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Mary Chung in Cambridge, 8/15/10: Now THIS is Dim Sum!!!

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Thank heavens for CH. And mostly, THANK YOU Brentgodfrey!!Mary Chung's has been in Central Sq since 1981 and it's probably back then that i last ate there.But fueled by Brent's CH review of 11/09, we went today. (We used to go for dimsum in chinatown pretty regularly but not anymore. The China Pearl Woburn is 2 min. from our house and we've been there a few times in the last yr. but we consider it mostly mediocre. )

WOW! Mary Chung's dim sum is soooo excellent! I have been craving some really different dim sum experiences and this place has quite a few unique dishes. We mostly followed Brent's list and added a few things.This is menu ordering; not carts. Our 2 fav. dishes were ones that I've never had before and never seen elsewhere:
Fried Tofu with Ginger Sauce
and
Grandma's Pie
The tofu was a large 4" cube, like the best Japanese soft tofu deepfried for agedashi tofu.Beautiful thin light crispy crust around heavenly creamy tofu, topped with julienned ginger and in pool of ginger sauce. I have never had better tofu in this country. So sublime, we ordered a 2nd!

Brent was right about Grandma's Pie being superb but wrong about its filling.I talked w/ Mary and this stuffed scallion bread is filled with- not mushroom- but a mixture of bokchoy that has been steamed,air dried and minced, with minced pork and flavorings. The filling is dark brown and looks just like minced sauteed mushrooms, so I can see how brent was fooled.

Other favs were the steamed peking ravioli w/ a most unusual and robust soy and chili based dipping sauce; small steamed ' buns' ( the wrappers, filling and dipping sauce tasted like pork 'soup noodles' [dumplings filled with pork and pork broth] but w/o the broth); dan dan noodles with chicken (fiery peanut based sauce over toothsome noodles and bean sprouts); terrific crab rangoon; and sweet sesame filled rice balls. We were also thrilled with the regular menu entree( not the dimsum, which has no filling) of very crunchy deep fried eggplant sandwiches filled with pork, in sauce.Next time we'll order some green vegetables off the regular menu.

Our waitress was friendly and helpful and understood English, and best of all, Beethoven was the background music!! The clientele today was a true mirror of Central Square: hippies, bikers, academics,families, multi-racial. One caveat, as Brent mentioned before me, shrimp is found in only one dimsum, shumai, which we did not try. No taro coated shrimp patties or eggplant sandwiches filled with shrimp, or baked pork bao.The menu lists many of the dishes we have seen at Sichuan Garden in Brookline- beef tendon, sweet and sour cabbage, szechuan seaweed salad, fiery wontons in chili oil, etc. Mary herself is from Taiwan and her chefs are from Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Of course we can't yet say this is 'the best dimsum in Boston' until we try the fav CH Chinatown places, but if you love dim sum and new things, you really owe it to yourself to eat here. Cash only. Dim sum til 3PM on wkends.

here's brent's review:
http://www.chow.com/restaurants/2074/...

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Mary Chung Restaurant
460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

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  1. Interesting/sounds good but comparing it to China Pearl or Chinatown-cart dimsum i dont think is a good comparision. One is Cantonese style Hong Kong Dim sum, the other is not.. Apples and Oranges which is why you dont see any of the same dishes you are used to on the menu. If thats what you seek, then I would suggest also trying:
    1) Chung-Shin Yuan in Newton for Taiwanese dimsum
    2) Beijing Star in Waltham for Taiwanese dimsum
    3) Uncle Cheungs in Framingham Taiwanese/Shanghainese Dimsum http://www.unclecheungs.com/

    -----
    Beijing Star Restaurant
    835 Main St, Waltham, MA 02451

    Uncle Cheung's Restaurant
    266 Worcester Rd, Framingham, MA 01702

    43 Replies
    1. re: hargau

      I would also add Shangri-La in Belmont to that list.

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      Shangri-La
      149 Belmont St, Belmont, MA 02478

      1. re: hargau

        ditto...Mary Chung's sounds taiwanese as well...I think Chung Shin Yuan does the best of this type...

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

        1. re: hargau

          jo jo taipei also has some of these non-Cantonese items such as a stuffed bread (da bing) and leek pie (although my favorite there in this category would be the roast beef wrapped with scallion pancake)

          1. re: hargau

            Agreed. I'll also add that Mary Chung offers perhaps the best Xiao Long Bao I've had in the Boston area and offers them ONLY during dim sum. So get em while you can.

            -----
            Mary Chung Restaurant
            460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

            1. re: BJK

              the last time i had xiao long bao at Mary Chung they had no soup in them whatsoever, has that changed?

