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Raising the Dim Sum Bar - Gitlo's in Brighton

Heck if the lunch I just had is any indication throw the bar away.

The 17 year old prodigy in the kitchen at Gitlo's has been working in hotel and restaurant kitchens since he was 11. I got the scoop from Gitlo himself.

Noone in Boston makes refined dim sum along these lines. Gitlo said to me, "here in Boston they make old fashioned dim sum."

Can't wait to get back and eat again.

I had homemade noodles with ham and veggies. Never had noodles like these before. Fat in the middle, tappering down at the ends, remarkable chewy texture. Served with a great julienne of peppers (with a hint of spice) and ham and other veggies. If I had room, I'd eat another serving right now.

The "Cantonese Dumplings" had one of the most delicate wrappers I have ever had. And a very delicate filling of pork, chive, and water chestnut. The filling reminded me a bit of the filling in the fried turnovers at Shangri-La, but with more meat, water chestnuts, and a delicacy that the Shangri-La filling just does not have. The wrapper quite simply could not be any more delicate. Reminds me of the wrappers at a fancy dim sum place in SF (that is 2X as expensive.)

For dessert I had the custard bun. Mouth scaldingly hot molten custard inside a nicely done bun. I think the bun wrapper could have been a bit more delicate, but this is an absurd quibble as these buns were also superb. I would not even consider that critique except that they really do seem to take the whole shebang foodwise to another level.

The space is spartan, almost bleak. There was noone else there for lunch. It is my hope that there will be lines out the door very soon. I really want these guys to succeed. As they have only been open a week or so they are just getting up to speed.

There is nothing like this place in the Boston dim sum realm. I will be back this week before the lines form...

Gitlo's Dim Sum Bakery
164 Brighton Ave.
Allston, MA 02134
617-782-CAKE

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  1. Nice report, StriperGuy. Is it eat in or takeout only?

    4 Replies
    1. re: gini

      It is in the original V. Majestic Space. Eat in. I think they could probably even fit another table or two.

      1. re: StriperGuy

        Never went to the V. Majestic. Thanks! I'll have to check this out - a friend & I are trying to eat at every dim sum place in metro Boston (still waiting to try the Thai dim sum place out in Waltham).

        1. re: StriperGuy

          Sounds very interesting. Is it Cantonese Dim Sum such as shu mai, har gau, beef meatballs, etc but just more creative versions of same?

          1. re: bakerboyz

            Definitely Cantonese style, not even creative, but really more refined.

      2. To clarify, if you go looking: ON Brighton Ave, but IN Allston, at the corner of Brighton and Harvard.

        3 Replies
        1. "I had homemade noodles with ham and veggies. Never had noodles like these before. Fat in the middle, tapering down at the ends, remarkable chewy texture."

          Ooh! I haven't had those in ages! My friends and I used to call them "worm noodles" - Dynasty had them, if I recall (way back in the days when that was one of the good places to go), in those glass bowls inverted on a plate, as you can get sticky rice if you don't get it steamed in a leaf. Until you described these noodles I had forgotten that they somehow disappeared from local dim sum carts.

          Sounds excellent - BFP and I were already thinking about hitting them for our weekly Wednesday dinner out. Thanks for the writeup!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Allstonian

            So funny cause I almost said worm-like... but didn't want any ick factor.

          2. Thanks for the report. Will definitely check it out.

            1 Reply
            1. Interesting - will have to try. The noodles you describe sound like "silver pin noodles" (translation of chinese name). Are a bit translucent in color and, as you wrote, chewier in texture. Typically sauteed with a variety of julienned veggies, mushrooms, and maybe some kind of meat. They used to offer these at a few dim sum places, though they mysteriously disappeared over time. My mom still makes these by hand every Thanksgiving.

              3 Replies
                1. re: StriperGuy

                  Hi StriperGuy: Thanks for the tip. The silver pin noodles was one of my favorites growing up in Toronto and haven;t seen them in a long time. I'll definitely head over. Yet another great cheap eats on that stretch of Brighton Ave.

                  1. re: gourmaniac

                    I could literally do all of my eating, period in the 10 block radius with the nexus at Brighton and Harvard. That would encompass Super88 to the East, Cafe Belo to the West, Grain and Salt, etc. etc.

              1. How many people would you say this place seats? With it so new im wondering if going Sunday during peak dimsum hours would result in standing outside for hours. I want to try this place!

                2 Replies
                1. re: hargau

                  The place might collapse under the load if a lot of people show up. Seat for 30 people max. I also anticipate service problems if they get popular fast.

