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Chinese food for my non-Chinese food eating wife

Will be in Boston this weekend with my wife who doesn't like Chinese food. I'm convinced it's because, living in Maine most of her life, she has never had good Chinese food. She's actually fairly adventurous when it comes to ethnic food but most Maine Chinese places seem to serve the same generic salty, greasy slop. I'm looking for a nice place (if there are fish swimming around in a tank, the water has to be clear), not very spicy, maybe good vegetarian choices. Basically, real solid food in a fairly upscale environment. I'd like to play this safe. This is probably my last chance to convince her that what she has tried in the past really isn't what Chinese food is really about.

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  1. Jo Jo Taipei in Allston has fairly nice surroundings and excellent food.

    Their twin lobster prep is amazing.

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

    20 Replies
    1. re: StriperGuy

      I've always thought that Shanghai Gate, also in Allston, is a spare but surprisingly nice-looking room, with interesting artwork and a couple of beautiful antique carved room dividers. There are spicy items on the menu (I love the Paradise Mountain chicken), but also quite a few good non-spicy dishes, such as the lion's head meatball and the sauteed rice cakes.

      That said, neither Jo Jo Taipei nor Shanghai Gate can really be described as "a fairly upscale environment." The two Chinese restaurants that I can think of in the immediate Boston area that best fit that description - Golden [Temple] in Brookline and Changsho in Cambridge - will do nothing to change bobbert's wife's mind about the food.

      1. re: Allstonian

        Agreed re: Jo Jo and Shanghai Gate. That said, I think either is "nice enough" as opposed to the usual rough and tumble surrounds of say some Chinatown places.

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        Shanghai Gate
        204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

        1. re: Allstonian

          Do you mean Golden Temple? Yeah, it's pretty bad.

          1. re: C. Hamster

            Yep, Golden Temple. Thanks for catching that!

          2. re: Allstonian

            Bernards in Chestnut hill mall comes relatively close to upscale, or at least comfortable. Their shrimp, panfried noodles ("angel hair"), duck, fish filet, beef chow fun (and dimsum on weekends lunchtime) are generally good. Plus she (and you) can do some shopping while there.

            1. re: barleywino

              Bernards atmosphere is nice, and the food is tasty, but their preparations are a bit too Americanized for me.

              1. re: Science Chick

                that's why she may like it ;) Also the dishes I list are pretty authentic imo

            2. re: Allstonian

              Changsho has an upscale environment, definitely, though the food is Americanized Chinese. It's probably the best Chinese-American place in the area, though, so if the OP is looking for that style of food, as opposed to authentic Chinatown Chinese, it's not a bad option at all.

              1. re: Boston_Otter

                I would NOT go to Changsho or Bernards. Blech.

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                Changsho
                1712 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

                1. re: StriperGuy

                  we're not talking about where WE would go, but where the OP's wife would enjoy the experience the most. Besides, I find the shrimp, panfried noodles and beef chow fun there as good as any in Chinatown, if not better. If you look behind the mall surroundings and the Americanized looking menu, there is a real chef. I may prefer Jo Jo taipei for myself, but she might find the menu offerings too inaccessible, as has been my experience taking some people outside their comfort zone. I once took a couple from Michigan to a Korean fusion restaurant (Rachel Yang, who appeared on Iron Chef America recently) and the wife was so baffled and flustered that we had to leave and go somewhere else.

                  1. re: barleywino

                    Even if there are a few decent dishes there, the likelihood is that they will order something else, and end up with Americanized blech (95% of the menu) which they are trying to avoid.

                    1. re: StriperGuy

                      thats why I list what I consider to be good...if they order General Gao, I can't help them ;)

                      1. re: barleywino

                        You're missing the point.

                        If they go to one of those places, they may, if they are very lucky, order one or two of your recs. But likely not at all.

                        They'll order something that catches their eye on the menu, and for the Nth time confirms their opinion that Chinese food is gloppy yuck.

                        Go to a good authentic place, with good food, and experience one of the great cuisines of the world...

                        1. re: StriperGuy

                          if they order poorly despite the advice they get on the board, they only have themselves to blame. It's not luck, it's smart ordering. There are bad dishes at Jo Jo Taipei as well. If they do'nt like greasy, perhaps they will find the scallion pancakes at Jo Jo too oily, who knows? Or the eggplant too spicy? Or the stinky tofu at the next table too smelly? Maybe there's the possibility of more return at Jo Jo, but also more risk. I think if they are skeptical of Chinese food, they should ease into it, rather than get pushed into the deep end. But that's their decision, not ours.

                          1. re: barleywino

                            A chacun son gout.

                            Personally I would not send anyone to a place where 80-90% of the menu is gloppy Amero-Chinese food as a way to expand their Chinese food horizons. Food failure in the making IMHO.

