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Wonder Cafe, Watertown MA another Solid Taiwanese Option

StriperGuy Jun 24, 2010 08:37 AM

Thought there had been a dedicated thread about this place but I couldn't find it.

Nice new addition to the Watertown Square area. A bit reminiscent of Blue Asia in Allston. Nice selection of homey dishes.

We had:

Garlic Asparagus
Garlic Eggplant
Beef with Sour Mustard Greens on Rice

Everything was superb. The Beef dish was subtle, complex and super tasty. Portions were VERY generous. Total price for all three including tax was $27.

Think (big surprise) the key is figuring out which dishes are traditional as they have quite a bit of Americanized fair on the menu. I tried to steer clear of all of that stuff.

Need to suss out more of the items on the menu but add this to the list of excellent Taiwanese places here in Boston.

Here's the menu: http://www.wondercafema.com/wp-conten...

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  1. barleywino Jun 24, 2010 08:43 AM

    do they have a weekend dimsum type brunch?

    1 Reply
    1. re: barleywino
      StriperGuy Jun 24, 2010 08:46 AM

      Not sure, that would be awesome though.

    2. s
      scratchie Jun 24, 2010 09:02 AM

      Thanks for the info.

      1. hiddenboston Jun 24, 2010 09:02 AM

        They opened last fall, I think? I haven't been yet, but need to add it to my list of place to go!

        1. shaogo Jun 24, 2010 09:23 AM

          The menu, upon inspection, has gotten us so excited about this place that we're actually going to drive 2 hours from Hartford to eat there.

          Sure, there's the usual peppering of "American-Chinese" dishes and Cantonese staples, but there're some items that are definitively Taiwanese that we'd like to check out. The excitement is derived not from the English menu descriptions but from the Chinese writing, which is in some cases completely different from the "translated" description. The only thing they're missing on the menu is chou-tofu ("Stinky" tofu).

          Among the things that drew our attention were the chicken with tomatoes and peppers; the "salt and pepper" pork chop (they probably have the salt and pepper chicken, too) and the array of vegetables they offer.

          2 Replies
          1. re: shaogo
            StriperGuy Jun 24, 2010 10:06 AM

            There is a LOT of VERY GOOD, very authentic Taiwanese in Boston. None of these will disappoint. Places to try also include:

            Formosa Taipei: http://formosa-taipei.com/

            Shangri-La: http://www.shangrilachinese.com/

            Mulan: http://mulan.4t.com/

            Blue Asia: http://www.blueasiacafe.com/menu.html

            Jo Jo Taipei (though they seem to have recently lost their chef to Formosa Taipei and slipped a notch or two): http://jojotaipei.mysayaglify.com/

            And what was once the only Taiwanese place in town, for me, not really at the top of the heap now, though the DO have Stinky Tofu, Taiwan Cafe:

            http://www.menupix.com/menudirectory/...

            If you do hit Blue Asia or Jo Jo Taipei be sure not to miss Yi Soon Bakery across the street, a superb Taiwanese bakery, and in my book the best Chinese bakery in town for sweet items.

            Yi Soon Bakery
            112 Brighton Avenue
            Allston, MA 02134-2811
            (617) 254-3099

            Now you have a reason or three to drive to Boston.

            -----
            Shangri-La
            149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

            JoJo Tai Pei Restaurant
            103 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

            Yi Soon Bakery
            112 Brighton Ave, Allston, MA

            Blue Asia Cafe
            113 Brighton Ave, Boston, MA 02134

            Formosa Taipei
            315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

            1. re: StriperGuy
              barleywino Jun 24, 2010 10:24 AM

              not to mention Chung Shin Yuan in Newton (weekend brunch only, the rest of the time they revert back to their Chinese-American menu)

              -----
              Chung Shin Yuan
              183 California St, Newtonville, MA 02458

          2. y
            y2000k Jun 24, 2010 10:01 AM

            Are the owners Taiwanese? the posted menu looks more Cantonese than Taiwanese to me, esp page 1 section with the chinese characters.

            Page 2 looks Americanized chinese to me.

            I pass by Watertown Sq/Mt Auburn Street all the time; I wonder why I never noticed this place?

            1 Reply
            1. re: y2000k
              g
              gourmaniac Jun 24, 2010 10:07 AM

              tiny storefront (take out with a couple of tables) near Demos.