                  1. re: StriperGuy

                    Actually I counted seating for 18 - three 4-tops and three 2-tops, one of which was occupied by a collection of their Grand Opening gift plants, including two enormous poinsettias.

                2. Went today for dinner with the SO and enjoyed a small meal of five dishes, good execution on every dish, better than dishes at the dim sum place in 88 by far. They have 3 tables that seat 4 people normally but could pack 6 and 2 tables that seat 2 or 3 thus far. With this configuration, it seems they're aiming for the take-out crowd or maybe they're going to get delivery up and running soon.

                  Cantonese Dumplings (香煎锅贴胶), $3.25 - as described by StriperGuy, very thin wrapper, good balance of meat and the leaf of some plant from the onion family - menu says 'Q toy' which according to the Cantonese SO, does not describe either traditional leeks or chives.

                  Rainbow Clear Noodles (七色银针粉), $3.25 - these are the 'silver pin' noodles, stir-fried with slivers of red and green peppers, ham and daylily buds (as you would find in hot & sour soup)

                  XO Sauce Daikon Cake (XO酱萝卜糕), $2.95 - they take the traditional daikon cake rectangles and cut them up into 1/2" cubes and then pan fry them in XO sauce and dried shrimp. Cubes had good crunchy edges and the crispy dried shrimp complimented well. the daikon cake itself did have a decent daikon flavor to it - the cake was composed of flour and what I think were thin slices of daikon.

                  Bean Curd Skin Shrimp Rolls (府皮鲜虾卷), $2.95 - whole small shrimp, roughly cut, rolled in bean curd skin and then fried, skin is really crispy (too crispy for the SO apparently).

                  Chicken Dumplings (new item, not on the menu) - shaped like XLB, thin wrapper, but unlike XLB, no soup, like a hargau basically but in the shape of XLB, chicken mixed with small strips of wood ear.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: avial

                    Actually Q toy does refer to chinese chives (aka chinese leeks; 韭菜). Q toy is just the Toisanese pronunciation that seems to have slipped into English romanization here locally.

                    The XO sauce daikon cakes sound awesome. My favorite parts of the fried daikon cakes at dim sum are always the crispy edges.

                  2. So Allstonian and I paid our first visit to Gitlo's this evening, after meeting up at the Second Cup beforehand. It was a little before seven when we got there, and we were the only customers. This was actually quite useful, because it meant that we had Gitlo's undivided attention as we were ordering, which turned out to be very important indeed because the menu's descriptions of items are extremely incomplete. This is important because I'm allergic to shrimp (technically, I'm sensitive to the chemicals used in shrimp processing, which cause me to break out in the most astonishing hives, but it's easier just to say "shrimp allergy" because otherwise I start talking about the time I couldn't fit my tongue in my mouth) and we kept trying to order things that didn't mention shrimp on the menu only to have Gitlo say "No, that has shrimp in it." Literally, this happened with five or six dishes! Unfortunately, several other potentially tasty things were off the menu because they were out of key ingredients. Ah well. They're still getting their feet under them.

                    Finally, we ended up with the following:

                    SESAME PORK BUN: smallish flat buns made of a tender dough, pan-fried with sesame seeds on the bottom and filled with a fresh, vegetal-tasting pork filling. As much as I love cha siu bao (my personal favorite dim sum dish), these were delightful on their own merits.

                    CRUNCHY VEGGIE ROLLS: Probably the best fried veggie roll I have ever had, with a shatteringly crisp wrapper around unctuous, flavorful vegetables.

                    XO SAUCE DAIKON CAKE: This order, at least, was made with bacon instead of the dried shrimp that Avail mentioned above. Absolutely addictive, so much that when Allstonian turned her attention to a new dish that came out after, I pretty much cleared the plate on my own.

                    RAINBOW CLEAR NOODLES: Gitlo translated the name as "silver needle noodles," not silver pin, but indeed, these are the ones that everyone has been going nuts over, and with good reason. Outstanding, one of the best noodle dishes I've had in ages. My one quibble is that if they're going to be done with ham instead of pork, I'd kind of prefer a smokier, more flavorful ham. Still, they're fantastic.

                    CHICKEN BUNS: these were not on the menu, and he strongly suggested them. I was resistant, because I assumed he meant chicken bao, which I don't care for, but he explained that these were basically XLB without the soup, and made with chicken and mushrooms instead of pork. They were lovely: tender, flavorful and almost as succulent as a good XLB. I'm hoping they go on the regular menu.