                            1. re: StriperGuy

                              how do you know that 80-90% of the menu is gloppy? Have you tried them? Have you even been there? if the OP is looking for "good vegetarian" choices, Bernards has a spa menu which is light and veggie oriented. I think there are plenty of choices there that would make them happy. Even just ordering the dishes I mentioned, that's plenty of choices for 2 people.

                      2. re: StriperGuy

                        I'm with you, Striper! The point is to introduce her to *good* chinese food. They don't have to order beef tendon or anything "challenging" like that. That is why I suggested a couple of pleasing, easy dishes at Jo Jo Taipei. We need to recommend a few more of the nice accessible dishes there.........This actually reminds me of that scene in "Stranger Than Fiction", when the Will Farrell character says he doesn't like cookies, but then admits that he's never had anything but store bought ones. Then he eats a fresh, warm one out of the oven and is blown away. Someone with good taste, but only ever exposed to nasty, gloppy Chinese food would have every reason to have concluded that Chinese food is not for them! The OP says she is pretty adventurous otherwise.

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

                      3. re: barleywino

                        Good distinction re. OP's wife's likely tastes. .

                  2. re: Allstonian

                    Shanghai Gate was the first thing I thought of as well. If the OP's wife doesn't like the lion's head meatball, it's official: she does not and will not ever like Chinese food.

                    I get what barleywino is saying about taking her to Jo Jo Taipei -- it's true, if someone already averse to Chinese food catches a whiff of stinky tofu, they're just gonna shut down -- but I disagree that going to a training-wheels place like Bernards is the best recourse. Take her to Shanghai Gate. It's a perfectly nice room, the food is great, she's not going to find "generic salty, greasy glop."

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                    Shanghai Gate
                    204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134

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

                  3. re: StriperGuy

                    I second Striper guy on Jo Jo Taipei. Very nice atmosphere and outstanding quality food. Try their eggplant with basil and their scallion pancake for sure.

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

                  4. Fusion? If so, Blue Ginger in Wellesley.

                    In Boston, if you want good chinese food, Peach Farm.....malaysian food (they have some sorta chinese dishes), Penang.

                    suburban chinese is usually ick... :-P

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                    Blue Ginger
                    583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Spike

                      Peach Farm's hygiene won't exactly help OP's case.

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                      Peach Farm
                      4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                      1. re: Luther

                        Is there an issue with Peach Farm's hygiene..? This is something good to know. Peach Farm comes highly recommended by tripadvisor.

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                        Peach Farm
                        4 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                        1. re: BlueMagic

                          I have no special information about the kitchen but the dining room has that sort of grungy-white-tablecloth atmosphere where the carpet is all worn down and the tablecloths themselves are stained.

                      2. re: Spike

                        Blue Ginger is a really good call. Though it's by no means typical Chinese, so if the OP's wife is a fan, he'll be hard pressed to repeat the experience anywhere else!

                        1. re: Spike

                          If you're going out to Wellesley, why not CK Shanghai instead of Blue Ginger. It's good americanized chinese food in a Wellesley environment

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                          Blue Ginger
                          583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

                          1. re: mkfisher

                            Id highly recommend against CK Shanghai...I dont find the environment or the food good.

                            1. re: hargau

                              +1 I visited this place several times and can't understand what the fuss is about.

                        2. Maybe a PF Changs? A modern twist on Chinese food? My sister loves their lettuce wraps. I wouldn't call it authentic. But it is usually a fun date night place. Good luck!

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: makonna

                            Another vote for PF Changs...the lettuce wraps are really good. They have a lot of delicious vegetarian dishes..and they are probably actually more authentic than any place that serves up Crab Rangoon on the menu. One thing I like about PF Changs is that you can get plain brown rice. Also, the vegetables are always fresh and crisp and the service is always great. I have only been there with friends..but I can see the possibility of it being a fun date place.

                            1. re: BlueMagic

                              Or you could go to Best Little Restaurant and eat some lettuce wraps while having Actual Chinese Food.

                              1. re: BlueMagic

                                Per their menu, PF Chang's serves crab rangoon....

                                The presence of American items on a Chinese restauran'ts menu isn't always indicative of its authenticity--it just means it also caters to unadventurous palates. Wang's in Somerville manages to serve both crab rangoon and chicken fingers as well as intestine, bitter melon and sea cucumber, for example.

                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                  I have never seen Crab Rangoon on the menu at PF Changs. If you are referring to the Crab Wontons they offer as an appetizer..they don't resemble any crab rangoon I have ever had. My point was PF Changs offers a different type of Asian cuisine ( albeit Americanized) that you get at most "Chinese " restaurants. They are not authentic however in the sense of what the Chinese actually prepare and consume.

                                  1. re: BlueMagic

                                    PF Changs is a national chain restaurant. It may be good quality and may suffice in a market where independent, authentic restaurants are sparse/non-existent. I once visited Nashville and was taken to one there. Fine, since there isn't much else in the Chinese vein to choose from there. But here in Boston, with a wealth of wonderful Chinese cuisine represent many of the different Chinese regions, I would vote against it.

