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East by Northeast - Open

I've been anxiously awaiting East by Northeast since I first heard about it in the early fall. It did not disappoint.

They open at 5. We arrived around 5:30 and found the place completely empty. They are going to do fine, and I appreciate that they did not go the route of trying to get a DailyCandy post and have the place swamped from the getgo. Opening with less noise is smarter for them and better for us, I think.

The pickled veggies (daikon, beet, and rutabaga) were perfect. The sweet potato fritters were fine, but the amuse bouche of seafood fritters was better. The scallion pancake was well-fried and not greasy, but the star of that dish was the tasty roasted garlic sauce. The man tou bread with pork belly was outstanding. It compared well to the exemplary version of the dish at Shangri-La in Belmont, but had a deeper pork flavor with a great crispness on the edges.

The hand-rolled short rice noodles were a very pleasant surprise, one of the stars of the night. The noodles are similar to gnocchi, the chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the daikon provided a fabulous contrast. It's one of those dishes that is comforting in a very familiar way, even though you've never had anything quite like it. We did not get a thick noodle dish off the menu because they had a special of smoked pork meatball noodle soup with the same noodles. Great smokiness in the broth, and the noodles had a great toothsome quality. Other specials we ordered included fried Maine shrimp with smoked salt and pepper - very strong, great touch with the frying; and a braised pork shoulder with sticky rice - great texture on the pork, but needed a bit more seasoning.

The dumplings. The early reports about this restaurant and the painstaking efforts to develop the right dumpling dough are what really excited me about the place. The pork dumplings had a great wrapper and the squash puree with the five spice jus was delicious. This will be a fun dish to watch as the chef likely rotates in another seasonal vegetable. The filling, however, needed a bit more punch. The shrimp dumplings, on the other hand, had no such deficiencies. They were easily one of the best dumplings I have ever had.

Atmosphere is very simple with probably about 25 seats and 4 bar seats. They smartly have two heavy curtains up to block drafts from coming in - something all small restaurants without a vestibule should do (you hear that, Coppa?). Service was very friendly and quick - no problems whatsoever.

The Cilantro/lime soda was unimpressive, decent cilantro flavor but too much sugar and not enough lime. I wish prices were a bit lower given the small portion size, but it's still a good value. Dinner for four with two drinks each was $145 before tip. I don't mind paying that much, a premium is fine, especially when they are getting their meats from the awesome Vermont Quality Meats.

Given the quality of the food and the lack of hiccups in service during the first week, this place definitely has the potential to be something really special. I can't wait to go back.

Here's the menu:
http://boston.grubstreet.com/2010/01/...

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  1. Thanks for your report! I also enjoyed the crispy Maine shrimp (which were actually crispy, compared to the crispy Maine shrimp at Craigie), and the fluffy sticky rice that came with the braised pork, although the pork itself was a bit dry and rather miniscule for the price. The spicy beef shin/turnip soup was hearty. The shrimp dumplings turned out to be boiled "water" dumplings filled with finely ground shrimp/carrots, I would probably have preferred steamed or pan fried with whole shrimp, oh well. Overall seemed pricey and with a very limited menu, I'm not sure I'll be rushing back but will watch with great interest.

    1. thanks for the review - any ideas what their opening hours are?

      5 Replies
      1. re: scubajane

        They told me until 10PM when we were there on Friday night, but we stayed until almost 11 and there were others there too. It is a pretty relaxed place.

        The menu is on the smaller side but if they have three or more specials a night there actually ends up being quite a lot of choice. We had eight or nine different things and that still left another 6 or 7 we didn't get to try. I was very happy with everything, especially the smokey pork meatball soup (very smoky!) and the dumplings. The salads we had were also outstanding. We all had more than enough to eat and the bill for four with at least one drink per person came out to 110...this didn't seem too bad.

        1. re: hckybg

          how many items per person would you say would work well here?

          1. re: jgg13

            I think the menu says 3-4, but we had 2-3 and weren't hungry after. The dumpling entrees come with 5, the salads are fairly generously sized (but still small plates), the meatball soup came with 5 or 6 meatballs.

            1. re: hckybg

              good to know, thanks. also good that they provide direction on the menu.

              1. re: jgg13

                Yeah, they are very good explaining things and offering direction.

                I'd agree that 3 dishes per person is probably a good amount; 4 would likely be too much.

                Some dishes, like the long noodle dishes, are difficult to share unless everyone is close and willing to eat from the same bowl.

      2. For what it's worth, I noticed last night that Coppa had added in some of those heavy curtains up front. (Much needed!)

        1. Anyone know if they are doing lunch at any time during the week?

          5 Replies
          1. re: Bob Dobalina

            I was actually at ExNE last night for dinner, and myself and my DC's asked the same question. Someone who seemed to be of authority told us that they are currently not open for lunch, but hope to in the 'near future.'

            As for the food, it was good. Albeit a bit pork heavy (which is how felt about Coppa, but I digress). The bill for four of us, including one adult beverage, was $143. Which surprised me, since we probably had 3 dishes a piece (the menu recommendeds 3-4 per person).

            The pork belly on small brioche bun was the hit of the night, and we ordered two portions of this (two pieces per order). Also the dumplings were outstanding, one of pork with a pumpkin-like reduction to dip the dumplings into. The other of shrimp, which tasted more generically fishy than shrimp.

            All in all, I will keep an eye on this place, as the food is good, albeit surprisingly pricey for four people on a random weekday evening. I wish the menu was more expansive, as we found we were ordering the same dish 2-3 times.

            1. re: jforman

              Hmm, 3–4 dishes per person? So much for my dreams of reasonable pricing. Does it have the kind of atmosphere that lends itself well to a-snack-and-a-drink?

              1. re: djd

                As I said above, we had 2-3 per person and were fine, and the menu items vary quite a bit in price. I agree that some of the higher priced ones could be a bit cheaper, but it came out to around 28 per person including alcohol last week (for four). I think it is probably a bit too busy right now for just a snack and a drink (the space is quite small) but you could get two heartier things and a drink and that would be a good moderately sized dinner.