                    CUSTARD CREAM BUN: We had assumed these would be like the custard bao that are a dim sum cart staple, but in fact, they're something quite different. The bright yellow, coconut-scented filling is mostly liquid, the consistency of a sunny-side-up egg's yolk, and in fact, you have to eat them kind of like a soft boiled egg: top it and then kind of gingerly sip and nibble at it until it's gone. Gitlo said the Chinese name for them translates to "Moving sands bun." They're delicious, but very sweet and incredibly rich.

                    Another group, three friends of Gitlo's, showed up about halfway through our meal, but that was it. It's still early days, and Gitlo admits this is a weird time of year to be opening a restaurant, but I think the potential is there for this to be a neighborhood institution. I'd like to see better descriptions of the dishes, and maybe a few other items on the menu without shrimp, but his stated resolve, to do new and more refined variations on the usual dim sum items, comes through loud and clear.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                      A lot of dim sum dishes have shrimp, so that's no real surprise. The other main ingredient is pork. Both are used for flavoring. You're lucky you're not a vegetarian..we have such a hard time ordering for friends who are who want to try dim dum :-)

                      1. re: Spike

                        At least he is upfront in saying so. What burns me is when i read a bad review on a place for dimsum or other. They you find out 10 posts later that the person has certain diet requirements that put 90% (usually the best part)of the menu off limits.

                        1. re: Spike

                          I eat dim sum on average of once a month or so, and I am well aware that shrimp and pork are common ingredients. However, after years of experience, I can assure you that it's not at all difficult to get a decent spread of non-shrimp items at a good dim sum place, as you can see from the list of things we ordered. All I was saying is that in a place like Gitlo's where you're ordering off a menu instead of off of carts (where you can SEE the items), it's important to know that an item that's listed on the menu as "Q toy dumplings with water chestnuts, ginger and pork" also has shrimp in it.

                          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                            barmy: you can see the items on carts, but that doesn't tell you what's inside ;-)
                            I was just mentioning that a lot of dim sum dishes do use shrimp and pork and there's some leeway in a recipe in what you can use (e.g., a dumpling can be filled w/ whatever you're in the mood for, in case you want to be "creative"). The chopping surfaces may also not be cleaned between mincing pork and shrimp.
                            Menus (chinese or american) also don't always exactly list all ingredients.
                            I guess what I'm trying to say is if you're allergic to something, you should let them know up front and they'll do their best to guide you to safely through a menu (if a waiter isn't sure, they'll usually ask the chef)...

                            1. re: Spike

                              Thats a good point. For instance many dont realize that the sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf contains shrimp, as does the turnip cake and several other of the popular dishes at all the major china-town dimsum houses.

                              1. re: Spike

                                Actually, in most cases, I CAN tell if something has shrimp in it or not by looking at it, either because of the shape of the dumpling or simply because I can see shrimp through the skin. That's why carts are better for me than menus. Or, if something looks tasty but I'm dubious about it, I can simply get one for the table and wait for someone else to take the first bite and report. (The group that Allstonian and I go to dim sum with on a regular basis, which has been doing this for close to 15 years, has a standing rule that we only meet if there are at least four of the eight regulars free, so that we can order as many different items as possible, which allows for that kind of experimentation.)

                                At least for me, it's not like, say, a peanut allergy is for some people, where I can't even be in the presence of shrimp. Believe me, you'd be shocked at how many orders of shumai and hargau this lot goes through on an average morning. And I've been known to, knowingly or unknowingly, eat small amounts of shrimp in dumplings with no ill effects. (I always have a stash of Benadryl in my jacket just to be safe, in case I start feeling itchy.) All I'm saying is that if Gitlo is going to stick with a printed menu (there are also photos of some dishes on the wall), a little more information on said menu would be nice.

                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                  I understand that x-ray vision is a known side effect of shrimp allergies. ;)

                                  1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                    Well, if the little pinky-white crescent-shaped things visible just under the dumpling skin ain't shrimp, then there are big problems in the kitchen!

                                    1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                      if you mean "har gau" (aka shrimp dumplings"), they're fairly obvious, even by name ;-)
                                      Glad you're not badly allergic..I'm sure you've had small chunks of shrimp in some of the stuff you've had :-) I've been to some places (not in Boston) where they added shrimp to shumai because the chef wanted to be creative even though it's supposed to be mostly a pork/chicken/mushroom dumpling...

                                      1. re: Spike

                                        actually i think hei la moon and china pearl both put shrimp in their shumai. Its pretty common. Many menus even list shumai as a pork/shrimp dumpling.

                                        There are different levels of "alergic".. I have one friend who needs to get in jected with an epipen and visit the ER if his food touches the same knife or cutting board as anything seafood. He doesnt go to dimsum at all!

