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Jan 9, 2010 08:58 AM

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:

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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 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.

                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.