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Sichuan Cuisine at Thailand Cafe near MIT

d
damneddemand Jul 13, 2009 06:02 PM

This is my first post, but I've been a long time lurker; finally found a place that it seems no one else has posted about. Thailand Cafe (302 Massachusetts Ave near MIT) -- a sub-par Thai restaurant that is barely acceptable even to MIT undergrads -- has recently started serving a very nice Sichuanese menu (see attached photo.) Rumor is that someone affiliated with Sichuan Gourmet is the new chef there. Went today with several students from MIT, on the recommendation of a grad student who grew up in Beijing and who swears by the place. Despite it being a run down Central Square hole-in-the-wall, the food was very good -- much better in my opinion than the now defunct Anise (which had some interesting dishes but tended to miss more often than not.) I haven't tried many of the other Sichuanese places in the Boston Area, but I found the food at least on par with Sichuan Garden, with a good balance of spices and quality ingredients.

Not sure I can remember everything we had, but we had:

Cold Noodles with Chili Sesame Vinaigrette - Spicy, large (rice?) noodles with lots of chili sauce. Sichuan-y goodness.

Five Flavored Beef - Cold beef appetizer served plain. Well executed, but my least favorite of the dishes we ordered.

Double Cooked Pork Belly with Spicy Capsicum -- Awesome; thin sliced pork belly, with green onions. Spicy but not overpowering.

We also ordered a hotpot with fried chicken and taro (not on the menu, but apparently available in limited quantities if you ask for it); delicious, though not as overpoweringly fiery as some hotpot I have had.

Chengdu dry hot chicken -- Great. Simple fried chicken chunks with lots of dry hot peppers.

Towel gourd with bamboo fungus -- Gourd itself was plain but the bamboo fungus was outstanding -- soft, salty, spongy.

Dry sauteed green bean -- We ordered this without pork (which I suspect would have made it better) to accommodate a vegetarian -- it was well executed but a bit plain.

All in all, I was pretty happy. I'll definitely be back.

-----
Thailand Cafe
302 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

 
 
  1. ScubaSteve Jul 13, 2009 06:25 PM

    nice, detailed first post.
    keep it up!

    1. StriperGuy Jul 14, 2009 02:25 AM

      Welcome, very cool and a good find to boot.

      1. z
        Zatan Jul 14, 2009 04:29 AM

        Thanks for that, great find. I will check it out as Sichuan is probably my favorite of the Chinese cuisines. Odd that now we have both a Thai restaurant and a Shanghainese (New Shanghai) with Sichuan menus.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Zatan
          c
          cambridgedoctpr Mar 6, 2010 12:18 PM

          new shanghai used to have a shanghaiese chef, CK Sau, who now owns C K Shanghai. So the new owner has a different culinary orientation but wanted to keep some of the old customers coming back. So it appears that he did not change the name.

        2. Luther Jul 14, 2009 12:44 PM

          OH MAN

          12 Replies
          1. re: Luther
            Luther Jul 16, 2009 10:11 AM

            First pass: fu qi fei pian is nice and contains tender and thinly-sliced meat with a nice ground peanut/oil sauce, but is a little flat-tasting. Could use more of a smoky/spicy flavor. Dry hot chicken is delicious in that "how can you go wrong" sort of way, the flavor is dominated by salt but there is a good, slowly-building numbing flavor in the oil. Nothing was super-spicy, which is how I'd describe most of the dishes at Framingham Sichuan Gourmet.

            Here's a photo of the specials white board. I didn't notice it until after I'd placed my order, or I would've gotten the saliva chicken.

             
            1. re: Luther
              galleygirl Jul 16, 2009 10:16 AM

              And I think I speak for ALL of us in our unanimity for begging you to translate that board for us! We know you can!
              THX,gg

              1. re: galleygirl
                Luther Jul 16, 2009 01:23 PM

                The first two are saliva chicken and "ErJie" rabbit. As far as I know, ErJie is some famous restaurant in ChengDu and the dish looks something like this:

                http://community.travelchinaguide.com...

                I'll translate some more later but perhaps someone who actually can read handwritten Chinese properly can do it faster.

                1. re: galleygirl
                  Luther Jul 16, 2009 05:02 PM

                  1. 口水鸡 "kou shui ji" Saliva chicken $7.95
                  2. 二姐兔丁 "er jie tu ding" ErJie rabbit chunks $6.95
                  3. 樟茶鴨 Camphor and tea-smoked duck $13.95
                  4. 沸腾魚 "fei teng yu" Boiled fish (usually translated as boiled fish filets with chili sauce or something like that) $15.95
                  5. 干烧全魚 "guan shao quan yu" Dry-roasted whole fish $15.95

                  1. re: Luther
                    galleygirl Jul 16, 2009 05:17 PM

                    Oooh, two fish dishes, and one (fei teng yu) my favorite....Thanks!