              1. re: barleywino

                That reminds me to add Formosa Taipai in Nashua NH to the list. The best soup dumplings i have had, loads of soup - very messy eating! (i cant vouch for the lexington location which i think is takeout only-stick with NH)
                http://formosa-taipei.com/
                They even have a photo of them on the gallery page, they were quite proud of them when we were there and ordered them

                1. re: hargau

                  thanks for the tip-- will have to swing by sometime!

                  1. re: hargau

                    The Formosa Taipei in Lexington does have soup dumplings, and they have a couple of counters where you can eat in if you prefer. (We always eat in, as we tend to always order something that we don't think will travel well.)

                    We've had the soup dumplings once; they were quite good for Boston.

                    If you go to Formosa Taipei, our most recent discovery there is the chive pocket (jiu3 cai4 he2 zi). Their version is quite like an empanada and very tasty.

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                    Formosa Taipei
                    315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

                  2. re: barleywino

                    They're "juicy", for lack of a better word.

                    1. re: jgg13

                      thanks for clarifying!

                      1. re: barleywino

                        i live in cambridge - surprise, surprise, and have never eat at Mary Chung's due to their reputation as a american/chinese place. Perhaps someone can recommend what i should order for dinner; I would like to give it a try if I have incorrectly prejudged.

                        -----
                        Mary Chung Restaurant
                        460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                        1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                          I think the best description I've heard has been "american-chinese done well/right", although others describe it as being sichuan, and I believe Mary & family are Taiwanese.

                          The words of wisdom once imparted on me which generally seem to hold are to generally stick to the specials on the front of the menu. The dun dun noodles & suan la chow show are items which are regularly recommended by a lot of folks.

                          1. re: jgg13

                            dun dun noodles? is that the same as dan dan noodles, and how do they compare to the excellent version at Sichuan Gourmet?

                            -----
                            Sichuan Gourmet
                            502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                            1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                              It's the same dish, in theory. You'd be better off pretending it isn't though. The dun dun @ marys is very good IMO, but someone trying to directly compare them to a true sichuan rendition is going to be pretty disappointed.

                              1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                Same in name only. Even in Sichuan region of China, there are different versions of dan dan noodles. MC's is more sesame/peanut based whereas SG's is more soy sauce, chile oil based. Both delicious but kind of like comparing gala apples to fuji apples.

                                Other worthy dishes at MCs include the scallion pancakes, the suan la chao sou, and the spicy chicken velvet with tofu. The specials on the very front of the menu are also a good bet.

                                But, you can't compare MCs with traditional sichuan restaurants in Boston. You have to just enjoy the food on its own terms. It's a shade less than authentic but it is tasty in it's own right.

                                1. re: beetlebug

                                  Dun Dun noodles and the Fried Tofu with ginger are my two favorite dishes. I live nearby and get the noodles about once a month. Perfect amount of heat and very inexpensive.

                                  1. re: beetlebug

                                    bb, would you plse describe the spicy chicken velvet with tofu. is it like (name escapes me) the soft cubed tofu dish with ground pork and 'gravy'?but with sliced velvet chicken?

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                      The spicy chicken velvet with tofu. Since I'm partial to tofu, I go for this version, but if you don't like tofu, the spicy chicken velvet is also very good.

                                      Visual - it's mostly a white and light red dish. The white meat chicken isn't in slices or chunks, It looks more like ground chicken that isn't that ground. They also must coat the chicken in eggwhites to get the smooth consistency. To break up all the whiteness, there is a small scattering of green peas and a very slight hint of hot red chile oil in the dish. If one didn't know better, it kind of looks like a bland dish, which it is not.

                                      Taste - the chicken is soft but not as soft as the tofu. Actually, in comparison to the softness of the tofu, the chicken's tenderness is a really nice contrast. The heat is subtle but it slowly builds. It's not an obvious tasting dish and it isn't one that I would normally order. But, Mary, insisted, in January of 1996 that we try this dish. It was a risky move because it's when my parents met my in-laws. And, it was a huge hit.

                                      I'm sorry I can't describe it better. I don't think it's like the tofu dish that you are thinking of (are you thinking of ma po tofu?). That dish has a much stronger flavor and delicious in its own right. All I know is that I love this dish and have found that not many people who have tried it.

                        2. re: barleywino

                          that is what i said!:

                          "small steamed ' buns' ( the wrappers, filling and dipping sauce tasted like pork 'soup noodles' [dumplings filled with pork and pork broth] but w/o the broth)"

                          the touch that i thought was really special is that each dumpling rests on a paper thin square of ginger, which assures that you get the ginger hit even if the julienned ginger in the dipping sauce- falls off!

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            yeah that is why i was trying to reconcile what you said with what BJK said...for some, the soup is the thing, for others, not....PS is that "paper thin square" really ginger, or daikon? I think daikon (or sometimes napa) is more common than ginger

                            1. re: barleywino

                              I haven't been there for dim sum in probably 5 years, so my experience may be dated, but I recall there being plenty of broth inside.