            2. PinchOfSalt Aug 14, 2010 11:33 AM

              On the strength of this discussion a friend and I just had lunch at Wonder Cafe. The scallion pancake was nice and crispy, not at all greasy, and made from scratch. The seafood chow foon was a huge portion featuring shrimp and squid; it was more wet than we expected but tasty. The star of our meal was the beef with ginger and scallions. It surprised us with quite a bit of exquisitely evenly sliced onions in the mix and less ginger than expected, but the beef, oh the beef! So tender and subtly flavored. I will be back.

              Oh, for people who prefer brown rice instead of white, yes, you can order brown rice with your meal.

              2 Replies
              1. re: PinchOfSalt
                StriperGuy Aug 14, 2010 11:57 AM

                Forgot to mention they also do a VERY nice generous portion of small clams in black bean sauce. Look for it as a handwritten special.

                1. re: StriperGuy
                  PinchOfSalt Aug 14, 2010 12:32 PM

                  They had it on special today. It just did not win out among the many intriguing choices today. Thanks for the heads-up, looks like a definite priority for next time.

                  FWIW there was also a series of chinese brocoli specials, i.e. oyster sauce, garlic, etc.

              2. tatsu Aug 14, 2010 07:20 PM

                That is a pretty difficult menu to decrypt, even with my experience. I would instantly shred/recycle any menu that had egg foo young on it.

                Someone needs to highlight the actually Taiwanese dishes on here, because it just looks like canto-american at first glance.

                1. m
                  MtVernon Aug 15, 2010 07:44 AM

                  Drive here from South Boston for great food all the time. The service, food portions, and quality of the food are superb. The Mom and Daughters are super friendly and very helpful to all your needs.

                  1. StriperGuy Aug 19, 2010 07:29 AM

                    Had some dry fried beef chow foon their yesterday. Very nice dry fry job. Solid stuff. They also had the clams with black bean sauce as a special again. For $10 that huge portion of clams is a bargain.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: StriperGuy
                      okra Aug 19, 2010 12:54 PM

                      Thanks Striper - I look forward to the Wonder!

                      -----
                      Wonder Cafe
                      58 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                      1. re: okra
                        StriperGuy Aug 19, 2010 01:31 PM

                        I do think one has to order carefully here. Get thing that seem authentic. Even ask the owner or her daughter for the real deal, NOT the Americanized stuff. They will do you right.

                      2. re: StriperGuy
                        KWagle Sep 1, 2010 07:50 AM

                        That menu has no Chinese on it, and based only on the translated text, looks scary to me--exactly the kind of food I try to avoid. But without the Chinese, it's hard to tell. For example:

                        Was their dry fried chow fun made with salted black beans? That's the way I learned to like it at Hollywood East.

                        1. re: KWagle
                          StriperGuy Sep 1, 2010 08:12 AM

                          Having eaten there a few time now, I would not put this place in the Shangri-La, Formosa Taipei, Mulan realm quite. But it is pretty darn good and the preps I have had have all been solid.

                          I've had dry fried chow foon a hundred+ times, but never with black beans, probably be tasty.

                          Rather then comment on the admittedly poorly written menu why don't you give the place a try. Let them know you like the real deal (both mom and daughter are very fluent English speakers) and see what they fire up for ya.

                          It's the kind of place where they would certainly do off menu items as well.

                          In fact because 50% or more of there biz is takeout of Americanized stuff and every time I eat there they are excited that I want the real deal I think the more ya push on this front the better the food you will get.

                          -----
                          Shangri-La
                          149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                          Formosa Taipei
                          315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

                          1. re: StriperGuy
                            KWagle Sep 1, 2010 08:50 AM

                            I've only been ton Shangri-La once, and ordered the fried pork intestine (and something else, but there were only two dishes on the menu that interested me) and it wasn't particularly good, certainly not good enough to inspire me to return. I've never been to the other two places you mentioned. But when I already have a backlog of hundreds of dishes at a dozen restaurants in three cities to try, a finite budget, and only a couple of nights free before midnight, it's hard to make the choice to go to someplace whose menu doesn't excite me. This is certainly something that you (or I) could discuss with the restaurant if they speak good enough English--a well-designed and informative menu and Web page might drive some business their way. (That's something I need to discuss again with Lao Sichuan after reading the Nadeau review.)

