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Sep 13, 2011 08:36 AM

Chinatown Crawl

If you are anything like this good eater then nothing is more auspicious than a Chinatown Crawl on a picture perfect day. Meet your Sino supper associates early under the Paifang gateway to the third largest Chinatown in the U.S. Groups of men huddle around board games from another land and children run and play around the big stone Foo Dogs and big dig bamboo gardens. Tonal tongues waft on the air which also betrays the sweet and savory exhaust of scores of practiced kitchens. The neighborhood is the most densely populated in the city and if you come for lunch and stay for dinner the many faces of this community with one foot in Asia, change as day twinkles into night. In between five spots that are not my regulars, visits to the markets, live poultry, bakeries, and the ginseng shop break up this feast on the move.

Right out of the gate and down at the end of Hudson, up one flight is New Shanghai. Fancy and bustling with super attentive service this "old dragon" has it all dialed in.
New Shanghai Restaurant
21 Hudson St, Boston 02111
(Btwn Beach & Kneeland St)
Phone: (617) 338-6688
First up simply and complex cucumber with minced scallions was all about garlic and a chili kick. "Sichuantons" with red chili sauce magically disappeared, but the star here was Fuqi feipian夫妻肺片; meaning literally "sliced lung by the married couple". A popular Sichuan dish usually leaves the lung out (a must as per the FDA) but features tripe, heart and tongue and other nose to tail bits. Served here at room temperature, the thinly sliced beef and offal sang of hot chili oil, crushed peanuts and cilantro with a good dose of Szechuan peppercorns that delivers the "ma la" mouth numbing euphoria. A complimentary red bean moon cake was a classy gimme. Here a first round of Tsing Taos kept our table well hydrated and the only thing missing was a bottle of Mao Tai liquor for toasting round 1.

Next up a Hong Diner in a subterranean location.
Café de Lulu
42 Beach St, Boston 02111
(At Harrison Ave)
Phone: (617) 391-0888
Right about here Concubine Chicken (w/bones) Congee was right on time. The white peppery rice porridge and chickeny chicken is all about comfort.
For that matter so is Chinese Spaghetti or Jajangmyeon (fried sauce noodle) 자장면; 짜장면) which I'm told is a super popular dish in Korea, derived from the Chinese dish zha jiang mian. Wheat noodles topped with a thick sauce made of chunjang (a salty black soybean paste), diced meat and vegetables, and on this special occasion, house made XO seafood sauce (add $2). White toast with condensed milk was a nod to the HK Diner tradition working well at Cafe Lulu. Service was informal, engaging and left a "y'all come back now" feeling.

Anyone who knows me knows I take my dumplings seriously. Stop number three had to be:
Dumpling Cafe
695 Washington St, Boston 02111
(at Kneeland St)
Phone: (617) 338-8858
Soup dumplings or Xiao Long Bao are ancient molecular gastronomy that when executed right are heavenly dough purses of hot soup and meaty filling that are taken with black vinegared ginger shreds. At Dumpling Cafe a most remarkably rich and super clarified stock is chilled to a gelatin then mixed with the filling and twisted inside the dumpling skins. When they are steamed the soup is liquified and the heat, aroma, texture and contrasting sour and aromatic notes makes this a perfect food and The Dumpling Cafe does it right. There is an extensive menu at Dumpling Cafe but here the focus at our table was XLB. A return visit to explore what else they can do is in order. "You are not hungry?". Service was brusk for our one note visit as the packed room perked with a ravenous hum.

Food friends in the know rave about:
The Best Little Restaurant
13A Hudson St
Btwn Beach & Kneeland St
(617) 338-4988
"Lobster with gingers and scallions", S&P Squid. Crispy Fried Squab , and Sauteed Pea Pod Stems were superb. Even with all that had been consumed already we happily tucked in and it was as advertised, "the best". There would be no doggie bags required.

And finally to complete the five tastes:
China Gourmet
23 Tyler St, Boston 02111
(Btwn Kneeland & Beach St)
Phone: (617) 482-9888
China Gourmet for a Fuzhou thing or two which shook out as Fish Noodle and was perhaps not the big fish finish we were craving. Still when all was said and done and the the last tip was left behind the echo of a perfectly delicious day of big fun and flavor was shared ,"meandering thru the main streets, alleys and all the little nooks and crannies" that are our Chinatown.

New Shanghai Restaurant
21 Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

Best Little Restaurant
13A Hudson St, Boston, MA 02111

Gourmet China Restaurant
23 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

Dumpling Cafe
695 Washington St, Boston, MA 02135

Cafe de Lulu
42 Beach St, Boston, MA 02110

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  1. what a terrific little packet/agenda! i hope you will link lots of visitors to it when they are seeking suggestions for ethnic /chinese.