                  2. re: galleygirl
                    Luther Jul 16, 2009 05:41 PM

                    6. 粉蒸排骨 "fen zheng pai gu" Steamed rice-covered ribs $11.95
                    7. 荷叶蒸肉 "he ye zheng rou" Pork steamed in lotus leaves $11.95
                    8. 火爆腰花 "huo bao yao hua" Stir-fried "flower" pork kidney $9.95
                    9. 毛血旺 "mao xue wang" Chongqing-style duck's blood cubes in spicy sauce $12.95
                    10. 通心菜 "tong xin cai" Hollow-stem vegetable (kangkong; water convolvulus) $8.95

                    1. re: galleygirl
                      Luther Jul 16, 2009 06:33 PM

                      11. 小椒牛肉丝 "xiao jiao niu rou" Shredded beef and peppers $9.95
                      12. 魚香鸡片 "yu xiang ji pian" Yu xiang chicken slices $8.95
                      13. 酸菜牛筋 "suan cai niu jin" Pickled cabbage beef tendon SOLD OUT $10.75
                      14. 魚香茄子 "yu xiang qie zi" Yu xiang eggplant $8.95
                      15. 肉末姜豆 "niu mo jiang dou" Minced pork with long beans $8.95
                      16. someone who can actually read these
                      17. help me out
                      18. 虎皮尖椒 "hu pi jian jiao" Tiger-skin peppers $8.95

                      1. re: Luther
                        a
                        autopi Jul 16, 2009 06:42 PM

                        thanks for translating!

                        1. re: Luther
                          a
                          avial Jul 16, 2009 08:17 PM

                          I think its:
                          16. 芋头烤鸡 "yu tou kao ji" - taro roast chicken
                          17. 酸菜大肠 "suan cai da chang" - stir-fried pickled cabbage and intestines (large intestine...)

                          1. re: avial
                            lipoff Jul 16, 2009 09:06 PM

                            16. 芋头烧鸡 - yu4 tou shao1 ji1 - roast chicken with taro
                            17. 酸菜大肠 - suan1 cai4 da4 chang2 - sour cabbage with intestines

                            1. re: lipoff
                              a
                              avial Jul 17, 2009 09:41 AM

                              I'm glad we arrived at the same characters, my mastery of the Chinese language has been ...absent... since I was 9 =)

                      2. re: Luther
                        kobuta Jul 16, 2009 04:19 PM

                        Interesting selection! If I have time for a break tomorrow, I'm going to have to try this place out.

                    2. lipoff Jul 14, 2009 02:04 PM

                      Wow, you could knock me over with a feather. If it wasn't for the great detail in your post and the photos I would have thought you were joking. Thailand Cafe is notoriously bad. I, unfortunately, went there once when I lived literally just down the street. But this looks wonderful --- I'll have to get over there this week to check it out. Thanks very much!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: lipoff
                        MrsCheese Jul 14, 2009 05:39 PM

                        I got takeout from this place years ago when we were living in temporary housing in the area. The Thai food was so bad I threw it away without eating, and I was really hungry, so that's saying a lot. Sounds like they've made quite a change!

                        1. re: MrsCheese
                          s
                          Spenbald Jul 14, 2009 08:14 PM

                          Don't be fooled. As the OP alluded to, the Thai is still abominable. They catered a recent event at MIT and the quality of food was horrifying. This new development, however, sounds very interesting and I hope to hear more feedback before jumping in and trying it myself.

                      2. a
                        avial Jul 19, 2009 09:11 AM

                        Walked by yesterday and took a close up picture of their specials menu which is now posted in the front window. Must try their 炸酱面 soon.

                         
                        14 Replies
                        1. re: avial
                          d
                          damneddemand Jul 19, 2009 09:40 AM

                          This is the same menu I posted in my initial post. Unfortunately, your picture, like mine, is pretty hard to read thanks to chowhound downsizing our photos....

                          It appears that they had a different specials menu out when Luther went -- I don't remember seeing this when I went (though we did order the roast chicken with Taro, which is what I described as being 'hot pot' -- it's really like a hot, soupy broth with big chunks of Taro and bone-in fried chicken.)

                          1. re: avial
                            a
                            avial Jul 19, 2009 12:01 PM

                            that's odd, I was able to get a blown-up version of my uploaded image earlier. Well, let's fix that problem, why don't we:
                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/avial/37...

                            1. re: avial
                              Luther Jul 19, 2009 06:10 PM

                              To clarify: there are 2.5 menus. One is the printed menu with English, which is what damneddemand posted originally (and is now in the window). There is also a "lunch specials" version of this menu that has about half of the dishes offered as rice plates.

                              The other menu is the "specials" menu which is entirely in Chinese. It appears on a whiteboard in the front and a white piece of paper in the back, but the dishes are written in a different order on each.

                              1. re: avial
                                kobuta Jul 27, 2009 07:08 AM

                                I tried their zha zhang mian, and it's fairly simple - just the noodles and the sauce. Not a lot of notable mince pork pieces in the noodles (which was ok for me, since I prefer less meaty), but they were pretty tasty. Most version I've seen is a bit chunkier - not sure if the preferred or more authentic version is with more chunks or not.

                                I need to work out the mandarin pronunciations for most of their menu, since it doesn't come with English that I can refer to. I'm never sure if I say it in Cantonese the worker will know which dish I mean.

                                1. re: kobuta
                                  a
                                  avial Jul 27, 2009 08:59 AM

                                  While I was there yesterday, I heard the owner (middle-aged Chinese man with big hair) talking to someone who looked like an account in Cantonese. He later spoke Mandarin to our waiter (it was just the two of them serving the place) who wore glasses and had a much neater, much more compact haircut. So I guess you'll have to roll the dice.

                                  1. re: avial
                                    Luther Jul 27, 2009 10:58 AM

                                    Also, the hand-written menu uses traditional characters

                                    1. re: Luther
                                      kobuta Jul 28, 2009 10:13 AM

                                      Yeah, I can read them but they will be pronounced differently in the two dialects. Not all the name are also obvious as to what's in them unless one's very familiar with Sicuan cuisine, so while some are clear, some need some 'splainin for me. I've had a few good Sichuan dishes in my travels, but I hardly consider myself well-versed on this cuisine.