                1. re: djd

                  atmosphere, yes, but menu, perhaps not, depending on what you like to snack on...menu leans towards boiled/stewed/cold items, conspicuous absence of the stir-fried or fried dishes seen in more conventional Chinese restaurants

              2. re: Bob Dobalina

                How did I not think of that tag name?
                Damn you.

              3. Two of us went a few nights ago and we ordered 8 items between us (some are small snack-like items). We managed to finish everything without feeling too full. The final bill was $82. It felt a bit pricey for what we got (especially considering I didn't LOVE the food), but I realize they are new and just trying to figure things out.

                Over all, I think it needs some work, but some of the dishes are definitely very good, while others need tweaking. Here's what we got:

                Curried carrot chips - delicious! - crunchy not oily at all
                Pickled vegetables - a bit mono-dimensional in flavor and a bit too astringent IMHO
                Sauteed kale - nice flavors, but the kale itself was a bit too tough
                Crisp pork belly buns - pretty good, but I actually think Shangri-La's version is better
                Pork dumpling with butternut squash - I agree with DoubleMan, this was only OK, as the filling did need "more punch" although the skins were fantastic
                Shrimp dumplings - my favorite item of the night. The skin was fantastic and the filling was juicy and delicious.
                Homemade noodles with beef shank - not bad, but a little flat in flavor. The thick cut noodles were a bit overcooked and were softer (less chewy) than I would have liked
                Handmade Short rice noodles - these were similar to gnocchi, although mushier and with less "bite." I did not love the flavor - it had a bit too much dried shrimp for my tastes

                The place was pretty busy for a Tuesday evening. I thought the service was fine, and they are really earnest about asking for feedback. I gave them a pretty honest assessment of what I thought and they were quite appreciative.

                I am planning to give them about a month to iron out any kinks, and then I'll try it again. I really enjoyed the chewy texture of the dumpling skins, and that alone just might make me go back, although I'll probably skip most of the pickled vegetable dishes! And at its current prices, I probably won't be going back THAT often.
                http://www.tinyurbankitchen.com/

                -----
                East by Northeast
                1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                2 Replies
                1. re: jgleeche

                  if you like that style of dumpling skins, try the gyoza at Shabu Zen in Chinatown

                  1. re: barleywino

                    Thanks for the tip, barleywino - I like Shabu Zen, but I don't think I have ever tried their gyoza before.
                    http://www.tinyurbankitchen.com/

                2. meh. I was really, really excited for this restaurant, but the food was definitely a letdown. The service, decor and concept were great though. I liked 2 dishes, thought 1 was fine, and really didn't like 4. The menu suggests 3-4 per person, but I think 2-3 is plenty, especially at the high prices.

                  The food:
                  1. Salad with chicken, apple, mustard sesame dressing- gloppy, bland, odd texture. the dressing was ok, but too much of one thing.
                  2. Shitake sticky rice with braised daikon- tasted like a bland mushroom risotto, not enough texture
                  3. Rice noodles with chicken, daikon, forget what else- This was my favorite dish of the night- interesting, pleasantly chewy noodles, good flavor
                  4. shrimp dumplings- UGH- the wrappers were really nice, but the insides were so fishy that I wondered if the shrimp were spoiled. also didn't like that the shrimp was ground up.
                  5. kale- UGH again- and I love kale- flavors strong and unpleasant, kale was tough
                  6. pork belly on montou bread- this was the other thing I liked- yum. I could eat a whole plateful of these.
                  7. sweet potato fritters- not bad, nothing special. deep fried sweet potato balls with a chili mayo sauce.

                  I'll be back to give a second chance for sure though, lots of potential.

                  1. "They smartly have two heavy curtains up to block drafts from coming in - something all small restaurants without a vestibule should do (you hear that, Coppa?). "

                    it's actually against the boston fire code to have draperies blocking the exit.
                    including hangings, draperies, and mirrors, shall not be placed over exit doors. this is why the franklin cafe had to take theirs down.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Wannabfoode

                      I was going to chime in and post this too. That's why the curtains up at Coppa are actually OUTSIDE of the main entryway. So there is basically a small area in btwn the heavy drapes (which are not really curtains, they are like a heavy rubber texture, b/c they are outside) and the inside door.

                    2. I never thought I'd say this about anything, ever, but the smoked pork meatball soup was too smoky. It was like eating charcoal briquettes. Could've been very good, but too much smoke, esp. since the broth was fairly sweet.

                      Short rice noodles w/ chicken & xo sauce was really tasty though. Nice moist dark meat chicken (poached?), good xo sauce, excellent chewy noodles.

                      You can't put a pork belly bun on the menu and not invite a Momofuku comparison, and ExNE had no hoisin, no pickle, no sriracha on the side, and too-crispy pork belly. Guess I'll have to keep making my own.

                      Service was prompt, competent, and attentive- my wife is very picky about service and had no complaints.

                      I was really excited to eat here, and (as negative as this review may sound) it actually showed a lot of promise. I'll be excited to return and I hope the menu will have developed nicely in the meantime.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: bobot

                        3 out of the 4 people at my table last night (ie everyone but me) felt that the meatball soup was too smoky, as you describe.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          I was there Saturday and adored the smokiness of the broth. I couldn't believe how pungent (in a good way) it was.

                          1. re: gini

                            Yeah, I liked it - although I don't think I would have wanted it much more smoky than it was. Everyone else at my table thought it was over the top though.

                            1. re: jgg13

                              Funny- reading this comment now, I mostly just want to eat it again!

                      2. We were pretty surprised how empty this place was at 8:30 on Saturday night, given the interesting menu and extremely competent waitstaff.

                        The food:
                        Chef sent out an amuse of pollack cake on daikon - nice way to start the evening.
                        pickled vegetables: I like astringent beets and daikon, so I was in luck, though the rutabaga was a bit too crispy.
                        pork belly mantou bread: Nice contrast of the pickled onion and crispy pork belly. Sure, it's not Momofuku, but it's darn tasty, especially the expertly-crafted bread. And, I mean, it's pork belly.
                        chicken with rice noodles: my favorite dish of the night, this is a bowl of comfort food for me.
                        boiled shrimp dumplings: cilantro and ginger gave these a kick and the dipping sauce was delicious - if you like thick dumpling wrappers, you'll be happy.
                        maine shrimp congee: good shrimp stock flavor, nice congee texture, awesome crispy shrimp heads.