        1. re: EATTV

          How about 24 hour notice peking duck three course meal at King Fung, maybe not as good as the original owners but still special, or roast pork or ribs from the bbq stores? or did you do that on your major eating tour this summer

          1. re: lc02139

            All favorites but I'm trying to expand, There'sa place on main Street in Flushing that does Peking Duck sliders on steamed bread for a buck a throw. We need that.

            1. re: EATTV

              kantin in allston has peking duck "sliders"

              1. re: galangatron

                Whew, that might be my lunch today...

                1. re: galangatron

                  I am familiar and get them often. The little glass booth in Flushing just does the duck and the quality is spectacular. Gotta love a specialty act!

                  1. re: EATTV

                    I love that place in Flushing. Looking forward to scoping these out next time I'm up in Boston!

                  2. re: galangatron

                    Kantin does indeed have them, and they are reasonably good. Red Lantern, a place I went into with very low expectations, actually has very good Peking Duck "sliders" (i.e. sliced roast duck on a soft mantou bun). At Red Lantern two such buns are literally three times the price of three such buns at Kantin, although each bun has more meat inside, the buns are more consistent (at Kantin sometimes they are hard on the bottom), and Red Lantern's also comes with a side of pickled vegetables for added crunch. I like both versions. I do think it's a little disengeous to call either "Peking Duck", because I don't think either uses ducks that are incredibly fatty and the don't go through all the laborous steps in making traditioal Peking Duck that produces the depth of flavor, totally seperated sweetened skin, and keeps in all the moisture despite the crispy texture. I might call them "Peking-style roast duck buns" because they take a simpler roast duck preparation and season it to resemble Peking Duck. Just a semantic quibble --- I certainly enjoy those buns at both restaurants.

                    EATTV --- nice review! You definitely hit some of my favorites in Chinatown too. Still, my top three places would be Taiwan Cafe, Winsor Dim Sum Cafe and Q Hotpot.

                    Winsor Dim Sum Cafe
                    10 Tyler St, Boston, MA 02111

                    1095 Commonwealth Ave Ste 203, Boston, MA 02215

                    Red Lantern
                    235 Shrewsbury St, Worcester, MA 01604

                    1. re: lipoff

                      A stomach after my own heart! Thanx lipoff.

              2. re: EATTV

                Great Taste and Rainbow Cafe, though often more for the atmosphere than just the food.

              3. re: Luther

                The congee at Lulu might have been a personal highlight for me, Luther. I hadn't really found a reliable bowl in C'town thus far. The ginger/scallion lobster at BLR was also a noteworthy example, probably the best version of this dish I've had in town, totally luscious lobsta, the entire mess coated with a silky slick sauce.

                Shoulda listened to barleywino's forewarning of faux-zhou fish noodle soup. Bah.

                1. re: Nab

                  And yet valiant, legendary and overall a fine time had by all. Again.

                  1. re: EATTV

                    Nice job! If still hungry, there's always the "tiny fried silver fish" w/ flowering chive, jellyfish and garlic chips at New Golden Gate (I think chocomom posted on this dish back when) and the fuzhou fried rice chock full of seafood at Jade garden.

                    New Golden Gate
                    66 Beach St, Boston, MA 02111

              4. At the very beginning of the crawl, I would get a takeout order of roast-beef scallion-pancake roll from Taiwan Cafe. Eat it at the gate while waiting for everyone to show up, then continue on.....

                8 Replies
                1. re: Dave MP

                  Genius. I love that roll up. Saw it years ago at a neighboring 2 top. TC, "The Old Lion" is my go to.

                  1. re: EATTV

                    any other places to go to for this, other than TC and Jo Jo Taipei?

                    my guy calls it "an asian beef wellington." and on the vein of using western terms for asian dishes, I love the use of "sliders" up above. I've never heard roast duck with steamed buns referred to as that.

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

                    1. re: tammyh

                      This one from JoJo. Pretty good.

                      1. re: EATTV

                        I had it at JoJo once, and thought it wasn't as good as the version at TC. But still pretty good.

                      2. re: tammyh

                        Mulan does it too. I need to get over there soon to see what's what. Gourmaniac's thread on Mulan favorites reminded me of the salty spiced chicken with crispy fried basil leaves, a favorite of mine.

                        1. re: yumyum

                          We've had both the TC and Mulan versions reasonably recently, the Mulan one several times. We've found the Mulan version a little inconsistent, but when it's been good it's matched TC. Doesn't Formosa Taipei in Lexington also make it? I seem to remember your mentioning it in your review of takeout from there. You hadn't liked it, I think, but that could have been due to its being a dish that doesn't take confinement well. Stick it in a container and the steam robs the pancake of its delightful crispness.

                          Formosa Taipei
                          315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

                          1. re: FoodDabbler

                            I've now had the Formosa Taipei version: .

                            Formosa Taipei
                            315 Marrett Rd, Lexington, MA 02421

                    2. re: Dave MP

                      I was recently introduced to this dish at TC and it was great.

                      Another version at Dumpling Cafe (Washington St) was disappointing.