                              Also worth ordering is the crispy chicken with spiced salt. Really well fried boneless dark meat chicken with a little bit of five spice salt for dipping plus an excellent thick, dark, sweet and sour dipping sauce of some sort.

                              1. re: BJK

                                that fried chicken dish is my favorite thing there. i think it's called "fried chicken with yu hsiang sauce and spicy salt", or something close to it.

                                1. re: jgg13

                                  I think you're right. Good stuff.

                                  1. re: BJK

                                    mulan makes a popular version of that crispy boneless chicken as well

                                    1. re: barleywino

                                      That fried "popcorn" taiwanese chicken at Mulan is like crack.. So good! I think they just call it "salted crispy chicken"

                              2. re: barleywino

                                barley,HA! another detail fixed person like myself. Here's the deal. I asked Mary about that square and she said 'cabbage' and i said, 'no, ginger', sooooo-
                                it was the color of and had the lined/grained appearance of- ginger. and it tasted completely of ginger- just like the julienned ginger on the dipping sauce they were served with. so maybe the chef ran out of cabbage? or my chef tastebuds are shot, or.....
                                plse now, you must go and order it and see if it's ginger!!

                                but a main point is, unlike the claims of another poster, there was no broth in them. i asked mary if they had that kind and she said "ah, you have been to china, yes?" and then "no, we don't make them here."

                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                  thanks, i guess i'll just have to go and order them ;) ...will report back

                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                    I have always thought it was cabbage. It has never tasted of ginger to me, nor my ginger obsessed gf (who also thinks it is cabbage). That's not to say that we're the correct ones, of course :)

                                    1. re: opinionatedchef

                                      I think I deserve to be identified someway other than being "another poster." :)

                                      1. re: BJK

                                        absolutely. just too tired to search it. mea culpa!

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          No harm done. :)

                                2. re: barleywino

                                  Their small steamed buns (brunch only) are quite good. No soup in them but the skin consistency and meat flavoring is just what I always look for.

                              3. re: hargau

                                hi hargau,
                                perhaps i mislead you by mentioning the absence of those dishes . I only mentioned them bec they are favs of mine, but thanks much for clarifying the diff styles.

                                however, I am only saying that the FOOD experience that I had at MC was far better than what i've had at CPWoburn. Irrelevant for me that they are 2 diff styles. But when I review the other Chinatown spots, I will try to include what i've learned from you- to mention the diff styles.

                                the 3 places you so kindly rec; do they have unusual dishes that are unique to themselves? and do they also lack in shrimp dimsum ? also,if you have fav dimsum there would you plse tell!

                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                  The places i listed are not in china town and are taiwanese style similar menus i think to what you had at MC. I included a link to the menu for Uncle Cheungs already. The other 2 dont seem to have websites.

                                  You may find some shrimp dishes but not the typical ones you are used to seeing on carts at HK dimsum houses.

                                  China Peal Woburn isnt the best dining experience. We still go about once a month when we are too lazy to drive/park in Chinatown. We accept it for what it is and the slighly lower quality/selection for the convenience.

                                  If you go to Beijing star you want the authentic/chinese menu and the dimsum menu only. They also have a everyday menu, which isnt bad but isnt special. The chive pies are tasty here and the knife cut noodles

                                  Be forwarned that at Chung-Shin Yuan there can be quite a long wait, a cramped room and rather rude/abrupt service..Some call it efficient others call it rude. Dont miss the turnip cake here.

                                  -----
                                  Uncle Cheung's Restaurant
                                  266 Worcester Rd, Framingham, MA 01702

                                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                                    i'm sure hargau has his/her own favorites, but at Chung Shin Yuan, i would recommend the spicy steamed ribs (over yams), the jia jiang mein (peking meat sauce noodles), the soybean milk w/ fried cruller (which thickens nicely if you stir in a drop or two of vinegar/soy), and perhaps the panfried steamed pork buns (sanjian bao)...best to get in line at least 15 minutes before they open on weekends if you want to get in for their first seating...Shangri La also has versions of these but I have a slight preference for Chung Shin Yuan (plus they're slightly less rude than Shangri La ;)

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

                                    1. re: barleywino

                                      LOL thats funny :)
                                      Barley let me know if you try the soup dumplings in Nashua and what you think.

                                      1. re: hargau

                                        will do. PS speaking of hargau, some of the best hargau i've had around here was at Grand Chinatown in N Quincy (Billings st), based on a tip from this board

                                        -----
                                        Grand Chinatown
                                        21 Billings Rd, Quincy, MA 02171

                                        1. re: hargau

                                          hargau...have you been to Formosa Taipei Nashua recently, within the past month say?

                                          -----
                                          Formosa Taipei
                                          315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

                                          1. re: qianning

                                            Id say it was closer to 1.5 to 2 months. Why do you ask? Has something changed?