                        We had 5 plates total, with the food portion of the bill ending up at $42 for two people. For larger groups, 3 - 4 plates per person is probably recommended. $21 per person is a relatively average entree price in Boston, and this food was delicious and plentiful, so I'm not sure where the complaints are coming from. I stuck with beer, but the cocktails aren't particularly interesting or tasty. I wouldn't waste $18 on the two my DC slurped down.

                        -----
                        East by Northeast
                        1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: gini

                          Nice review. I think a lot of the complaints are coming from people like me, who heard about this and said "It's going to be Momofuku in Boston!". That's a pretty stupid and unfair comparison to make for any restaurant, but especially one that just opened. Overall I thought ExNE was good, and I think it can become excellent with time.

                          1. re: bobot

                            I went there last night and had an excellent meal. From the very friendly service to each dish having a distinct flavor to the personal feel of the place. The napa cabbage salad was nice - good use of citrus and spice. Our kale dish was not tough at all and interesting use of rutabega. The special buns were yummy (though sadly a bit small) - and both the shrimp dumplings in broth and noodles with beef (nice use of star anise) warming on a cold night.

                            Seems like they may worked out some of their kinks - definitely planning to make another visit...

                        2. Any recent reports? Have plans to go there next week and would love to hear how things are shaking out. Thanks!

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: yumyum

                            went early on sunday. b/w the two of us, we had: pickled root vegs, scallion pancakes, fat rice noodles w/chicken & shiitakes, flour noodles w/beef, shrimp dumplings, an amuse of fried rice balls w/sesame sauce, house made cilantro & lime soda, sweet potato fritters, pork buns.

                            no complaints about any of it. i think the noodle dishes were stand outs; the beef noodles in particular were deliciously tender, hot spicy broth, toothsome noodles. it's a slightly new twist on a classic (for good rendition of the classic, get it at wisteria), and it's superb.

                            i liked the pork buns here better than at momofoku, for what it's worth. the ones in nyc were too greasy to my taste. these were more well balanced.

                            the only complaint that's been voiced in this thread that i share is that the cilantro lime soda is not quite there. it's pretty good, but it's missing a bit of oomph.

                            i'd say plan on 4 dishes, maybe even 5 depending on which ones you get. this makes it rather a bit more spendy than ideal, but not by much (10%?).

                            1. re: autopi

                              Yeah, they need a little less sugar and/or a little more lime in the soda. The cilantro flavor is good, though.

                              1. re: DoubleMan

                                maybe some ginger?

                          2. Oh man oh man. Maybe it was because I had low expectations after not reading many raves about this place, or maybe it was that I was starving, or it could have been the new moon, but I really really loved this food.

                            To start, chef sent out an amuse bouche of sticky rice fritters with spicy chile oil and peanut sauce. These were more like crispy rice balls than fritters but we both wished we'd double dipped into the sauce and/or licked it from the plate. A promising start.

                            Then we struck on my favorite dishes of the night ... first off the mapo dofu with spicy veal and smoked tofu. This was simply a stunning dish. A small portion but just jam-packed with flavor from the smoky tofu and softly meaty sauce. Beautifully plated (if you care about that kind of thing) with a vibrant green watercress sauce and crispy rice sprinklies for texture. We just shut our mouths and buckled down after this dish, and I was sure we'd be let down by the rest of the meal. Nope.

                            Next, a pan fried daikon radish cake with pork nubbins. No, they were not really called pork nubbins but they were crispy lardons and a yummy salty counterpoint to the slightly bitter salad (napa cabbage, asian pear) and creamy steamy daikon cake. Both of these items were specials, and they were very special.

                            Next came the shrimp dumplings with carrots, ginger, cilantro, and green sauce. This was the only let-down for me because the shrimp (whole, not ground as in previous reports) had that chlorinated taste that comes from poorly-processed shrimp. The dumpling skins were delicate and the broth was tasty but that shrimp put me off. Never mind ...

                            Another special of "golden meatballs" -- pork meatballs coated with sticky rice and fried until the outside looks like rice crispies. (Crispy rice is a thing here.) Served with a robust shiitake sauce that I wish I could deconstruct before we gobbled it all up.

                            This was served alongside the Crispy Pork Belly on mantou bread, with daikon and sweet bean paste -- gawd. Diggidy dog. These were like the sliders of the gods. The belly was crisped up and with the scallions and hoisin the whole effect was really similar to Peking Duck. The mini-buns are house made and really remarkable I think. As others have said, you could eat about a dozen of these. Two small buns to a portion.

                            Finally, we had a bowl of home made thick cut noodles with beef shank, celery root, parsnip, and a spicy beef broth. This wasn't spicy, but it was really hearty and the parsnips and rich broth were snugglie. The noodles were very good, although I want to try the short noodles next.

                            We had house red and beer. The beer list is interesting but the house red is barely drinkable. I hope they change that up ... I can appreciate only offering a red and a white but at least have them be enjoyable for $9/ a small glass. This is a quibble .. there are quality teas (from MEM teas in Somerville) and a few non-alcoholic offerings too if that's your bag.

                            The small portions are going to aggravate some folks who are looking for a lot of Chinese food for small money but we ordered 6 dishes between us, paid $50/pp with two drinks each, and were definitely satisfied. But more than that, I was sated. I was reminded that good things can come in small packages and each of the dishes, with the exception of the shrimp dumplings, was utterly delicious. My friend had been to Ginger Park recently and kept comparing ExNE very favorably to what she had there. High quality meats in a meat-heavy menu really matters and this chef is paying attention to the details. I'll be interested to see how he changes up the menu seasonally, although I'll be back sooner than spring for the chicken noodles and scallion pancakes I ogled on the next table.

