what they call "Taiwanese style" which is to say that they have bowls of hot soy milk (dou jiang), both sweetened and unsweetened if you wish; some traditional Chinese (Taiwanese?) breakfast items like you tiao (oil sticks, sort of a long fried cruller, imagine a Spanish churro on major anabolic steroids), some dumplings and scallion pancakes and such. It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't dump Imperial Garden or Hei La Moon for that.
If you're a Taiwanese expat jonesing for dou jiang and you tiao, though, you could do worse (though Qingdao Garden in North Cambridge does a similar dim sum on weekends also, and the latter's dumplings are a heck of a lot better).