                    3. Great adventure. You're one of those men (or women) I wish I was.

                      One peripheral question. You seem to suggest the FDA has banned serving lung. Is that really so?

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: FoodDabbler

                        "Way back in 1971, lungs were declared unfit for human consumption by the U.S. Wholesale Meat Act. "


                        According to wikipedia, the dish rarely is made with lungs, even outside the US.


                      2. eat, you got me all excited about Years ago at Asiana Grill in Arlington, there was a top fav dish of mine that a Korean friend said was very popular in Korea- thick udon noodles in a very thick very black Black bean sauce w/ minced pork and veggies (and maybe squid bits)- so your description yelled out to me and we went and got some yesterday. Whew, what a trip. A CH version of Dante's Inferno. Anyway, the woman there kept asking me if i wanted Hong Kong Style or Taiwan style, telling me that Taiwan style is better. All i could do was show her the printout of your description, and she gave me 'Hong Kong style noodles'. She also kept telling me that XO sauce is only served on the dish listed under this one on their paper menu.(no online menu could i find.) ANY way, when i had it for dinner, later at home, it was not the same dish as I had hoped, but it was DELICIOUS. My best description would be spaghetti with chinese pork and black bean bolognese.Toothsome noodles with abundant topping of thick sauce with many layers of flavor.Lots of interesting tastes and textures-including different dried mushrooms- wood ear, shiitake, etc. We asked for it a bit spicy and it had a nice subtle kick to it. Seasonings etc. were perfect; no need to reach for a single condiment. And now that i’ve had time to reflect, it prob was the best noodle dish i’ve ever had at a Boston chinese place. Anyway, never EVER would have gone down that rabbit hole and had this w/o your CH mention, so thank you very much for that. (btw, I noticed they had udon noodles and when i asked her, she said they can sub any kind of noodles in any of the dishes, so next time, i'll get the udon version.i just love the unique dense chewiness of udon.) Just terrific!.......................and if anyone knows where i can find another of that Korean dish from Asiana- plse tell me!

                        p.s. could someone plse enlighten me as to the terms 'hongkong style' and 'taiwan style' with regards to different dishes? thnx much.

                        Cafe de Lulu
                        42 Beach St, Boston, MA 02110

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                          Get Jajangmyeon at the food court at H-Mart. It's the ubiquitous Chinese Korean comfort food. There's a "ramen" style packaged version that is sometimes a guilty pleasure for me. Hong Kong style wheat and egg noodles are stir fried and a million other things but Taiwanese Noodles are usually a famous beef broth deal.

                          3 Old Concord Rd, Burlington, MA 01803

                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                            you can find jajang myun at Buk Kyung II (Allston), though I don't know how it compares to anywhere else. it's certainly tasty.

                            as for the difference between jajang myun (Korean) and zha jiang mian (Taiwanese) ... I know that looks-wise, jajang myun is practically BLACK from the soybean paste that's used. I've never seen zha jiang mian get that dark. a bit of wiki research also shows that zha jiang mian is generally made with fermented soybean paste, which is notably brown. I'm also pretty sure that the Korean version is sweeter.

                            as for a difference between HK and Taiwanese food ... I think HK food is generally not spicy and not as complex (but maybe that's because I grew up on Canto food and find Taiwanese food intriguing). however, in this case, I think the difference may be the addition/exclusion of XO sauce which (in my mind) is a Taiwanese thing. search results say it originates from HK, but I keep seeing it on Taiwanese restaurants here in the US, never in Canto restaurants. confusing, I know.

                            as an aside ... a friend was telling me that jajang myun is notably bad for dates since it's pretty messy to eat (noodles, dark sauce, and slurping!), so it's apparently a tradition to eat a bowl of jajang myun if you're date-less on Valentine's day. something like that. I'd love to be date-less for an excuse to eat jajang myun!

                            Buk Kyung
                            MA, MA

                            1. re: tammyh

                              tammy, thnks much for that. here's another thread i found about this dish


                              looks like this week we'll be there (closed today! What else is terrific there? thnx again.

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                not sure on the noodles (it's been a while), but was definitely pretty black. wherever you go, report back on it and give me an update!

                            2. re: opinionatedchef

                              Hold the Presses!! Turns out that the jiajianmein Hong Kong style is like sweet and sour pork over fine egg noodles. It is the TAIWAN STYLE that you had and I had after you, and loved. Owner explained it to me today after a mixup with my order. So Taiwan Style is the only way to go for me at Cafe Lulu; i had it over udon noodles and it was excellent.

                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                perhaps of consequence to no one, but i have been back 3 times for this same taiwan style dish and it has never been the epiphany it was that one time.

                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                  Definitely of consequence. Why hasn't it been as good?

                                  1. re: Dave MP

                                    you know dave, i can't i.d. the loss. i only know it lacks the depth of flavor and it tastes distinctly of hoisin sauce these last times, and i am NOT a fan of hoisin.