                            Oh, and I took some pictures --> http://www.flickr.com/photos/7284555@...

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: yumyum

                              Nice review--glad to hear you had a great experience. I have been very happy both times I ate there. I will look forward to trying some of these dishes, which weren't on offer when we went!

                              1. re: yumyum

                                I had several of the same plates you had, yumyum, and I was also delighted by the food. Sounds like we had the same amuse, but you forgot to mention the deeply toasted sesame seeds on the outside of the rice balls, which lent an awesome, almost-burnt taste to the whole affair, and provided crunchiness to offset the gooiness of the rice ball. I wanted a whole plateful of these.

                                We also had, and loved, the mapo dofu with veal sauce and smoked tofu, the pork belly "sliders of the gods", which I can't stop thinking about, and the thick noodle with beef shank with those amazing veggies and broth. We also had the sauteed kale, which was on the chewy side as other diners have noted, but we really liked the taste and the texture. The grapefruit cocktail was a waste, but the beer selection is great. Four dishes between two of us were plenty, but we tend to be light eaters. I felt the prices were well justified by the quality of the food. Service was excellent. I was surprised the place was not more crowded on a Friday night between 7:30 and 9, so I hope they are doing well. I'm definitely going back.

                                1. re: yumyum

                                  Ate at East by Northeast for the first time last night. Some things on the menu have changed, but based on yumyum's comments we had both the crispy pork belly on mantou bread and the thick cut noodles with beef shank, which were highlights of the evening for me.

                                  The other standout was the short rice noodles with shitakes, celery root, and parsnips, with gnocchi-sized-and-shaped rice noodles that were steamed or boiled and then pan-fried -- the noodles are the obvious star here, but nicely complemented by root vegetables and mushrooms.

                                  My cocktail was not particularly a highlight (rum, lime juice, homemade ginger soda -- the ginger soda is far too sweet); I'd probably stick to beer on repeat visits. But I really enjoyed the food, and will definitely return.

                                2. Recently, I ate here with a friend of mine and I loved it. As others have noted, it's a small place but I really appreciated the double curtains at the doorway to prevent cold air from entering the restaurant. I really liked how the menu was small so that they could focus on each individual dish without being overwhelmed.

                                  The big winners:

                                  Deconstructed ma po tofu (specials menu)
                                  Pickled vegetables
                                  Crispy pork belly with man tou bread
                                  Sticky Rice that accompanied the chinese sausage (specials menu)
                                  Chicken Liver Mousse (specials menu)

                                  Tasty but wouldn't get again:

                                  Short noodles with chicken, shiitake mushrooms and XO sauce
                                  The chinese sausage that accompanied the sticky rice. If I could only separate the two.

                                  The portions were small but satisfying. I'm not an anti-fusion food person as long as the food is done well. And, this place took my favorites and put little twists on them. I loved the pickled vegetables. It's so simple and yet delicious. I could have eaten two portions of this alone.

                                  But, to me, the big winner was the sticky rice that came with the chinese sausages. This was the perfect sticky rice dish. Usually, I have a few bites and I'm done with the sticky rice because it's too heavy and it just tastes the same. But somehow, in this version, the flavors kept exploding. This could be the best sticky rice I've ever had and I almost didn't want to share it with my dining partner. It's too bad the chinese sausage that accompanied it, wasn't anything special. Upon reflection, I realized it's because it didn't have enough fragrant flavors to it (chinese sausage is translated to fragrant sausage). Maybe it's childhood memories, but it just didn't do it for.

                                  Another thing I thought was ok was those short noodles. Essentially, they were gnocchi and not the pillowy kind either. It's too bad because the sauce and other ingredients with it were delicious.

                                  Just a minor quibble, I wish there was something to soak the sauces, Even 1/4 cup of rice. The deconstructed ma po tofu was fabulous and as I picked up the pieces of pork, there would be bits of sauce left behind. There was so much flavor and the sichuan peppercorn was perfectly incorporated into the smoked tofu. Such a waste of sauce.

                                  Regardless, I hope this restaurant makes it because there are some seriously special dishes here.

                                  -----
                                  East by Northeast
                                  1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: beetlebug

                                    I'm thinking of going here with ~12 people for a birthday dinner. Am I crazy? Will we fit?

                                    1. re: sonicchef

                                      I think it would be tight. The restaurant space is fairly small. I'm not sure if they take reservations either. You're best bet may be to have all 12 there when they first open for the evening.

                                  2. My first visit report -

                                    Started with the amuse described by yumyum - sticky rice ball with spicy peanut sauce - nice start.
                                    Snack of curry carrot and sweet potato chips - worked through those quickly - nicely subtle but definitely there curry
                                    Kohlrabi and carrot salad - match sticks with a vinegary dressing
                                    Special of smoked silken tofu with a ragu and a spicy green garlic sauce - our favorite of the evening.
                                    The kale - tastewise, we like it, esp. if you like kale.
                                    Shrimp dumpling - did not find it overly or offensively shrimpy as some have mentioned -
                                    Wide noodles with pork ragu and poached egg - good stuff
                                    Still had a lot of our drinks left so we added a special of crispy bun pairing - one with pulled pork - one with chinese sausage - tasty.

                                    Glass of wine, Elijah craig cocktail, bottle of beer -

                                    All told 80 before tip -

                                    Enjoyed the place - and really enjoyed the food - but the price point is just a little high for what you get. A relatively small serving of kale for $7...not terrible, but it's kale, you know? The crispy buns $8 were double stuffed oreo cookie size. Nothing about the food was like OMG! but it was really really good - that combined with the price makes it a place that I will return, as opposed to a slightly lower price point, which would compel me to live there.

                                    1. 1st time visit to this restaurant on a random wednesday night. the food was generally very good although not everything blew me away. there were only 2 other tables there on a wednesday evening around 7:30.