                            As for the dry fried chow fun, the first time I had it, Jon Singer and I got it with roast pork (at Hollywood East) and it was so good we ordered three variants over the course of one meal, the second one spicy. That one they wrote down for me in Chinese; if you look up my posts on HWE, the Chinese is transcribed. But I'm getting the impression it's completely non-standard. With some coaxing I was able to persuade "Gourmet Dumpling House" to make it that way, and they did an excellent job with it. Maybe it would be a good test for these folks.

                            -----
                            Shangri-La
                            149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                            1. re: KWagle
                              StriperGuy Sep 1, 2010 09:01 AM

                              Only two things on Shangri-La's menu interested you... hmmmm. I can name a dozen good dishes, there tea smoked duck is the first that comes to mind.

                              But it seems you are chowing at a rarified level beyond most Boston joints.

                              -----
                              Shangri-La
                              149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                              1. re: KWagle
                                galangatron Sep 1, 2010 10:31 AM

                                wow. the fried pork intestines are one of my favorite dishes at shangri-la

                                1. re: KWagle
                                  f
                                  FoodDabbler Sep 13, 2010 09:23 AM

                                  The menu may not make exciting reading at Shangri-La, but the food makes very good eating. Even a dish with the uninspired name of homestyle egg drop is quite superbly executed. Still, the point you make on the lure of food not yet eaten is quite valid. If you live for a hundred years, you will eat only 36,750 dinners. Do you spend this limited capital on new things or on giving old ones another chance? There's always the possibility (looking on the bright side), that you may hate every new dish you try.

                                  -----
                                  Shangri-La
                                  149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

                                  1. re: FoodDabbler
                                    f
                                    FoodDabbler Sep 13, 2010 09:32 AM

                                    Make that 36,525. There are 25 leap years in a century, not 250. Wishful thinking on my part.

                          2. lipoff Sep 12, 2010 11:27 PM

                            Huh?

                            This place is not Taiwanese at all. Neither the menu nor the people are Taiwanese.

                            The menu has one side that is entirely Americanized Chinese food. The other side has one column of authentic Chinese dishes, which are mostly Cantonese but not entirely.

                            Two of us went for lunch the other day based on this thread, and honestly were not impressed at all.

                            My DC had the Beef Noodle Soup (from the Cantonese Style Noodle Soup section), which was not bad, but was insipid. No particular flavor to the broth, vegetables or beef.

                            I had Minced Beef with Egg over rice, which included undercooked poor-quality beef, overcooked rice, and a little bit of very nicely cooked egg. This can be a great comfort food dish, but this version did not satisfy.

                            Scallion pancakes were an over-fried, under-flavored mass of Americanized dreck, not even worth mentioning.

                            Bubble tea was nothing special as well.

                            I really wanted to like this place --- it's cute inside, and the owner was extremely friendly. I'll try them again sometime for the "Spicy Salt and Pepper" (椒盐) section of the menu, but I can't say that I have high hopes.

                            The big bright spot, however, was the Tabrizi Bakery right next door. Not only did I pickup some nice almond macroons and Persian cookies, but I finally found bottled Chicory Water and Dill Water, and some nice Turkish jams.

                            -----
                            Tabrizi Bakery
                            56 Mt Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: lipoff
                              StriperGuy Sep 13, 2010 07:46 AM

                              I would swear the owner and daughter told me they were from Taiwan.

                              That said, I have eaten there 3X and had good chow each time. The clams with black beans were superb. The chow fun nicely done. YMMV.

                              Tabrizi bakery is amazing. Next time try the walnut macaroons. I've never had anything like them elsewhere.

                              -----
                              Tabrizi
                              Watertown,MA, Watertown, MA

                              1. re: StriperGuy
                                PinchOfSalt Sep 13, 2010 08:55 AM

                                Funny thing, when I went to Wonder Cafe on the strength of your SG's recommendation, my friend and I also hit the Tabriz Bakery afterward and were similarly blown away. Every time I go to that neighborhood it strikes me that I need to go there more often. Such a wealth of wonderful, ethnic, chowish food!

                              2. re: lipoff
                                tatsu Sep 13, 2010 09:20 AM

                                I have to say I was a bit mystified at their menu, even though I agree with a large majority of Striper's many (I mean tons) of recos.

                                Tabrizi is pretty unique for Boston, even for Watertown, which is a goldmine of inexpensive food shopping and casual fare, for sure! I love giving friends the nickel tour.

                                Tabrizi's chickpea flour cookies are similar to a certain type of Japanese confectionery. Delicious with tea.

                                -----
                                Tabrizi
                                Watertown,MA, Watertown, MA

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