                                      1. re: kobuta
                                        l
                                        lergnom Jul 29, 2009 09:14 AM

                                        I don't speak or read any Chinese dialect but my kids speak Mandarin. They translate the menus - not this one yet - and tell me, "It just says beef in special sauce" or some other name that means nothing if you don't know what the name means.

                                        1. re: lergnom
                                          kobuta Jul 30, 2009 06:36 AM

                                          Even knowing it's beef is a start. I would say in Chinese cooking 80% of the time you can get a sense of what's in the dish. Some of the names are "creative" and you have no idea what's in it. One of the items on the whiteboard is mao (fur/hair) xie (blood) wang (busy, filled, prosperous). I could assume it's a blood dish, but I have no way of telling and a literal translation of the characters makes no sense to me.

                                          I ordered mapo tofu with rice yesterday and it was really good. Swimming in chili oil, so not a dish you can have too often, but delicious.

                                          1. re: lergnom
                                            KWagle Sep 24, 2010 03:15 AM

                                            Those idiomatic names do require some study.

                                            Someone on the Pleco forums pointed me to a new book on Chinese menus called _Eating Out in China_ by Alan Hoenig, published in June. The pulbisher's website, ezchinesey.com also lists a forthcoming book called "Chinese-English Menu Guide."

                                            As for Pleco, it's an awesome Chinese dictionary and learning tool, which some of you have seen me demo on my iPad. OCR is scheduled for their next release, initially using the iPhone 4 camera, and eventually using photographs on other devices. I also recommend eStroke at every opportunity, especially since learning to actually write characters makes handwritten Chinese somewhat easier (though still challenging) to decipher.

                                            And of course there is the classic _Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters_ by the late James McCawley, which AFAIK is back in print as of a couple of years ago. It's unfortunate McCawley didn't live long enough to revise his book to take advantage of these new tools.

                                            I wonder what random unrelated thread or board the moderators will move this post to.

                                            ~ Kiran <entropy@io.com>

                                    2. re: kobuta
                                      digga Jul 28, 2009 08:05 AM

                                      Could you tell if the noodles were homemade and fresh? I usually get my zha zhang mian fix at Buk Kyung in Union Sq. It'd be great to have someplace close to work.

                                      1. re: digga
                                        kobuta Jul 28, 2009 10:13 AM

                                        I would be surprised if they were homemade. They're not terrible, but I find homemade noodles to have an extra bite or chewiness to them when cooked right, and these didn't have that.

                                        1. re: digga
                                          a
                                          avial Jul 28, 2009 03:50 PM

                                          have I missed something all these years or is a korean joint serving an authentic or quasi-authentic Chinese zha jiang mian or is it just the korean jya jya myung?

                                          1. re: avial
                                            kobuta Jul 29, 2009 06:46 AM

                                            From what I know, it's the Korean version (Korean-Chinese fare, if you will).

                                    3. limster Jul 19, 2009 09:41 AM

                                      Awesome -- that's the one of most chowhoundish posts I've read here in a while. Now 'fess up to your other secrets. *big grin*

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: limster
                                        Luther Jul 19, 2009 06:07 PM

                                        The awning actually says "sichuan cuisine" ... of course, I never noticed until now. It was an open secret!

                                        1. re: Luther
                                          limster Jul 19, 2009 06:10 PM

                                          On the awning - not just "Sichuan cuisine" but "authentic Sichuan cuisine"

                                      2. a
                                        avial Jul 26, 2009 09:09 PM

                                        Finally got around to making a trip to this place. Went with 4 four friends and tore into about half the menu - ordered 6 entrees and 5 cold dishes.

                                        In summary: over-salted. Almost every dish was dominated by how salt which Luther alluded to in his description of the dry hot chicken. At times, I couldn't tell if my tongue was burning from the salt or the peppers and when given a moment to focus on the burning, you realize that it's the salt talking because there's just not that much heat in any of the dishes. I'm still gorged from the meal and can't quite focus on details yet.

                                        1. f
                                          fredid Jul 28, 2009 08:24 AM

                                          I stopped in on Friday, and just to add to the menu confusion (!) - they had a Chinese/English menu of Sichuan specials (not rice plates!) The prices correlated with the white board, so I assumed they were the same dishes. BUT Luther's list looks much more interesting that what I remember from the menu I saw, so....

                                          I ordered Sichuan peppers with pork intestine - The waiter double checked that I saw it was intestine! I enjoyed the dish - the tripe was pleasantly chewy, there were a massive amt of red (large bird?) chilis (I ate only one at each meal, enough to get a good buzz! but I'm sure they also heated up the tripe) and many green chilis that were milder. I was happy!

                                          6 Replies
                                          1. re: fredid
                                            Luther Jul 28, 2009 10:09 AM

                                            Tripe is stomach, not intestine. Which was it in the dish?

                                            1. re: fredid
                                              f
                                              fredid Jul 28, 2009 01:17 PM

                                              Whoops! They were intestines...

                                              Some clarity on the SPECIALS MENUS!! The white board specials ARE as Luther translated them! Mr. BigHair got a kick out of the translations being done, and done online!

                                              (Saliva chicken - It makes you salivate! he explained. #9 - duck's blood cubes in spicy sauce - is not available for take-out, as there's much liquid and it's heated at the table.)

                                              The plastic Sichuan Specials menu - available at the front desk - overlaps with the whiteboard, but isn't as far-out! There's also a "lunch" version of this same menu, with cheaper prices, smaller portions, and rice.

                                              Both men speak English!