                                      -the scallion pancakes were a bit too dough-y and i didn't really understand the dipping sauce. it tasted slightly mustard-y but wasn't really that strong and didn't add much to the pancakes.
                                      -the shrimp dumplings were definitely fishy and too sweet. a difficult dish to finish. the skin didn't stand out.
                                      -the pork belly was interesting in that it was crispy. i think in general it was good but could have used less pickles and less sauce - i think those tastes overwhelmed the flavor of the pork, which is delicious
                                      -the spicy beef noodle dish was very tasty but honestly, it could have used a few more noodles. the noodles were excellent though - chewy and al dente.
                                      -the peanut snack was SO GOOD! get it!
                                      -the taro fritters were very very good - and the cilantro lime mayo was awesome!

                                      the food really deserves 4 stars but i'm giving this restaurant a 3 because it is just too expensive for what you get. there's something not quite all put together about this restaurant. if i'm going out to eat and spending $80-90 on a meal for 2, i expect more from the decor, the ambience, better music, more drink selection, and slightly more interesting and complex food. i like this restaurant, but the price point should be 25% less. if i had spent $40-50 on this meal, i would be going back next week. but as it stands, i don't plan to go back anytime soon.

                                      -----
                                      East by Northeast
                                      1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: lingweny

                                        I had been meaning to get over here for a while, but finally made it last night for dinner.

                                        I love the space --- I liked it as O'Cantinho Café but it's very elegant now. It does remind me of Momofuku Ssäm bar a bit, in fact. I like the Chinese character painting 東北東 (East by Northeast) as you walk in --- a nice touch.

                                        However, I did not like the first thing I saw on the menu --- MEM Tea. Now I have to rant for a moment. What is it with all these nice restaurants in Boston serving MEM Tea? Does the MEM Tea salesforce have a bottomless pit of kickbacks? Are they owned by the governor's brother? The tea is horrible. Insipid. Only slightly better than Teavana. I just don't get it. We have two world-class tea importers in Massachusetts --- Mark T. Wendell and Upton --- but all these nice restaurants use MEM? Nothing makes me want to order tea less than seeing the name MEM proudly displayed. I've yet to have a drinkable cup from a MEM tea. My DC had a pot of the jasmine tea and I had a sip. I've yet to have a drinkable cup from a MEM tea.

                                        Fortunately the only thing I like to drink more than tea are interesting sodas. I tried both the housemade cilantro/lime soda and the housemade ginger soda. The cilantro/lime soda tasted gently of lime and gently of cilantro, with real pieces of freshly grated cilantro floating about. It was a tad underflavored and a tad too sweet, but still refreshing. One of my DCs had the gin cocktail with the cilantro/lime soda. It tasted similar to the soda by itself, but sweeter. The ginger soda was also mild --- not a ginger ale or a ginger beer, but a ginger-infused soda. Just a slight kick, and I think I prefer it to the cilantro/lime. Another DC had the grapefruit cocktail (grapefruit infused vodka, fresh grapefruit juice, and jasmine tea). His description: "if you like grapefruit, this is the drink for you." After a sip I agree --- it tasted more grapefruity than a glass of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice!

                                        After a pleasant amuse bouche of a chilled asparagus soup, we started with two salads. The first was asparagus, silken tofu, rhubarb and candied pecans, and the second was cabbage, pickled onion and grapefruit. These were both excellent. The former could have been a 涼拌 (liang2 ban4) in a Chinese restaurant --- a cold dish, but everything in it was cooked. The second was a more traditional Western salad, but the cabbage and grapefruit worked together surprisingly well, and the honey peppercorn dressing brought them together well. These were two of the best dishes of the night.

                                        Chicken shaomai were a special on the chalk board, but were terrible. They tasted like microwaved frozen shaomai. Their only redeeming feature was looking beautiful on the plate.

                                        Pork meatballs were another special on the menu. These were four small pork meatballs covered in glutinous rice. I didn't try these, but my DCs liked them, but would have preferred a meatier (i.e. larger) meatball The salad in the center of the plate (cabbage, scallions, and carrots) was nicely cut and assembled, but someone had a much too heavy hand with the fish sauce. Much too heavy.

                                        The buns of the evening were pork lion and pork pate. My DCs said these were the best things they had. I ate the tops of the buns and the bun themselves were indeed excellent.

                                        We ended up getting two orders of the scallion pancakes. The scallion pancake itself was terrific --- one of the best in Boston. They were piping hot, well constructed with a variety of textures as you bite through it. They were very xian2 (salty & savory). The pickled onions were the same as on the Napa salad, but worked well with the scallion pancake as well. The dipping sauce, however, was a disaster. The menu said it was a garlic chili sauce, although it tasted like a nearly flavorless mustard. The consistency was gloppy. At that moment I would have given my kingdom for a bowl of fine Chinese black vinegar! I appreciate creativity applied to Chinese food, but it's also true that some things are as they are for good reasons.

                                        The thick cut noodles with beef shank, parsnip and onion in a beef broth were very hearty. The beef broth tasted like pure umami (and some five spice powder?), and the parsnip reminded me of my mother's soup (a very good thing). The noodles themselves were clearly freshly made and had a great mouth feel. There were only three little pieces of braised beef --- a little stingy, but also tasty.

                                        The short rice noodles with flat iron steak, Chinese broccoli and garlic peppercorn sauce were even better. Again, the beef bits were few and far between, but the noodles were also excellent (and quite unique --- very thick and very short) and the whole dish was very well sauced. I think this might have been my favorite of the evening --- along with the excellent salads.

                                        My DCs --- who are both foodies as well as fitness nuts --- had one main complaint about the meal: that there was no "protein" section of the menu. There were salads and vegetables, and also breads, dumplings and noodles. Some of these, of course, had meat in them, but there was no way to have mostly protein. Personally, this didn't bother me so much. but even before they said anything I admit I had double checked to make sure I hadn't missed a page from the menu. The prices don't upset me (about $40 per person when all was said and done), but I also don't think this the restaurant to come to if you're very hungry. What I mean by that is not the cost of the food, but that nothing really left me fully satiated. This can be a problem with "small plates" restaurants in general, but I think was particularly acute here because of the lack of protein dominated dishes. Still, the menu is obviously evolving, and they are doing serious food. I wasn't quite wowed overall, but liked it enough to go back.

