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May 24, 2010 10:47 PM

Brunch at Chung Shin Yuan

A large group (12 of us!) had a superlative brunch at Chung Shin Yuan in Newton recently. They open at 11:30 AM on weekends, and if you want to be among the first "seating", make sure to line up outside by 11 AM. Otherwise you'll have to take a number and wait ~45 minutes. (We arrived in time, but if you don't fortunately, Bobalicious is just a short walk away for an early morning bubble tea, and there is a beautifully scenic walkway around the Charles River just behind the restaurant).

There are a number of excellent places of Taiwanese/Northern style brunch in the Boston area (notably Jo Jo Taipei, Shangri-la, and Taiwan Cafe) and each has their special strengths, but the brunch at Chung Shin Yuan was so good that I feel compelled to report! If you are interested in Taiwanese/Northern style brunch, a friend of mine has put together a very nice generalized menu on her blog: Many of these dishes can be found at Chung Shin Yuan.

First, I think their dou4 jiang1 (soy bean milk) is the best I've had --- the sweet version is sweet, with no aftertaste, and the salty (i.e. savory) version is filled with scallions, delicious you2 tiao2 (fried dough) slices, and a perfect balance of salt and soy. Umami-central. The you2 tiao2 themselves, when ordered separately, come out fresher than anywhere else and are oily without being too heavy.

We had several cold dishes to start, including liang2 ban4 hai3 zhe2 (jellyfish salad), hong2 you2 er3 si1 (pig ear salad), liang2 ban4 pi2 dan4 dou4 fu (tofu salad with preserved duck egg). I still think that Taiwan Cafe does the best pi2 dan4 dou4 fu, but this version was very different and very interesting. Cubes of silken tofu were sitting in a light soy-based sauce, and topped with a layer of finely chopped, slightly sour, picked vegetables, and an excellent "thousand year old egg". The jellyfish and pig ears were big hits all around with excellent knife work.

The jiu3 cai4 he2 zi (chive pie) were also terrific, tasting better than they looked. The outside was crispy, while the inside of the dough was soft, and the filling flavorful. Unfortunately, cong1 you2 bing3 (scallion pancake) were the only real disappointment of the day, being too soft, and under flavored --- a notable lack of both scallions and salt. I order niu2 rou4 jia1 bing3 (shao-bing with five spice beef) everytime and I'm always a little disappointed, but I always seem to order it again. On the one hand, I think the shao1 bing are a little dry, as is the beef inside, but on the other hand, the texture of the beef is terrific, and the shao1 bing has this unusually crispy character without the sesame layer peeling off. After some vinegar and hot oil, it moistens up a bit, and the scallion brushes on top are a nice treat. Oddly for a Chinese restaurant, although there is white vinegar on the table, the kitchen does not seem to have any black vinegar!?!

Their luo2 bo gao1 (pan-fried white turnip cake) is also one of my favorite versions. Little triangles of pan-fried turnip come out with the requisite ketchup-like sauce --- but it's not too cloying, unlike many versions, and there are no hidden slivers of pork!

Speaking of pork, the zha1 da4 chang2 (fried chitlins) were also a big hit, and a quite unusual dish. These were pork intestines covered in nuo4 mi3 (glutinous rice) and then fried.

xiao3 long2 bao1 (small steamed buns) were well-received, but reported to have almost no soup inside them. So they are indeed more like "small steamed buns" than "soup dumplings". The fresh ginger served with them, however, had a terrific bite to it and was great even on its own . . . or inside the shao1 bing. Maybe if the staff is in a good mood, you can get the ginger without the xiao3 long2 bao1.

zha2 jiang4 mian4 (Chinese style Peking meat sauce noodle) was probably the biggest hit of the meal. Very "al dente" noodles were served in a large bowl, topped with a thick layer of porky sauce, fresh bean sprouts, nicely chopped whole scallions, and pickled carrot and radish. The vegetables had a terrifically fresh texture to them. And chao3 mi3 fen3 (stir-fried rice vermicelli) was a wonderful finish --- a large mound of evenly cooked thin rice noodles, topped with a variety of finely sliced vegetables, including a generous dusting of cilantro.

Even after all the dou4 jiang1, the dou4 huar1 (tofu jello in light syrup) made for a terrific dessert. The cubes of tofu are large, the peanuts soft, and the syrup is sweet but quite light.

Other than the lackluster scallion pancakes and odd lack of hei1 cu4 (black vinegar), there was only one problem with this meal. Service was fast and efficient (even tea was refilled promptly as if by magic), but really mean! I don't know whether they were upset that we were a large party, that we looked like college students, took a little time to order, or if they just got up on the wrong side of bed, but all the staff ranged from indifferent to hostile. One waitress was obviously upset to take our initial order, another seemed miffed when we asked for hot oil (although she brought it instantly) and a third sighed in frustration (loudly!) when we asked to add two bowls of dou4 huar1 to the check after she had written it out. The manager was upset when we paid $120 in cash and tried to split the rest among credit cards. They never asked us to hurry up, and did keep bringing more tea, but they also gave the impression that they wanted us to leave. (To be fair, we were a large party and there were people waiting, but it's a shame to feel uncomfortable at the end of a meal). We certainly ordered more food per person than a small party would. (That feast was $15/pp). And no one replied when we said goodbye and thank you on our way out. Not even speaking Chinese seemed to help! If I sound miffed, that's because I am. I've never had such bad attitude paired with such good food!