                                              If someone goes in when it's slow (e.g. not Fri lunch!) I think Mr. Big Hair would be happy to go over thewhite board specials! His English is fine, but, at moments, hard to understand. He got a kick out of us, and asked for the website!

                                              1. re: fredid
                                                galleygirl Jul 28, 2009 01:22 PM

                                                We might consider changing our references to him as Mr.Big Hair, then... ;)

                                                1. re: fredid
                                                  f
                                                  fredid Aug 1, 2009 04:01 PM

                                                  OK - The Village Voice's foodie bigman has vindIcated me!

                                                  http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkint...

                                                  But the dish at Thailand Cafe was definitely intestines..

                                                  1. re: fredid
                                                    lipoff Aug 12, 2009 12:50 PM

                                                    Finally (!) made it here. It was really packed for lunch --- I'd never taken a really close look before, but I don't think I had ever seen it crowded at lunch in the "Thai-only" era.

                                                    Ziran niurou (Cumin Beef) was really excellent. Lightly fried morsels of beef bathed in cumin and star anise, stir fried with piquant peppercorns and still-slightly-crunchy scallions. Spicy, flavorful, and textured, it still maintianed the subtle flavor of the beef. It was, however, perhaps the most unique prepartion of this dish that I'd ever had before. A DC's zha jiang mian was well textured and flavorful, albeit not the very best rendition of this dish she's ever had (she is a connoisseur of the zha jiang mian).

                                                    My other DC had a squid dish from the Thai side of the menu, which . . . is best avoided in the future.

                                                    For a restaurant that turned out excellent ziran niu, they did manage to get everything else wrong --- hard, dry rice, exercrable "duck" sauce on the table, inedible hot & sour soup (but a nice demonstration of a non-Newtonian fluid, since there was so much corn starch), tepid "ice" water, and tea that was undrinkably bad (and $1.25 to boot, for a single cup). Service was not rapid, although to be fair the small restaurant was truly packed.

                                                    However, all told, I've found a new favorite spot for a sitdown lunch in the MIT area, if the walk to Mulan or Emma's is too long. It seems to be doing quite well too --- I think the large number of Chinese expatriates at MIT and the nearby pharma/biotech companies are literally hungry for authentic Chinese food in such a convenient place.

                                                    1. re: lipoff
                                                      Luther Aug 12, 2009 04:08 PM

                                                      Also, they charge like $1.25 or $1.50 for the bad rice. I'd hesitate to call it a "destination" type place based on the ambience, complexity of seasoning and value-for-money, but it is a really nice addition to the area.

                                              2. KWagle Mar 6, 2010 04:33 AM

                                                Man, the guy that wrote that whiteboard has damn good handwriting. I can recognize some of the characters even in that tiny picture.

                                                I'm curious as to whether anyone's had the rabbit--is it a thermally hot dish? I often find Sichuan rabbit in a cold dish. Years ago, I had the chance to order rabbit in the usual oily "bean sauce" at Sichuan Dynasty in Flushing. I didn't get it, and then the place closed.

                                                And, if Mr Big Hair speaks good enough English, I think it's worth suggesting to him that he actually print a translation of the handwritten specials, and take a tip from Hunan Taste and put *everything* on *all* the menus and let diners order what they actually want. Serving people the food they want to eat really doesn't seem to hurt the places that do it.

                                                When I was there, I asked for lots of hua jiao, and whoever was at the counter (he didn't seem to speak much English) actually told the cook I wanted it, and I got food that was every bit as crunchy and numbing as I like it. Had he pulled his punches, *I* wouldn't have recommended the place to the (so far) three foodies I've recommended it to, one of whom has been there and considers it better than Lao Sichuan in Framingham, and *she's* recommending it to others already.

                                                Okay, back to my regularly scheduled Hunan Taste and Grace Garden. :-)

                                                -----
                                                Thailand Cafe
                                                302 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                1. f
                                                  fredid May 23, 2010 02:23 PM

                                                  The Crew followed up our meal last week (at Brookline's new Szechuan Gourmet) with another Szechuan feast, this time at Thailand Cafe - Seven of us are "hotheads" (to varying degrees!) and we were very happy with our meal! The inspiration to go came from Galangatron, who had "fallen in love" (!) with the tripe and tendon in hot chili oil at SG - a dish that he had surprisingly never had before! His craving got us to Thailand Cafe, where the same dish (second on the Appetizers list, on the "Sichuan" menu) had the heat we craved, and the complexity and chewiness we love...

                                                  We asked the man with glasses to translate the white board for us, which he kindly did - It turned out everything on it has now been included in the printed (Sichuan) menu, also.

                                                  We also ordered double-cooked pork belly with capsicum; Tiger Skin peppers - these were marked with three chilis, were hot but not numbingly so, and much enjoyed; the towel gourd with bamboo fungus (a nice rendition, and a contrast to the spicier dishes) and the sweet potato noodles with minced pork (aka "ants on a log" (?!)) All were quite good!

                                                  The pork belly "something" that we ordered off the specials board was in a heated broth with veggies, nicely prepared, but not something I would personally choose again.

                                                  Our "non-spicy" compadre ordered her favorite tofu w/mushrooms - also very good!

                                                  Once again, I must apologize for my inability to describe the food - but wanted to remind people of this place, while we wait for SG/Brookline to "turn it up a notch"!

