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Chinatown Recs Needed: I'm new andintimidated. Special circumstances. Help a sister out.

Hi,

So, I've lived in Boston for 5 years and never been to Chinatown. To be honest, I'm scared. It looks intimidating and as though if I don't know what I'm doing the whole thing will be a disaster. I know you 'hounders can help.

I am sure you get this question on the board a lot and I tried to search old posts to find the info myself, but that just made me more indimidated. Where do I go in Chinatown, when should I go, and what, specifically, do I order.

Anyway, here's the situation: My parents are in town for my mom's milestone birthday. She recently read that Boston's Chinatown is one of the best in the country and has asked to go here for her mileston birthday dinner (she'd kill me if I said how old she'll be).

I have no idea where to start. It doesn't need to be fancy, just good, fresh, and not scary (you know, like people yelling at me in a foreign language or a crazy crowd that's impossible to navigate through).

I'd like to maybe do dim sum. That seems fun. Another catch-- we don't eat pork. My mom is an adventurous eater and will probably want squid or something. My dad and I are a little more reserved in our tastes. In fact, he has very specific dietary restrictions about what oils he can eat. Should we just throw the hope of that being addressed out the window?

We can go for any meal between tonight (Friday)'s dinner through to sunday around 10am or 10:30 (they have an afternoon train). I'm looking for very specific recommendations... where to go, at what time, and what to order (no pork). If we do dim sum, what kind of crowd should I prepare myself for? I need a roadnmap here. I really really really really appreciate it.

Please help me not be totally anxious about the dinner. I'm sure it will be really good if I can go in confident.

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  1. I love chinatown and have been going for most of my life but in your case im tempted to say go somewhere else like fuloon perhaps. Dimsum will be VERY tough for you i think. If you have never been you will have very little idea of what is what on the carts. The cart ladies can usually speak very very little english and will tell you the basic main ingredient (if your lucky) such as "pork" or "shrimp". However this doesnt mean that an item they call "shrimp" wont have some pork as well. Also for the oils your going to have no clue. What oils specifically cant he have? Are we talking he "shouldnt" have them or he will get sick or worse if he does have them?? Most of what is at dim sum is either pork or shrimp with a few exceptions. There are some other seafood offerings such as clams, squid and a few veggie offerings. Even with the veggie offerings sometimes they have a oyster sauce or something on them that makes them not vegetarian. Or a popular item like Turnip Cake or the stick rice have small bits of pork based sausage in it that someone unfamiliar may not realize.

    What sort of items do you invision liking at dimsum? do you eat shrimp? I can steer you into a list of items to be on the watch for and can even provide photos of those items so you can recognize them. There are several shrimp only items.

    4 Replies
    1. re: hargau

      I appreciate your feedback. I do eat shrip, so that would be helpful. My mom has her heart set on Chinatown. So maybe Dim Sum is not the right answer. Do you have recs for somewhere to go for dinner tonight then and what to order? I don't want to get something crappy like Lo Mein. We like good food. I just don't know anything about "real" chinese food to know what to order.

      With the oils thing-- it's just what he shouldn't have too much of. He won't get ill.

      Oyster sauce is ok. I'm envisioning like various dumplings and buns (Shrimp, chicken, seafood, and vegetarian, I guess). But, again, maybe Dim Sum is a bad idea in this case and you can guide me towards a better approach to help my mom experience Chinatown.

      Thanks for your help. I look forward to seeing your further thoughts.

      1. re: Melmybelle

        A pretty safe bet would be Peach Farm on Tyler just south of Beach. Some dishes to consider would be Peking duck, ginger scallion lobster, salt and pepper (dry fried in the shell) baby shrimp, beef chow fun (wide flat rice noodles), stir fried pea leaves with garlic (similar to spinach but much better, generally)...