After brunch we took a nice scenic walk around the Charles River (you can get access through the park a block west or through the Talamas parking lot a block east) and then headed a few blocks around the corner to Bobalicious for post-brunch bubble tea , and a few almond paste macaroons (with the cherry on top!) from Antoine's Pastry Shop across the street. Bobalicious was boiling hot inside, although it was very pleasant outside. The bubble tea there was great as always. One tip --- they can mix flavors, and often mixed flavors are excellent. This isn't advertised, but I do this all the time there. Lavender-lychee, watermelon-lychee and avocado-chocolate are particularly good flavor combinations. Rose guava and raspberry lemonade are "single" flavors that are particularly good as well. Since their website is sometimes down, I include their menu as a picture in this post as well.

Chung Shin Yuan
183 California St, Newtonville, MA 02458

Antoine's Pastry Shop
317 Watertown St, Newton, MA 02458

308 Watertown St, Newton, MA 02458

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  1. Whoops, sorry, the dish that I described as zha1 da4 chang2 (fried chitlins) was actually fen3 zheng1 pai2 gu3 (steamed spiced spareribs). It's the 9th picture in my post.

    3 Replies
    1. re: lipoff

      ive noticed some places getting a bit "weird" when they see me taking photos of each dish they bring out, especially when using flash. I think they might worry about what im going to write or where im going to post them... wonder if that was part of it?

      1. re: hargau

        don't use flash...I find that disturbing to other diners :-)

        I've never had a place care about taking pictures...they know that you're taking pics to share w/ other people and more word of mouth is generally good..

        p.s., I love the peking noodles at this CSY too...

      2. re: lipoff

        Thanks for the great review. I used to live 5 minutes from this place and never managed to make it there. RE Antoines, I love this place and I quite enjoy their almond biscotti.

      3. Re: service. They've always been efficient and brusque. I doubt it's because of a large party. I've been with small and large parties AND I also speak the language. It is a funny feeling though, they don't encourage you to leave yet they don't make it welcoming to stay either. It's equal opportunity all around. I just chalk it up to chinese reticence.

        6 Replies
        1. re: beetlebug

          maybe their business during the week (when they don't have the Taiwanese menu) is so poor that when they get the crowds in for weekend brunch, it's do or die for them...

          1. re: barleywino

            I'm sure that has something to do with it. I have heard from non-Chinese who live in Newton that they love this place for the american chinese food especially for takeout.

            I've always wondered if the weekend chef only works on the weekends and that's why the dim sum is so good while the rest of the menu is just enh.

            1. re: beetlebug

              in my personal experience, Cantonese restaurants tend (on average, there are always exceptions) to give better service (by Western service standards) than Mandarin restaurants, which tend to be more surly/indifferent (I think Szechwan restaurants fall somewhere in the middle). Again, just my personal impressions, ymmv

                1. re: Luther

                  I'm thinking places that focus more on NOrthern Chinese cuisine or more generally, non-Cantonese

              1. re: beetlebug

                I've been going to CCY for over 25 years, the food has always been fresh,the service has been better than good.
                This is a family owned restaurant and they have alot of pride in there cooking.

          2. Fist of all great post, I haven't been in years glad to hear they are still making great food. Let me get this straight, it seems that the food and services were great, but your meal was wrecked by your friends not hitting the ATM before going some place that exchanges food and services for $$??
            What would happen if you went to a crowded express checkout with 2 shopping carts of food and asked the cashier to divide the bill up amongst these 10 people?? I bet the cashier would be okay but the line of people behind you would have given you a piece of their minds. I think you should put the blame in the correct place and not with Chung Shin Yuen.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lc02139

              No, that's a ridiculous analogy. And it seems you've never tried to divide up the bill for a party of a dozen. The restaurant takes credit cards. We wanted to use a few credit cards to pay for our food. That's what they're for. And then they hassle us about splitting the charge among different cards, grumble about a $15 minimum per card (which is not allowed --- all the merchant agreements with the banks specify that minimums for credit card transactions are specifically prohibited). A few places, such as Crema and Berryline in Harvard Square, have little signs that make clear they'll take credit cards for even the smallest transactions but would really appreciate it if you would use cash instead. At such places I'll always do my best to use cash. At places that violate their own contracts by falsely claiming a credit card minimum, I try my best to use my credit card.

              Anyway, the bad attitude didn't begin with payment. I've been many times before, and while I didn't recall or expect fawning service, I didn't remember anything like this. I'll go back, but the bad attitude of the service just made a terrific meal a bit less fun, which is a real shame.

              1. re: lipoff

                That's hardly unique to CSY though, I've seen a lot of places huff & puff about splitting bills between multiple cards.

            2. Thanks for reminding me how delicious this place is for weekend brunch. For my past experience there (which, admittedly, is several years ago), the regular weekday fare is pretty average. They do REALLY shine on Taiwanese weekend brunch, though, and IMHO one of the top two in the city (along with Shangri-la).

              1. ooh, this place sounds amazing. thanks for the detailed review and for bringing this restaurant to the attention of newbies like me!