                                                  28 Replies
                                                  1. re: fredid
                                                    MC Slim JB May 23, 2010 02:43 PM

                                                    I remember going to this place a couple of times some years ago and writing it off as a typical bad suburban-level Thai place: canned curries, cheap ingredient substitutes (e.g., peas for baby eggplant), few strong traditional flavors. When did they start offering real Sichuan food? (Judging from the OP, I guess it's last summer.)

                                                    Is the Thai food any better, or is the Sichuan menu the only worthwhile one here?

                                                    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                                    1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                      jgg13 May 23, 2010 02:54 PM

                                                      thai food is actually worse than it was under previous ownership. they switched over last spring.

                                                      1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                        Luther May 23, 2010 06:13 PM

                                                        Yeah this thread was started very soon after they opened the Sichuan menu

                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                          o
                                                          owades Sep 21, 2010 03:09 PM

                                                          Thailand Cafe is in the same location that once held the "Joyce Chen Small Eating Place," for those of us whose memories of Sichuan food in the Boston area reach back to the late 1960s and 1970s, I had a very enjoyable meal there yesterday thanks to this Chowhound thread, and I'm sure I'll be returning soon to explore more of the Sichuan menu.

                                                          1. re: owades
                                                            tatsu Sep 21, 2010 03:38 PM

                                                            really? what about that building across the street with the unusual stained glass windows? and wasn't she on memorial drive too?

                                                            1. re: tatsu
                                                              beetlebug Sep 21, 2010 06:42 PM

                                                              The original Mary Chung's restaurant was located on Mass Ave in Cambridge where the unusual stain glass windows are currently located (next door to the McDonalds). They closed down for a few years and then re-opened up across the street to the current location.

                                                              -----
                                                              Mary Chung Restaurant
                                                              460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                              1. re: tatsu
                                                                o
                                                                owades Sep 21, 2010 07:05 PM

                                                                You may be confusing Mary Chung with Joyce Chen. Joyce Chen was a pioneer in non-Cantonese Chinese food in this area, both as a restaurateur and through her cooking show on WGBH-TV, and she much predated Mary Chung's original restaurant (which was indeed in the building with the unusual stained glass). When I came to Boston in the late 1960s, Joyce Chen had two restaurant locations--one at 302 Mass Ave (the "Small Eating Place" that is now the Thailand Cafe) and one in a house on Memorial Drive (replaced by either MIT dorms or the Hyatt hotel; I'm not sure exactly). Both of those closed, and the last Joyce Chen restaurant location was on Rindge Avenue near Fresh Pond Circle.

                                                                1. re: owades
                                                                  tatsu Sep 21, 2010 07:11 PM

                                                                  thanks, i was never sure about those two locales, i remember the Rindge av one tho

                                                                  1. re: owades
                                                                    Luther Sep 22, 2010 04:32 AM

                                                                    The Memorial Drive location is now MIT New House (471 Memorial Drive).

                                                                    1. re: owades
                                                                      chickendhansak Sep 22, 2010 07:34 AM

                                                                      But it is true though that Mary Chung closed for some time and reopened -- whether they moved location I don't know. I remember the reopening and everyone I worked with's excitement about its return around 1994/1995.

                                                                      -----
                                                                      Mary Chung Restaurant
                                                                      460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                                      1. re: chickendhansak
                                                                        beetlebug Sep 22, 2010 07:54 AM

                                                                        When MC re-opened, it was to their current location (across the street from the stained glass windows).

                                                                  2. re: owades
                                                                    KWagle Sep 21, 2010 05:52 PM

                                                                    Ah, Joyce Chen again. Are your memories from the 60s and 70s clear enough to actually describe the dishes she or others were serving under the name 'Sichuan' back then? It's hard to find anything useful from before the days of the Internet--who cares enough to collect and photograph (as microfilm/fiche) paper menus from Chinese restaurants?

                                                                    1. re: KWagle
                                                                      f
                                                                      FoodDabbler Sep 21, 2010 06:53 PM

                                                                      This man does:
                                                                      http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/22/din...

                                                                      The NY Public Library has an extensive menu collection, as does (I believe) the more local Schlesinger at Radcliffe. I don't know how big their Chinese holdings are.

                                                                      Not restaurant menus, but I have a few Chinese cookbooks published in English in the 1960s and early 1970s. They make interesting reading.

                                                                      1. re: FoodDabbler
                                                                        tatsu Sep 21, 2010 07:11 PM

                                                                        ooo don't give kirian the menu he's on the warpath against JC ha ha

                                                                        1. re: FoodDabbler
                                                                          o
                                                                          owades Sep 21, 2010 07:18 PM

                                                                          I do remember that the cuisine (and the province) was spelled "Szechuan" in those days, not "Sichuan" (today's modernized Chinese standard transliteration). Unfortunately, I don't have or remember in detail Joyce Chen's menus, but her cookbook from 1963 is available used through Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0397...) and might provide some insights into what she was serving in those days.

                                                                          I believe we can thank (or blame) Joyce Chen for the term "Peking ravioli," which she invented to make the notion of potstickers more understandable to a Western clientele. I have one friend who moved away from Boston and was surprised not to find Peking ravioli on the menu of local Chinese restaurants--it's a regional thing in this area due to Joyce Chen's influence.

                                                                          1. re: owades
                                                                            KWagle Sep 21, 2010 08:04 PM

                                                                            鍋貼 (lit. 'potstickers') can be found everywhere I've lived or eaten. It's unclear to me how the *name* "Peking ravioli," which is certainly unique to the Boston area, makes the notion of a pan-fried and subsequently steamed dumpling more clear than, say, 'pan-fried dumpling' or even 'potsticker.'