                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                         
                                        1. re: lipoff

                                          friday night 9:45 full but a table opened up a few minutes after we arrived. This was our 2nd visit. In general, we thought the food had improved. We ordered a LOT more than other posters;$94,including 2 grapefruit,jasmine tea and vodka cocktails and 1 beer. Loved the full jasmine aroma as I lifted the glass to my lips, but I had to add sugar to make the drink delicious.
                                          Highlights for us were the taro fritters, the salad with asparagus and soft tofu and pickled ramps and the DRESSING on the pork dumplings.. now THAT was a real killer. Unfortunately, the beef broth/wide noodles dish really needed that punch, along with some other dishes. In general, I agree with others who mention the food lacking oomph (more ginger plse!) and the too-small portions.Service was pleasant, food knowledgeable, and couldn't have been better. This Phillip Tang is a talented chef and quite young. i think we'll all enjoy watching him grow.

                                      2. Not that this thread needs another positive review, but what the heck. Went for an early dinner last night and was really impressed. 2 of us had the pork belly bun sandwiches, the special bun duo (lamb and curried beef), ham and rice croquettes, pork dumplings, brussels sprouts, and the homemade noodles with beef and parsnips.

                                        Everything was top-notch, with the lamb bun sandwich coming in as our favorite - the lamb was meltingly tender and flavorful, with a nice crunch of onion on top. I thought that the brussels sprouts were fantastic - they had a nice smoky char to them and crispy bits of pork belly mixed in. The beef noodle soup was really good - the broth was very savory and rich, and the noodles you could tell were homemade and they had a great texture.

                                        The homemade sodas were also tasty (we tried the cilantro lime and winter, which our server referred to as "Christmas in your mouth"). $5 did seem a little high for those, though.

                                        We'll definitely be back - they said that they are completely changing the menu in a couple of weeks.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: sdwr98

                                          well, the highlights for you sound really terrific and weren't on the menu , i think, when we were last there, so we're going to rush over and have them before the menu change. thanks so much for the detailed report and menu change heads up!

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            This was our fourth visit since they opened last year and tonight we had some terrific food. Of the 4 visits we've had and their respective menus, I do think this menu is the best we've seen there. Tops for us ( we ordered a repeat) was the Smoked Pork and Rice Croquettes on a Carrot Puree; like the best Asian risotto balls you can imagine!

                                            Other highlights:
                                            - Curry Beef Bao ( very small for $4 but amazing bread texture and very flavorful filling)
                                            - 'confit' (not)chicken and mini rice noodle 'barrels' w/ squash and mustard greens
                                            - salad of soft tofu, beets, pear, spicy cashews
                                            - sweet potato fritters
                                            - the many splendored stir fry surrounding the kabocha squash 'cake' (squash flavor masked by too much soy marinade)
                                            - carrot soup amuse bouche

                                            What I finally grokked when I was there this time is that East by Northeast is a really unique experience. What I mean is that at ExNE, for the large majority of the menu items, you will have dishes that you will never see anywhere else. They seem to come from Tang's Taiwanese culinary background (his folks own restaurants and his uncle is a chef, so he seems to be proof of both nature AND nurture)plus the French, American and all-Asian influences he's picked up before and since French culinary school. Tang takes a roster of Asian sauces and tweaks them; uses both trad and new cooking techniques; and then lights the whole thing afire w/ some very unusual combinations of ingredients. Perfect example:
                                            *a 'salad' of a bed of soft tofu topped with cubed and steamed asian pear and beet, shiso leaves, crunchy spiced cashews and black vinegar sauce. *
                                            He shows the artist he is with his fine sense of color and shapes and presentation, but I think what I appreciate most about him is his love of textures and bright (acid) flavors.

                                            The fellow is 28. As in Twenty Eight. I haven't seen the culinary genius Stan Frankenthaler(genuflect, genuflect) since he left behind his amazing restaurants and went corporate, but I imagine him eating at NxNE and being very happy. I hear Phillip Tang's a nice guy, but pretty self directed (not customer directed) in the way he seeks to always be inventing, rather than satisfying his screaming fans who beg him to leave on the menu that amazing dish of Smoked Ham Rice Croquettes. So get yourselves over there, because they're coming off soon!

                                            -----
                                            East by Northeast
                                            1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                                              i'm so surprised no other CHs seem to be eating here or, at least, posting about it.

                                              The menu tonight was quite a bit tamer in flavors than all our previous visits. Celery root, which is a real fave thing of mine, was featured in alot of dishes(which is what drew me to go tonight) but it didn't really come off well in these preparations; too often, its flavor was really muted.

                                              The excellent dishes we had were :

                                              Curried Beef Croquettes w/ miso sauce

                                              Onion Soubise w/ Veal Meatballs, Rice Flour Noodles (gnocchi), Parsnip and Glazed shiitakes

                                              Cilantro Lime Soda (made in-house)

                                              Really interesting:

                                              beet and grapefruit salad

                                              Not so successful:

                                              sweet potato fritters

                                              pork bao

                                              celery root pancakes (way too subtle in flavor)

                                              celery root and pork dumplings ("")

                                              It seemed that an awful number of our dishes had the same miso sauce.I asked our waitress for a side sauce that was soy based and she brought us a chile garlic sauce that philip sent out; it was delicious and helped punch things up a bit.

                                              As usual, friendly knowledgeable efficient waitstaff.

                                              We'll certainly go back; he's such an interesting chef. But this was not his best menu- by a long shot.

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                I really like ExNE. It's just at a price point that I can't do a ton of, and there are enough other spots in a similar boat that I don't get there a ton.

                                        2. East by Northeast is a place I'd love to love, but my food there has so far only led to like. With East Coast Grill and Oleana in the neighborhood, I don't see myself going there frequently. Nothing I've had there has been bad, and most things have been good to very good, but nothing has led me to exclaim in delight, either, or led me to feel that I must come back and have this dish again. The flavors are restrained for the most part, except for a very heavy use of pickled vegetables. And after a while the use of a vinegary counterpoint in dish after dish starts to get tiresome. It may be an unfair comparison, but there are enough similarities with the Momofuku group in New York to invite it. I like those restaurants very much (have eaten at all multiple times except Ko), and in the last two weeks I've had dinner at Ssam and lunch at Ma Peche. The flavors in every dish at those places are clear, strong, and in some cases incendiary. They sing to you, and the song stays with you for days afterward. Not so with ExNE.