        -----
        Peach Farm
        4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

        1. re: Melmybelle

          OK. Well there are not really many chicken things. There is chicken in the rice but also pork. There are chicken feet but im thinking thats not for you! I have seen a chicken bun before but thats usually hit/miss and not that great in my experience. Sometimes there is sliced duck on a plate but not always.

          Not really much of anything for beef. We sometimes order beef chow foon. And there is "beef" in a white rice noodle but it never really seems like beef to me, more a mystery substance!

          For shrimp there are hagau (steamed shrimp dumplings), Fried shrimp/chive dumplings in a wonton skin, shrimp in tofu skin with celery inside, shrimp in white soft noodle (chowfun), salt/pepper shrimp (with heads/shells), shrimp on tofu, shrimp on green pepper, eggplant stuffed with shrimp. Those are some i can think of off the top of my head that are non-pork/shrimp dishes.

          For Veggie there is usually chinese brocoli with oyster sauce, and usually at least one veggie dumpling but it could be tough to find.

          Other seafood includes snails in shells, clams in shells, fried salt/pepper squid, sometimes a curry squid dish.

          Then there are some dessert type items. Various pastries/buns with yellow or red bean inside and egg tarts. Also some jellos such as mango or coconut.

          But i think i agree with others that peach farm is a good bet!

          1. re: hargau

            Thank you for such a detailed and thoughtful reply. I'll definitely keep this in mind!

      2. For a first timer, I'd go with a tried and true regular spot like Peach Farm Seafood, where you can get salt and pepper fried squid or shrimp, lovely green pea pod stems, and delicious oysters with black beans or "safer" food like scallion pancakes. The servers here speak good English and can help you out.

        Don't be intimidated, just let them know you can't have pork (they will get it) and go from there. Most of all, enjoy mom's birthday.

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        Peach Farm
        4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

        5 Replies
        1. re: yumyum

          Yeah, especially if you can't do pork, dim sum is right out, but that wouldn't be a problem at Peach Farm. I particularly recommend the fresh seafood of the day, whatever it is, in the ginger-scallion sauce.

          -----
          Peach Farm
          4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

            Melmybelle...i would skip dim sum if its your first time. In addition to the cons already mentioned for a first timer(language, adventerous offerings), parking is terrible during the morning/afternoon hours and the atmosphere is festive to say the least. I would definitely opt for an early dinner instead.

            Peach Farm is a great restaurant and one of my favorites, but a couple negative things about the restaurant is that its in the basement, space is tight and may seem dirty to some people. An alternative that I highly recommend is East Ocean City. The food is just as good as peach farm, their space is brighter, roomier and on street level. They're also located across the street from a parking garge which they may validate for evening parkings for $8 (call b4 hand..i may be wrong). Peach Farm and East Ocean are the 2 restaurant my family frequents most often in Chinatown.

            As for types of dishes..I can provide suggestions if you list what types of food you like to eat. Both these restaurants make excellent seafood dishes. Also how much are you looking to spend and how many people?

            -----
            Peach Farm
            4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

            East Ocean City Restaurant
            27 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

            East Ocean Restaurant
            3704 Washington St, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130

            1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

              I'd also recommend Peach Farm, although I've never been at peak weekend dinner time so I can't speak to the crowds (although if you go early it should be fine). I certainly don't find it dirty.

              I particularly love the salt and pepper squid and ginger-scallion lobster, but as others have said there are many good dishes here, and don't be afraid to ask for recommendations.

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              Peach Farm
              4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

            2. re: yumyum

              I adore Peach Farm, but I think it might be a little crowded and intimidating for a first-timer. First, try to avoid peak dinner hours, as the space isn't big, and many local Chinese families love it. Also, it can get pretty boisterous and hectic when the dining room gets full. Like yumyum said, the food is amazing and the service efficient, but from personal experience, my non-Chinese DCs have been a little overwhelmed by the place on the first try, albeit for weekend/holiday dinners.