                                                                            1. re: KWagle
                                                                              c
                                                                              cambridgedoctpr Sep 22, 2010 07:19 AM

                                                                              i have heard the term peking ravioli in Chicago, and I think, even in SF.

                                                                            2. re: owades
                                                                              f
                                                                              FoodDabbler Sep 21, 2010 08:44 PM

                                                                              I don't know about "Peking", but there's a recipe for "ravioli" in the 1960 cookbook by Nancy Chi Ma ("Mrs. Ma's Chinese Cookbook", Charles Tuttle Co., 1960). It appears to have been aimed at Americans (or all Westerners) living in Japan, and it seems to have been well-received worldwide. The flap on the dustjacket of my copy has favorable comments on earlier printings of the book from newspapers in LA, Bombay, Singapore, Taipei, and Chicago.

                                                                              1. re: owades
                                                                                Luther Sep 22, 2010 04:38 AM

                                                                                If you poke around some old newspapers it becomes clear that she takes credit for popularizing peking duck and moo shi, both of which are actually Chinese food (and not an American invention) though of course not actually Sichuan specialties.

                                                                                My best understanding from archived periodicals is that the "spicy Szechuan" foods sold at her restaurants and at subsequent imitators were basically just your typical American chunks-of-food-in-a-starchy-sweet-sauce that had some chili pepper added to it for some degree of spice.

                                                                                1. re: Luther
                                                                                  Aromatherapy Sep 22, 2010 05:20 AM

                                                                                  Not all of them were chunks in glop. My menu memories aren't that detailed (and I couldn't afford many restaurant meals) but I do remember being happy to recreate many of those dishes at home using the recipes in Mrs. Chang's Szechwan Cookbook, first published in 1976 and still available. Take a look. And I remember that when I first tried the kung pao shrimp at Sichuan Village (the one on the special menu), I immediately flashed back to the 70s. Cut Joyce Chen a break, she had to make a living--like the current crop of "authentic" restaurants she also had to serve American stuff. Her restaurant(s) took a long, slow downhill slide as she became ill and her son took over.

                                                                                  1. re: Luther
                                                                                    c
                                                                                    cambridgedoctpr Sep 22, 2010 07:22 AM

                                                                                    If by popularize, you mean, show on television, maybe that is the case. but they were available for a long time.

                                                                                    1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                                                                      Luther Sep 22, 2010 08:02 AM

                                                                                      They have claimed that they were the first to sell these dishes in Boston. I have no knowledge about the validity of the claim.

                                                                                    2. re: Luther
                                                                                      h
                                                                                      hargau Sep 22, 2010 09:48 AM

                                                                                      OK you people made me go get my Joyce Chen cookbook 11th printing copyright 1962.. Not sure if these can be read here or not, they dont allow very large photos.. Funny thing about this book are the "serving sizes".. She lists them for Chinese and American.. Always feeding more Chinese. For instance Velvet Chicken American 2-3 Chinese 5-6.

                                                                                       
                                                                                       
                                                                                       
                                                                                      1. re: hargau
                                                                                        tatsu Sep 22, 2010 11:07 AM

                                                                                        Well asians don't let food go to waste! ;)

                                                                                        Those recipes would hold up ok today. I would go. A bit of Beijing, some Shanghai, mostly Mandarin, and somethings made up with American ingredients. There's nothing wrong about this...

                                                                                        Thanks hargau.

                                                                                        1. re: hargau
                                                                                          The Chowhound Team Sep 23, 2010 01:35 PM

                                                                                          We split a number of posts regarding chinese cookbooks over to the Home Cooking board: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/736106

                                                                                        2. re: Luther
                                                                                          KWagle Sep 22, 2010 02:04 PM

                                                                                          Steven Siegel once described the difference between "Szechuan" and "Hunan" food as being contained in the shape of the vegetables, particularly carrots. One uses julienne, the other trapezoidal prisms scalloped on the two long edges.

                                                                              2. re: fredid
                                                                                galangatron May 23, 2010 08:35 PM

                                                                                the fuqi feipian (roast beef, tongue, and tripe with chili-peanut vinaigrette) is actually the first appetizer listed on the sichuan menu. it had more heat than the version at sichuan gourmet in brookline and contained a generous amount of tripe

                                                                                the other pork belly dish was a hot pot off the specials board. thin strips of pork belly, chewy glass noodles, and blood cubes in a mild herbal broth. it was a little bland and i don't think i would order it again

                                                                                1. re: galangatron
                                                                                  Tir_na_nOg May 24, 2010 06:06 PM

                                                                                  The fuqi feipian was interesting compared to the same dish Billerica/Framingham Sichuan Gourmet. It's more coarsely cut, with more tripe and no tendon, and is very heavy on the Sichuan peppercorns. Very, very mala! In contrast, SG's version is more elegant and has more balance between the chili oil and peppercorns.

                                                                                  I'll bring some takeout for you guys next time!

                                                                                  I was actually pretty impressed, and surprised, with Thailand Cafe. I used to work in Central Square for several years and never even thought about eating there. It looks like a bit of a dump from the outside (although fine on the inside), and none of my Asian coworkers ever recommended it, which is always a bad sign. But I guess that was before the new ownership took over and brought in a Sichuan menu (although from Yelp, it sound like the Thai food is still awful).

                                                                                  If you are in Central Square, and hankering for some spicy food, pick this place over Mary Chung.