                                          The pork belly in the ExNE buns has not been as meltingly tender as it could be, and the dish is surprisingly poor value. You get two tiny buns for $9, with very little meat. The steamed pork buns at Momofuku are about the same price, but larger, richer and meatier. The pork quite literally melts in your mouth. There's also a newish (to me) crisped belly bun at Ssam with avocado that's a bit closer to the version at ExNE, but much larger and with much better flavor balance. A recent bun duo at ExNE paired "spicy" lamb with a fried seafood bun. The lamb had flavor, but no kick, and the seafood filling in the fried bun was miniscule. Separating the two was a startlingly and unpleasantly sour floret of pickled, curried cauliflower. Its pungency overwhelmed the rest of the dish.

                                          There was much better balance in the edamame salad with a nice mixture of pears and shredded kale(?). This may be the best dish I've had there. The pureed edamame snack had nice sesame crackers with it, but the edamame itself was bland. The scallion pancake was nicely chewy but not hugely remarkable and I could only eat the pickled onion accompaniment in moderation. There was a special of pea and rice croquettes one night, again pleasant enough, but overly starchy and overly paired with a sour sauce and a sour sprinkling of vegetables. It was at this point that my mouth was so filled with sour flavors that I longed for something else -- heat, fat, sweetness, anything.

                                          The beef soup looked like it promised heat, and it did offer a little, but the meat was not hugely tender. The broth was rich, and the thick-cut noodles satisfyingly chewy. I liked the veal meatball soup as well, with its short, fat cylinders of rice noodles and fragrant meatballs. Both dishes were good, but the range of flavors and textures in them was not enough to make me feel "I've got to come back and have this again." That's been my reaction to pretty much everything at ExNE. A pity, because I'd love for the place to have flavors so explosive that I'm drawn back again and again (as I was with, say, Golden Garden after just one delivered meal from them).

                                          -----
                                          East Coast Grill and Raw Bar
                                          1271 Cambridge St, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                          Oleana
                                          134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                                          East by Northeast
                                          1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                          Golden Garden
                                          63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

                                          14 Replies
                                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                                            this is soo interesting to me. You write very well and obviously have a sophisticated palate. what's so ironic is that our one take out meal from Golden Garden was enough to say i'd never go back, and you feel about ExNE the way that surprises me. Food and taste are such funny things!
                                            btw, i completely agree w/ your take on his pork belly buns. They are an equal (funding the house in St.Kitts)rip- off at Myers and Chang. (Just joking-- most chefs can barely afford a nice house much less one in st kitts.)

                                            -----
                                            Golden Garden
                                            63 Concord Ave, Belmont, MA 02478

                                            1. re: FoodDabbler

                                              To keep conversations on track (and minimize moderator deletion) here are two posts from http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7833... (and discussion following) that are relevant here along with my response:

                                              "I don't disagree that they are stylistically similar, and would (and have) recommended it to people looking for a restaurant of that genre in Boston. My hesitation was calling them a "wannabe" because I don't think that Momofuku is the only restaurant of that style or that any restaurant of that style is automatically trying to be Momofuku. David Chang seems to be informed much more by Japanese and Korean, where Philip Tang, I would say, is heavily influenced by Chinese and Taiwanese cuisine. But I certainly agree that both are modern Asian.

                                              "I like Momofuku a lot, I've been to Noodle Bar, Milk Bar, and Ssam, but to be honest I think Philip Tang is doing equally interesting stuff at a much more modest price point and without the staff and resources that David Chang now has at his disposal. You can get a cocktail for 15 dollars at Ssam or a bowl of ramen for 17 dollars at Noodle Bar. You can get a bowl of handmade noodles in broth with an egg at ExNE for 11. I'm a big fan of the place. It is the most unusual place in my neighborhood and I've never had a bad experience. But chacun a son gout, I certainly don't mean to say that my experience is shared by everyone."

                                               By hckybg on May 09, 2011 04:55PM

                                              ===========================================

                                              "@FD. Fair enough. I've never been to any of David Chang's establishments. Maybe better that I don't, since it could ruin my enjoyment of East by Northeast. I have no problem with the prices relative to portion sizes, but I'm not a gargantuan eater like some. They recommend 3-4 plates per person, but I've typically ordered only 2 per person, maybe 5 for 2 people, and left feeling very satiated and not price-gouged. Interestingly enough, I've never had a great meal at Oleana in 3 tries (had very disappointing ones 2 out of 3 times), a place you rank highly. I do like Sofra a lot, interestingly enough. Go figure."

                                               By bella_sarda on May 09, 2011 04:37PM

                                              ===========================================

                                              I have two responses:

                                              1) I honestly think the flavors at the Momofuku restaurants are clearer, more striking, and better balanced.

                                              2) Given the small sizes of the plates at ExNE, I don't think they're particularly good value. If you eat, say, 3 plates of the pork buns, you're basically eating 18-24 small mouthfuls of food, and it's costing you $27. The soups are better value at ExNE but are still smaller in size than the ramen soups (as I recall them) at Momofuku Noodle. I confess that I have not had ramen at Momofuku in about three years (there are better ramen options in Manhattan) so my memory may be faulty here, but there are several  other dishes at Momofuku group restaurants that are very good value. Almost all the small plates at Ma Peche are in the $10-12 range and they are all far heartier (as in twice as) than the dishes at NxNE. Ssam Bar, as well, although it has its $142 steak (serves three or four) has a number of very substantial dishes under $20. Their crumbled, spicy sausage with rice cakes is a spectacular dish that costs $17 and is easily the size of three dishes at NxNE.

                                              -----
                                              Sofra
                                              1 Belmont St, Cambridge, MA 02138

                                              Oleana
                                              134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                                              East by Northeast
                                              1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                              1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                The spicy sausage with rice cakes is awesome, I completely agree with that! And boldly spicy.