                                        1. re: hargau

                                          Back to the original topic. How large of a menu does this new place have? Aprox how many types of dumplings/Dim sum?

                                          1. re: hargau

                                            Not huge - about 20 different items or so. Many of them were either new to us or were variations on familiar dim sum - I think there are two or three different variations on shiu mai, for instance. BFP has a copy of the printed menu - I'm sure he can fill you in with additional details. Besides the items on the printed menu, there were two or three additional items, including the excellent chicken buns.

                                            1. re: hargau

                                              24 items, plus a few specials. Half a dozen dumplings, about as many buns, four types of daikon cakes and the like, the noodle dish, a couple different kinds of sticky rice, and a few just random nibblies -- spring rolls, that sort of thing.

                                  2. re: Spike

                                    Quick note: A couple of us are having dinner there tomorrow (Fri-~6:30) - see my separate post above - Please feel free to join us!

                            2. Hit it today with a couple of co-workers and basically ate the entire menu.

                              Pretty respectable across the board. Gotta say it is probably the best essentially cantonese style dim sum in town. I count Shangri-La and Beijing Star as fairly different.

                              1. Just joining the chorus. Agree on the excellence of the noodles and the Cantonese dumplings, though I thought the filling was a little chunky to be described as ultra-delicate. For the record, the sweet potato puff is mashed sweet potato in a crisp pastry shell, nice enough. There were a few other customers mid-afternoon (Sunday) and a couple takeout orders went out.

                                1. One weak note: the scallop shumai were a bit coarse, more just a wad of pork with a sliver of scallop on top. Don't expect tons of scallop for $3.00 for 5 shumai, but regardless I would skip that one next time.

                                  1. I took my mom there for an early lunch- we were the only customers there. We really loved the Rainbow Clear Noodles, the Seaweed Shiu Mai, and the Cantonese Dumplings.
                                    We also had the Crab Meat Puff, which was basically a surimi sea leg in a flaky shell, which we thought needed a dipping sauce. Also had the Taro Spring Rolls, which had a surprisingly moist interior, but the wrappings retained a bit too much oil from frying. We'll definitely go back!

                                    1. We tried Gitlo's today and it was indeed outstanding. They've added a new variation on the Rainbow Clear Noodles that are made with a spicy chicken satay instead of ham. We tried both versions and I liked the chicken one a whole lot better than the ham version. We stuffed ourselves for $20 and loved every dish that we tried. Thanks for the recommendation!

                                      1. I agree with everyone - this place is a little gem!
                                        I went tonight to order some take-away and it was empty. The place is very small and the interior is very brightly lit, very casual, with few decorations.
                                        I ordered the infamous Rainbow noodles with chicken and a "chinese BBQ sauce", which Gitlo described as satay - but on further questioning, it did not include peanuts. The noodles were a perfect consistency and texture and the seasoning was only very slightly spicy with a coating of allspice. It was a nice blend of noodles, chicken, mushrooms, julienne carrots and green peppers.
                                        Additionally, I had the Cantonese dumplings which are steamed and then lightly pan-fried to obtain a crispy skin. They are very tasty.
                                        Lastly, I ordered the Crispy Daikon Cake, which I must say was amazing. Tasty, yet not overdone!
                                        Gitlo was very friendly, and willing to deliver in the local area. I really hope this place gets busier - they deserve to do well! ...even though I really want to keep this little secret to myself :)

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: nleow

                                          When I picked up some custard buns there the other night Gitlo himself was expressing concern about whether he is getting enough business to make a go of it...

                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                            I better try it soon. It does seem to be a common theme here, everyone who has posted about how good it is, has also commented on how empty it is. :(

                                            1. re: StriperGuy

                                              It's a really weird time to be opening a restaurant in Allston. I suspect that as long as he can make it past the next couple of weeks, once the students are back and classes are in session and street traffic is back to normal, he'll be fine. The thing is, foot traffic in Allston this time of year is just capital-D Dead.

                                              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                Good point, forgot all the students are not around. Someone should tell Gitlo, heck I will next time I'm there.

                                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                                  Oh, he knows! We discussed this when Allstonian and I first ate there! He's fully aware that the neighborhood is slow.

                                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                    I think he should also put a sign on the windows - currently the only sign is up high on the roof where it can't be seen by pedestrians. They have a picture menu on the window but nothing that clearly says what it is.

                                                    1. re: cambridgejen

                                                      That is true. The place is not well signposted. I walked past it twice, then only noticed it because it had photos of the food in the window.
                                                      The sign is really high up on the roof and not that big as well.