                                                                                  -----
                                                                                  Mary Chung Restaurant
                                                                                  460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                                                  Sichuan Gourmet
                                                                                  502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                                                                              3. KWagle Sep 15, 2010 01:30 AM

                                                                                As part of my futile attempt to get caught up on my Chinese eating, I made an unexpected and early stop at 川泰缘 (still known in English as "Thailand Cafe.") I ordered the Sichuan beef jerky, which is dried beef (I believe it's deep-fried) in a hot and numbing sauce that's mostly hua jiao oil--as all of you most certainly know. While the beef was a bit sketchy (I'm not sure you should make beef jerky from fatty beef) and the portion was small, the sauce was pretty much as numbing as I hoped it would be. Once again, the order taker actually communicated my desire for hua jiao to the runner, whence it was clearly communicated to the kitchen.

                                                                                I'm going to have to make a more careful investigation of their menu, especially the 干锅鱼片 (dry cooked fish slices) which is one of my favorite dishes. I've only seen it at Lao Sichuan ("Sichuan Gourmet") and Jing Chuan ("New Shanghai") in this area, so I'm happy to see it on their specials menu.

                                                                                Interestingly, it occurs to me that 川泰缘 is one of the few restaurants I know (perhaps the only one) that doesn't devote any significant portion of its menu to American style Chinese food. There are a few items hidden amongst the Thai side of the menu, which is probably the right place to put them, since they bear about as much resemblance to Chinese food as Thai food does. But the side labeled "Sichuan Cuisine" is straight-up Sichuan, and from what I can tell so far, worth the trouble of checking out.

                                                                                ~ Kiran <entropy@io.com>

                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                1. re: KWagle
                                                                                  c
                                                                                  cambridgedoctpr Sep 15, 2010 10:40 AM

                                                                                  i have never tried the thai food, but it has a bad reputation.

                                                                                  1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                                                                    jgg13 Sep 15, 2010 10:45 AM

                                                                                    It went from mediocre to bad since the change of ownership. I used to view it as a serviceable option if i wanted some quick/cheap thai food and was nearby and/or was in the mood for something mediocre (it happens) delivered to me. No longer.

                                                                                    1. re: jgg13
                                                                                      c
                                                                                      cambridgedoctpr Sep 15, 2010 02:12 PM

                                                                                      try the sichuan food; it is very good.

                                                                                      1. re: cambridgedoctpr
                                                                                        jgg13 Sep 15, 2010 02:31 PM

                                                                                        I have several times, and I know.

                                                                                      2. re: jgg13
                                                                                        lipoff Sep 15, 2010 08:21 PM

                                                                                        I haven't noticed a change in the Thai food --- it was execrable before they started serving good Sichuan food and it remains execrable today.

                                                                                  2. s
                                                                                    samsoon Sep 16, 2010 02:07 PM

                                                                                    I have had quite a few meals here due to the fact that my bf appears to want to have every other meal here. My favorite hands down is the family style Sichuan fish.other things we consistently order are dry hot chicken (which i think is better elsewhere like Sichuan Garden in Brookline), Sichuan noodle soup, and beef tripe appetizer.

                                                                                    -----
                                                                                    Sichuan Garden
                                                                                    295 Washington St, Brookline, MA 02445

                                                                                    1. Nab Oct 20, 2010 06:51 PM

                                                                                      Finally found myself fortuitously here one night last week, right at closing time. We coaxed Mr. Big Hair into letting us get away with a quick take-out order as he was nudging us out the door. I thought the fuqi fei pian was off-balance, in both its meats, and the lack of sauce, the mildly rancid peanuts not making matters much better. The dry fried chile chicken (Chengdu dry hot chicken) was well-executed, and the Sichuantons (Chengdu dumplings) were summarily inhaled, so I reckon they were tasty. I was, ahhhh ... hungry. Will certainly need to return to explore the specials board and the rest of the goods.

                                                                                       
                                                                                       
                                                                                       
                                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Nab
                                                                                        lipoff Oct 21, 2010 12:10 PM

                                                                                        Sichuantons is the best coinage ever!

                                                                                        1. re: Nab
                                                                                          f
                                                                                          fredid Oct 21, 2010 12:51 PM

                                                                                          Give the fuqi fei pian another try - when the cook isn't trying to head out the door. I think you'll like it - a bunch of us, picky eaters all (in the best sense!) did...

                                                                                          1. re: fredid
                                                                                            Nab Oct 22, 2010 06:26 AM

                                                                                            Thanks, fredid. I am giving them every benefit of the doubt, given the circumstances of my single sampling.

                                                                                            1. re: Nab
                                                                                              p
                                                                                              petron5000 Apr 5, 2011 08:02 PM

                                                                                              Went tonight. Seems like a newer special board. Anyone care to translate?

                                                                                               
                                                                                              1. re: petron5000
                                                                                                KWagle Apr 6, 2011 04:31 PM

                                                                                                Not from that picture! But maybe I'll stop by and take a better one, and see what I can do. I've been meaning to do that for eons, since their board actually doesn't change very much. They generally seem willing to translate the board, if it's not too busy.

                                                                                                1. re: KWagle
                                                                                                  p
                                                                                                  petron5000 Apr 6, 2011 04:42 PM

                                                                                                  I can do it too. Sorry, didn't realize that it wasn't legible.

                                                                                                2. re: petron5000
                                                                                                  kobuta Apr 9, 2011 08:43 AM

                                                                                                  Yeah, a bit too far for the small jumbled text. The only thing I can make out is that the dish in the lower right hand corner - first dish on the bottom (for 12.75?) is pea pod stems.

                                                                                                  1. re: kobuta
                                                                                                    p
                                                                                                    petron5000 Jul 12, 2011 06:29 PM

                                                                                                    Here's the new white board.