                                            1. re: hargau

                                              the last time we went, about 3 maybe 4 weeks ago, we were disappointed, since then i've heard that there have been changes in the kitchen, but i don't know if we just hit them on a bad night, or ordered the wrong things, or the kitchen really has dropped off....so i was just looking for some external data.

                                              1. re: qianning

                                                What did you have?

                                                1. re: hargau

                                                  i don't remeber exactly. i think, ear salad, taiwanese spring rolls, and a type of beancurd-skin roll, but i don't remeber what else. we've been several times since they opened in nashua, and generally order off the chinese snack menu. while there are definitely some dishes i have liked better than others, our previous visits had been pretty positive, but the most recent didn't do it for us. maybe i should've stuck that we'd had before and liked.

                                      2. re: opinionatedchef

                                        CPWoburn is blechhh for me but I'm used to the places in chinatown.
                                        The China Pearl in Quincy is far better than the one in Woburn IMHO...

                                        -----
                                        China Pearl Restaurant
                                        288 Mishawum Rd, Woburn, MA 01801

                                    2. I would recommend the hot stuffed eggplant @ MC. I prefer her dan dan noodles over SG.

                                      1. So hargau has inspired me to research the recs he made. In so doing, I found this recommended chinese language site that reviews MA chin. restaurants. Any of you read chinese to tip us off about some good places?
                                        the photos of the nashua Formosa Taipei II and Top Garden in Tewksbury- look awfully tempting.
                                        thanks much!

                                        http://areyoueye.com/a/index.php

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          What's particularly amusing are the photos from Kimball Farms in the middle of all that Chinese goodness! :)

                                          -----
                                          Kimball Farm
                                          400 Littleton Rd, Westford, MA 01886

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            i used to use are you eye pretty often, but haven't so much lately. at one point they rated chinese restaurants in the area for "authenticity" on a one to ten scale....i found that a very helpful tool, but since that feature went by the wayside, i don't refer to the web site as much.

                                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                                              LOL...that's pretty funny. I work w/ Rui who wrote that site... :-)

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                if you want some shrimp with your Northern-style dimsum, your best bet may be to go to Shanghai Gate on the weekends lunchtime and order a half order of their "crystal shrimp" (on their specials menu), which is not dimsum but at least is usually tender and not overcooked (although a bit bland).

                                                -----
                                                Shanghai Gate
                                                204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

                                              2. The Chicken Velvet at Mary Chung one of best dishes anywhere. Also rice sticks (only available at dim sum.

                                                -----
                                                Mary Chung Restaurant
                                                460 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139

                                                1. It's been a while, but my favorite dish at MC's is the suan la chau shou (sp?). Wonton dumplings in an amazing spicy sauce. Haven't found anything quite like it anywhere else.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: jodydavis

                                                    try the won ton's in chili sauce at Sichuan Gourmet

                                                    -----
                                                    Sichuan Gourmet
                                                    502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                                                    1. re: cambridgedoctpr

                                                      Thanks for the tip! I've been meaning to try Sichuan Gourmet for a while now, so this will be good incentive ...

                                                      -----
                                                      Sichuan Gourmet
                                                      502 Boston Rd, Billerica, MA 01821

                                                  2. we were back again today and the fried ginger tofu was still my fav., along w/ a new fav, a daily special : chinese water spinach in garlic sauce. super texture and flavor. great addition to a meal of pork and starch.

                                                    tried the sticky rice covered meat balls but i can actually say that mine are far better. MC are pretty plain; i add minced ginger, waterchestnuts, shiitakes to mine.

                                                    Just did not care for the spicy velvet chicken w/ tofu, but i'm also not a fan of alot of the dishes loved by others in the chili oil vein- wontons and bean sprouts in chili oil; dandan noodles.etc........
                                                    The look and technique for making the velvet chicken are fascinating though.. What the platter looks like is pure white soft shiny scrambled egg curds(or cottage cheese curds) with cubes of shiny white soft tofu, bathed in chili oil. To make it, says Mary, the chefs mix egg whites w/ chopped chicken and put it in the blender. then it's cooked with cubes of tofu.

                                                    the mystery of the 8 small steamed pork 'buns': last time they had a paper thin square of ginger under them. this time it was a square of not paper thin cabbage, like barleywino had. still delicious dumplings w/their clean tangy sauce and shredded ginger topping.

                                                    anyone had the seaweed salad? is it transparent mung bean noodles or is it seaweed? plse describe!

                                                    one really strange thing i know youall can educate me about. Chow Foon. i've had it in boston since 1971 (the old bo shek in chinatown was my fav place for them) and every place i've had them in the u.s., they've been wide, opaque white, and chewy noodles.The ones at MC are like Thai rice noodles- somewhat transparent and 1/3" wide. What's the scoop? Thanks for your help.