                                          2. Stopped by Saturday afternoon around 3 pm for take-out, there was a table of 4 people being served. I ordered Shu Mai (pork with taro), Har Gau, Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf, Rainbow Noodles and Cantonese Dumplings. My favorite was the Cantonese Dumplings, lightly pan-fried and delicious; I also loved the Sticky Rice though not really sticky like the Chinatown versions but loaded with shrimp and very fresh and flavorful; I liked the Rainbow Clear Noodles and the Har Gau were also very good and very large; my least favorite was the Shu Mai, though still good. The Shu Mai and the Har Gau were probably twice the size of the average size ones in Chinatown. Will definitely be back soon and hopefully others will discover this little gem so that they can remain in business! It is a very nice alternative to Chinatown especially since they are attempting (and succeeding) to be more creative and more original with their version of dim sum.

                                            1. Made the trek from Worcester to Allston today for lunch, and it was completely worth it. Went with hubby and 7 year old daughter, and ordered way too much food, just to be able to try a variety. At noon there was only one table empty when we walked in. By the time we left all of the tables had turned over and only one was empty. Gitlo mentioned that business has really been sustained by the word of mouth he's gotten on chowhound, which was great to hear.

                                              The rundown:
                                              Cantonese Dumplings - crunchy waterchestnut, onion-y and ginger-y, delicate wrappers, just heavenly. Daughter actually ate it even though it clearly contained vegetables!
                                              Crystal dumplings - filled with a mix of corn, carrot, crab, shrimp, noodles.
                                              Sesame pork buns - savory and soft/crispy and very good
                                              XO Sauce Daikon cake - Daughter and I loved it - hubby not a fan. Thought it too sweet.
                                              Rainbow noodles with chicken and chinese bbq sauce - great!
                                              sweet potato puffs - crispy and light
                                              custard cream buns - good thing we don't live in Allston, because these would get addictive, fast.
                                              Husband and daughter liked the scallop shu mai. I found the pork a little chewy and didn't really care for them
                                              Taro shu mai - daughter insisted on ordering this, though I don't know why. None of us really enjoyed them - too big and pasty

                                              Tried the mango shake with boba, and green tea shake. Both were fantastic and fresh.

                                              So we've been completely stuffed all afternoon and my dumpling craving is only moderately sated. I think I could eat those Cantonese dumplings every day.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                                OK - I gotta get back there! Like immediately!

                                                1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                                  Worcester to Allston for lunch is definately worthy of the title Chowhound Road Warrior. I can't wait to check this place out.

                                                  1. re: Infomaniac

                                                    Any excuse to avoid cleaning the house. ;)

                                                  2. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                                    +1 on the smoothies (shakes). I had the papaya and my wife had the mango. We were there the same time you were.

                                                    1. re: Eatin in Woostah

                                                      It's great to hear he had the crystal buns finally!

                                                      1. re: gini

                                                        Yes, and they were really good. Husband's second favorite (next to the Cantonese dumplings).

                                                    2. Popped in for a quick and light lunch after running some errands this afternoon: we got the sesame pork buns (which even more than usual were very heavy on the chives, which is good), the chicken buns (just a trifle overcooked), the diced daikon cake in XO sauce (excellent as always) and the crispy veggie rolls. As much as I love everything I've had from Gitlo's so far, I think the veggie rolls have to be my favorite thing on the menu. Don't pass them up because they sound so plain: they are indeed simply thick shreds of vegetables in a crispy spring-roll wrapper, but the veggies have this luxurious, unctuous quality that you don't normally get in this dish, and it's really one of the tastiest iterations of this basic item that I've ever had.

                                                      There were plenty of other things that sounded good: one of the specials today was the rainbow noodles with a Chinese BBQ sauce, which sounds intriguing enough that I might pop over for lunch tomorrow to see if it's still available. But we were wanting to eat light today.

                                                      Incidentally, every table was full almost the whole time we were there. There was also drama: Gitlo fired his busboy/waiter about five minutes after we sat down! We'd wondered why he stormed out cursing, but Gitlo came out and apologized a few minutes later, explaining that the guy was both lazy and mouthy, and he'd be willing to overlook one but not both, which is fair enough.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                        BTW I think the rainbow noodles w/chicken may now be a regular item, although posted on the wall as a special - The new menus are slightly more extensive then the original one.

                                                        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                                          Glad to hear they are getting sufficient biz.

                                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                                            Do they have any veggie friendly options?

                                                            1. re: splendido

                                                              Only a couple. I think 3 when I was there a few weeks ago...