                              2. re: makonna

                                Absolutely positively disagree. Blech.

                                1. re: StriperGuy

                                  I know that most replies are pointing to authentic chinese places. My response looks at the fact that the requestor asked for upscale. Clean and trendy is my interpretation. Honestly, if I got dressed up on our vacation ready to go to and upscale restaurant, and my husband took me to JoJo Taipei's, I'm not sure that I would be that happy, especially since he notes that his wife has never shown an interest in Chinese food. That was my midground/play it safe choice, and I believe it would make a fun date night and a small step towards less gloppy chinese good.

                                  1. re: makonna

                                    Please note that the OP has responded and said "clean and nice" is what he meant, not "upscale". He just doesn't want a grimy, fast-food atmosphere, which I imagine has been his wife's "chinese" experience up to this point. If I was looking for good Chinese and someone took me to JJTP, I'd be delighted.

                                      1. re: StriperGuy

                                        just, in fact, took someone to JJTP for lunch yesterday, who hasn't had much Chinese food experience. We stayed simple: the fried dumplings, scallops in orange sauce, steamed pea pods - she loved it. The staff is invariably cordial and there's nothing wrong with the room. And if the OP is more adventurous than his wife, he'll be thrilled at his options.

                                          1. re: Spike

                                            Must be Sichuan dry tangerine peel of course...

                              3. You might consider a place like Sichuan Gourmet in Brookline. They serve Americanized food along with Sichuan dishes in a nice environment. You can try a few different things and see how she responds. For example, their Dan Dan noodles is very different from the glop you might get. It's an appetizer so the investment isn't much. You could try something like family style tofu, which is an easy dish to like with clean flavors. You've certainly seen Chinese restaurants that call themselves Sichuan or Szechuan. This is much more the real thing. You will not get the same brown sauce on every dish.

                                There are many Chinese cuisines. You can explain that. The coastal ones tend to be lighter, but they also tend to be the ones that have been changed, some would say degraded in the US into heavy, fried & greasy. It's not only that she hasn't had good Chinese food but that she's unaware of what Chinese food is. That's like thinking Southern Italian cooking is like Northern Italian and then thinking an Italian-American red sauce place is "Italian food".

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                                Sichuan Gourmet
                                1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: lergnom

                                  Sichuan Gourmet is an excellent suggestion. Good for a date night and lots of great choices food-wise.

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                                  Sichuan Gourmet
                                  1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                    1. re: bear

                                      honestly sichuan gourmet, while good, is not good unless you like spicy sichuanese food (it's non-sichuan dishes are bleh). Jo Jo Taipei and Shanghai Gate offer great range and rarely miss their mark. Bernard's is pretty but also pretty ordinary. Blue Ginger is delightful but not really "Chinese." Maybe the new Q in chinatown is more upscale and more authentic? I haven't been but perhaps others could comment?

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

                                      Blue Ginger
                                      583 Washington St., Wellesley, MA 02482

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

                                      1. re: teezeetoo

                                        I agree. Sichuan Gourmet is not a good choice if you dont like spicy. There are some good non-spicy sichuan dishes but they tend to be salty...

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                                        Sichuan Gourmet
                                        1004 Beacon St, Brookline, MA 02446

                                    2. I agree with most of the posters here in recommending Jojo Taipei and Shanghai Gate. If you go during the weekend for brunch, Jojo Taipei has Taiwanese style dimsum along with the regular menu. When I last went they carried small dishes around, including salted, roasted peanuts and pickled cabbage.

                                      I would also get the soup dumplings, because who doesn't like soup dumplings. Actually, any dumplings would probably be good choices, as well as their stuffed pancakes and noodles.

                                      While I enjoy the eggplant with basil and the 3 cups chicken, it's a bit sloppy, thickened with cornstarch. It's not as gloppy as most of the chinese food in Chinatown, granted, but it may not be palatable for your wife.

                                      Kung pao chicken is a little spicy but it might be a good choice? My relatives seemed to like it much more than Chinatown versions when they were visiting. It's definitely salty so eat rice accordingly.

                                      Shanghai gate also has soup dumplings on the weekends (though they aren't as good) and I personally prefer it overall to Jojo. I would definitely DEFINITELY advise against listening to the suggestions of the servers. Stir fried rice cakes (really, just thick cut, somewhat chewy noodles) with pork, lions head meatballs, steamed fish, fish in brown sauce (I think that's the english name. It might be Hong Shao fish on the menu, or if it's not, you can say it and they'll understand). There are bones, and usually there's a head but it doesn't sound like she should have issues with that since trout is often served whole. All of these dishes are really good and not gloppy.

                                      Penang is technically not a Chinese restaurant but it has many Chinese dishes along with malaysian curries that may be more familiar to your wife. Hainan chicken is an interesting chinese dish now much more associated with singapore.

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                                      Shanghai Gate
                                      204 Harvard Ave, Allston, MA 02134