              A good alternative would be East Ocean City. The dining room is nicer and calmer. The food is almost as good as Peach Farm, and I would recommend the twin lobsters, salt and pepper crab, steak with black pepper sauce, dry scallop and black mushroom yee mein (a noodle dish), and roast duck. The service is attentive and accommodating.

              Whichever restaurant you choose, feel free to ask for the server's recommendations. Enjoy, and let us know how it goes!

              -----
              Peach Farm
              4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

              East Ocean City Restaurant
              27 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

              1. re: yumyum

                Some of the items we had last weekend were: corn with shredded chicken soup, deep fried scallops, stir-fried watercress, steamed oysters in their shells w/black bean sauce, spicy salty shrimp w/heads on & half a roast duck. They brought around a live, giant Alaskan king crab that I think a table of 6-8 guys ended up ordering.

              2. Melmybelle, you get my "best person ever" award for today. Great question, and I'm sure a lot of people are glad you asked so they didn't have to. Like, uh, my friends. Yeah, that's it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: enhF94

                  Thank you for the kind compliment!

                2. Your group might also enjoy Penang, a Malay restaurant in the Chinatown environs.

                  1. Thank you all so very much! You are the nicest and most helpful bunch. Having some recommendations is a big relief. I'm going to show my mom the posts and let her choose between Peach Farm and East Ocean City for dinner.

                    Please feel free to keep the recommendations coming, especially for good dishes. I'll keep checking until we go and then will report after my experience. You've definitely all helped shift me from anxious to excited!

                    -----
                    Peach Farm
                    4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                    East Ocean City Restaurant
                    27 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Melmybelle

                      Shabu-Zen, a hot pot restaurant, might be fun for lunch or dinner one day. They have some booth seating but mostly everyone sits around a counter, with their own pot of boiling broth in front of them. It's very easy to customize your meal, and the platters of meats and seafood come with plenty of vegetables. You can watch what other diners do to figure out how to cook and eat your dinner...It's a lot of fun.
                      http://www.shabuzen.com/

                      This is an old post, but it describes the dining experience pretty well:
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/141953

                      1. re: gimlis1mum

                        Shabu is fun, despite being very simple food...if you do go, the beef short rib seems to be the most marbled/ juicy cut of the ones I've tried (have not tried the Kobe). At Peach Farm, you might also consider the razor clam with garlic vermicelli in the shell as an appetizer (order by the piece)

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                        Shabu
                        397 Hancock St, Quincy, MA

                        1. re: barleywino

                          There are some fantastic suggestions in this thread. I would second the idea of a hot pot restaurant like Shabu-Zen or Kaza. With these places you are very much in control of what you are getting. The hot pots themselves tend to be broth based so that makes the oil intake issue minimal, it's also a very communal dining experience to enjoy with your family. Basically you order your proteins and vegetables and cook them yourselves to your desired doneness ( think fondue), often noodles are involved so you can make your own soups with the broth(s) too. In your case I would give the nod to Kaze as they would be more likely to be able to provide a booth for your family and while I like SZ- there seems to be a bit more focus on the counter service where it might be a bit more logistically difficult for your family to dine.

                          I'll be the first to admit that a hot pot/ dim sum experience is an apples to oranges comparison, but I think the hot pot places might provide the least intimidating experience and help you build your C-town courage. For non hot pot, non dim sum, New Shanghai is also a great choice for all the reasons MC Slim JB mentions below. If your Mom's definition of adventurous includes spicy, the Szechuan side of the menu is great (do a search on "New Shanghai" to find board favorites)

                          Regardless of your decision, please do post back on how it went.

                          -----
                          New Shanghai Restaurant
                          21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

                          Kaze
                          41 Essex St, Boston, MA 02111

                      2. re: Melmybelle

                        What a great idea! I am sure that your Mom will be delighted to read how you asked others for advice to make her Milestone Birthday Dining wish come true! I AM sure she will love the posts. Now, you might consider choosing one for Fri. or Sat dinner, then one for lunch! That way after lunch you can stroll around and look/shop at the various places as well!