                                                                                                     
                                                                                                    1. re: petron5000
                                                                                                      p
                                                                                                      petron5000 Sep 2, 2011 06:44 AM

                                                                                                      doing a little bump

                                                                                            2. re: Nab
                                                                                              justbeingpolite Nov 5, 2011 02:29 PM

                                                                                              They had Chengdu dumplings as a special at Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica on Thursday night, just like the "sichuantons" above, and really delicious, much more flavorful then their usual sichuan dumplings in spicy chili sauce.

                                                                                              -----
                                                                                              Sichuan Gourmet
                                                                                              502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                                                                                            3. digga Nov 4, 2011 04:47 PM

                                                                                              Fashionably late to this party.

                                                                                              Lunch with co-workers on Wednesday:

                                                                                              Fish filets with cabbage and spicy Sichuan chili sauce. We prefer the Mulan version, but this was still pretty damned good. We wished that the chili spice was better distributed throughout the dish and that there was more of it. It was easy to get a big mouthful of Sichuan pepper that was bitter. But we loved the cabbage - crisp and a nice textural foil to the fish.

                                                                                              Water spinach was a refreshing accompaniment. Third person got the shredded pork in plum sauce which I didn't try but the other dining partner declared that our (fish) dish was clearly better.

                                                                                              Full restaurant at 12:30 pm. Offering Sichuan food seems to have saved this place (I have had the Thai food, circa 2004 - wowbad).

                                                                                              10 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: digga
                                                                                                f
                                                                                                femmevox Nov 6, 2011 04:55 PM

                                                                                                I believe the entire block Thailand Cafe is on (also All Asia) is scheduled for demolition some time this winter/spring for Novartis expansion.

                                                                                                1. re: femmevox
                                                                                                  kobuta Nov 6, 2011 08:16 PM

                                                                                                  Say it ain't so! I hope Thailand Cafe (or more correctly, the Sichuan side of it) decides to relocate nearby.

                                                                                                  1. re: femmevox
                                                                                                    d
                                                                                                    damneddemand Nov 6, 2011 08:32 PM

                                                                                                    That seems surprising to me. The Novartis expansion is across the street from the current Novartis building. That makes the expansion on the wrong side of the street and 1 block south (closer to MIT) than Thailand cafe. See this article / map for a description of the expansion:

                                                                                                    http://snipurl.com/2jyd60

                                                                                                    1. re: damneddemand
                                                                                                      digga Nov 7, 2011 05:30 AM

                                                                                                      I did hear that All Asia is relocating and the Salvation Army outpost closed recently, too.

                                                                                                      I have some friends at NIBR - I'll ask them.

                                                                                                      1. re: digga
                                                                                                        jgg13 Nov 7, 2011 05:37 AM

                                                                                                        AA is opening up a spot w/ a diff name (Valhalla?) in the old CCTV space on Prospect.

                                                                                                      2. re: damneddemand
                                                                                                        Luther Nov 7, 2011 06:17 AM

                                                                                                        It's true, the block containing Thailand Cafe will indeed be torn down in the next few months. This is in addition to the current Novartis expansion currently underway at the corner of Portland and Main.

                                                                                                        "Existing buildings will be demolished, including Thailand Cafe, All Asia, J.N. Philips Auto Glass, and MIT building NW62 (the Volvo Garage)."

                                                                                                        http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N60/mitimco....

                                                                                                      3. re: femmevox
                                                                                                        jgg13 Nov 7, 2011 05:37 AM

                                                                                                        The story that I've been told for years was that it was going to be MIT dorms.

                                                                                                        1. re: jgg13
                                                                                                          Luther Nov 7, 2011 06:18 AM

                                                                                                          As of a year ago, it was set to become part-research, part-retail, all expensive (a la the Novartis block with Flour and Central Bottle). Sunoco and MIT Random House (direclty next door) will survive.

                                                                                                          http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N60/mitimco....

                                                                                                          -----
                                                                                                          Central Bottle
                                                                                                          196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

                                                                                                          1. re: Luther
                                                                                                            m
                                                                                                            markin617 Aug 7, 2012 10:27 PM

                                                                                                            Looks like Thailand Cafe, All Asia, and what not will be hanging around a bit longer as the Cambridge City Council has let the petition for zoning changes to expire. As I read it, the developer will have to file a new petition and go through much of the process again. I don't get to Thailand Cafe all that often but I'm glad it's still there when I'm in the neighborhood.

                                                                                                            1. re: markin617
                                                                                                              KWagle Aug 8, 2012 12:20 AM

                                                                                                              Hurrah! I've always had decent Sichuan food there and am happy to have a good option close in town.

                                                                                                    2. muscles_marinara Oct 8, 2013 10:43 AM

                                                                                                      Yelp said this place is closed, sadly. Confirmation?

                                                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: muscles_marinara
                                                                                                        viperlush Oct 8, 2013 11:03 AM

                                                                                                        Yup, it is closed.

                                                                                                        1. re: viperlush
                                                                                                          u
                                                                                                          Uncle Yabai Oct 10, 2013 10:45 PM

                                                                                                          The whole block is under redevelopment, some new biology lab going up. Cambridge, the home of 21st century biotech, and Clover Lab (obligatory food reference).

                                                                                                          1. re: Uncle Yabai
                                                                                                            StriperGuy Oct 11, 2013 07:06 AM

                                                                                                            I'm generally not a fan of just knocking down a whole city block, but seriously THAT block was just a dump. Sad to have Thailand cafe closed though.

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