                                                1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                  Yes, but one must factor in the plane/train/bus fare or gas cost to get to NYC! I cannot personally imagine finishing 3 plates of those pork buns. They are quite rich. I am a quality-over-quantity person when it comes to food. I don't want to leave feeling stuffed. I don't try to maximize calories-per-dollar. I'd be delighted to go to a Chang joint, but in the meantime I'm happy to patronize ExNE.

                                                  1. re: FoodDabbler

                                                    the flavors at momofoku are definitely more striking. but another way of putting it would be to say that the flavors at east by northeast are more subtle.

                                                    i am a big fan of east by northeast. i actually quite like the pickled vegetables to which you object, and usually order them when i go. i don't recall them being particularly pungent or overused, but then i might not since i like them.

                                                    the pork buns are fine, but not spectacular. i didn't care for the ones i had at momofoku, as they were too greasy. my favorites are the ones at shangri la. the noodle dishes at e x ne are, in my opinion, very well executed (very tender beef in my experience) and innovative. they are by far my favorite dishes at e x ne. they're not flashy in the way that momofoku's cooking can be, but that doesn't bother me.

                                                    i agree that the prices are a bit on the high side. consequently, we don't go as often as we otherwise would. but we enjoy it whenever we do go. i don't think it would kill them to increase the portion size by 25% or so, which i think would just about do it.

                                                    1. re: autopi

                                                      Completely agree with your ExNE comments. Really enjoy the flavors, but it is just a touch too pricey for what you get.

                                                      1. re: autopi

                                                        I completely agree with you on portion size. And I really do think E x NE would benefit in the long run by increasing portion size, because portion size builds a generous profile of a place that makes people feel good and want to come back. When I feel 'ripped off', it colors how i feel about a chef/owner, and I want to like Philip Tang, though I get the feeling that he's not a flexible business person vis a vis his customers.

                                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                          I know this is true, op-chef, but it bothers me that portion size seems to make a bigger impression on people than taste/quality. As soon as people say to me "That place is great---the portions are *huge*", I usually want to steer away from that place, because they are likely substituting quantity for quality. Obviously, small portions doesn't guarantee good quality, and it is possible for portions to be too small relative to price (some experiences at Clio have had this character), but I just don't find the portions at East by Northeast to be at all small relative to the price and quality. I think people have a distorted sense of portion size as a result of eating low-quality food.

                                                          -----
                                                          East by Northeast
                                                          1128 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                          1. re: bella_sarda

                                                            Interesting point, bella_sarda, and I suspect especially pertinent with Asian food in this area. I am not speaking specifically about anyone in this thread, but I do think it is tough to go from the typical Boston-area pho quantity:price ratio to the ExNE noodles with beef quantity:price ratio, for example. Similarly with a lot of the Chinese, Indian, Thai restaurants in the area...we are conditioned to being able to stretch our dollar across a lot of flavorful food at these restaurants.

                                                            However, if you consider ExNE a tapas experience, and instead compare the quantity:price ratio to that of restaurants like Toro, it will perhaps seem more reasonable.

                                                            This is why my favorite physics professor hung a picture of the world upside down in the front of the classroom; "It's all about perspective".

                                                            1. re: Area Man

                                                              I think that's a great point. Would you judge the portion size:price ratio at Coppa based on what you get at Mike's in Davis Square? I think in this and other realms, people treat Asian food differently than cuisines that went haute a long time ago. Meaning that if ExNE charges 11 dollars for a bowl of noodles, people say things like "but I can get a bigger bowl of noodles at X for 6 dollars!" I think that misses the point of the restaurant and employs criteria that you wouldn't use in another realm.

                                                              I also happen to generally think the "ExNE is Overpriced" claims are overblown. I have been there several times where I ate more than my fill and left for about 20/person. That's not bad.

                                                              Opinionated, I don't understand your comment about Philip Tang--what is that referring to?

                                                              1. re: hckybg

                                                                It's not about portion size for me; it's about value. I don't care if I can get a bigger bowl of noodles somewhere, but if I can get better noodles for less, then I'll go to the cheaper place.

                                                                To have a nice dinner there for me, it works out to about $40-50 per person (I wish I could get out of there eating less than 2 dishes) for everything. I think the value issue applies overall, but definitely to some things more than others. I try to stick to the noodles, which I think are better values and better overall than many other dishes. If you order the pork buns for $9, you are getting four bites of food. The $5 pickles, while very tasty, are basically just gently pickled turnips. I just wish it was less expensive for what you get, especially considering that it's Inman. But maybe I'm just cranky because I think almost every place here is overpriced.

                                                                This thread was started by me in the past when ExNE was much newer, more exciting, and had different portion sizes. My initial reaction was much more positive than how I feel now, because some things, notably the pork buns, have become smaller.

                                                                1. re: DoubleMan

                                                                  "But maybe I'm just cranky because I think almost every place here is overpriced."

                                                                  THat's probably a key culprit. Overall value has dropped somewhat across the board over the last few years. Things are more expensive, sizes tend to be smaller. On the upside I also think quality has improved across the board, but not quite enough to justify the increase in prices.

                                                                  One just needs to make sure to directly compare a place to its local peers when judging value these days.

                                                                2. re: hckybg

                                                                  From discussion and observation, I sense that philip tang has an artist mentality, i.e. he does not really care what people say or think about his food; he's doing what he wants to do, the way he wants to do it.

                                                              2. re: bella_sarda

                                                                bella,your last sentence is a good recap of the quantity over quality mentality. And i agree with you that most of E x NE's items are not what i consider 'rip offs'; but there are others that i think do deserve that descriptor. (same with Myers+Chang and Clio.)

                                                                Your comment, "but it bothers me that portion size seems to make a bigger impression on people than taste/quality" >>I don't know how to say this any other 'more tactful' way, but i believe that people with sophisticated palates usually weight flavor over portion size, but I also believe that those same people do consider portion size a relevant consideration, and I believe they should.