Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dinner | Myers + Chang

Our mini-trip to Boston continued with dinner at Chef Joanne Chang's other restaurant, Myers + Chang.

The story behind Myers + Chang began with a little heartfelt meet-cute. Chef Joanne Chang met Christopher Myers while they were working togehter at Rialto over in Cambridge. He was the general manager and co-owner at the time, and Chef Chang was the pastry chef. "His sweet tooth led him to the pastry station several times a day and a fast friendship quickly developed." Their friendship continued to grow after he left Rialto to open Radius, Via Matta, Great Bay, and later to NYC to open Payard Patisserie with Chef Chang's help. After her stint at Payard, Chef Chang moved back to Boston to open Flour, and their "fun, light-hearted friendship gradually morphed into something a bit more until one day, Mr. Myers woke up and found that Joanne had moved in."

Chef Chang would make dinner every night, cooking what she grew up with, i.e., Taiwanese and Chinese classics that she learned over the years from her mom and aunt. As with most Chinese American families, it is perfectly normal to have "rice, stirfries, greens, and noodles" every night of the week. Mr. Myers, on the other hand, "kept waiting for a lasagna, a pot roast, or a leg of lamb to show up on the dinner table" -- only problem was that Chef Chang had "never roasted a chicken or braised a short rib in her life!" While Mr. Myers couldn't believe one could eat Chinese food every night, Chef Chang also couldn't believe that "the take-out Chinese that he was use to eating was considered Chinese food."

Then an inspired idea for a restaurant came into play -- with an uncharted niche in the Boston dining scene paired with Chef Chang's know-how behind Asian cuisine, Myers + Chang was born as a "funky indie diner with fresh Asian dishes (Chef Chang's contribution) along with genuine hospitality and stylish décor" (contribution from Mr. Myers and his reputation as a restaurateur).

As with most Asian restaurants, Myers + Chang had not just one, but three maneki neko (i.e., "beckoning cat" or "lucky cat") figurines displayed on the bar. The most common belief is that the left paw raised brings in customers, while a right paw brings good luck and wealth. These little trinkets also add to the kitschy décor throughout the restaurant's interior.

The lighting and choice of color add to the ambiance of Myers + Chang.

Funky straws!

Marcus and I arrived a bit early for our reservation, so we were invited to wait at the bar and order some drinks. I decided to go with the lychee vanilla soda while Marcus had the freshly squeezed limeade -- both housemade fountain drinks. I really enjoyed the lychee vanilla -- it had little bits of lychee fruit mixed in with the juice itself and some club soda. The hint of vanilla was what really made this drink very different than sodas that I've had before. It made the exotic nature of the drink a little more refined. As for the limeade, Marcus found it to be pretty good, but a little on the sour side.

Love the menu design here! Also, additional kitschy touches of Asian newspapers used as place mats . . .

. . . funky paper lanterns . . .

. . . plus, vintage Asian tins to hold chopsticks!

{1} For some of the menu items that are on the spicier side, there is a star system that indicates just how spicy they may be. The added humor is there are stars next to the chefs running the place! :P {2} Further proof that Chef Chang is one of my favorite chefs -- there is a disclaimer for those who "don't do" cilantro. WIN!

The cuisine at Myers + Chang is "all about fresh product, exotic herbs, and redolent spices" currently created by Chef Karen Akunowicz, the current executive chef.

View from our table of the counter seating available overlooking the open kitchen.

Upon our first perusal of the menu, we were quite overwhelmed with the wide possibility of choice it afforded us. Just like the dining experience we had at 508, Marcus again experienced what he likes to call "choice paralysis" whereby you are inundated with so many promising choices that you lose your ability to know what you would want to order, possibly resulting in the internet meme, "X all the Y" -- only in this situation, it would be "ORDER ALL THE THINGS." After pulling ourselves back together, Marcus and I picked a few items from the dim sum part of the menu (i.e., small plates and starters) to start.

Marcus chose Esti's hot and sour soup with fresh shiitakes, pork, and local tofu, which was quite spicy but very balanced in flavor overall. It had all the elements of a solid hot and sour soup (plus my favorite thing: mushrooms!), so no spoonful was left unfinished.

I chose the grilled razor clams with scallion-shrimp butter, watercress, and grapefruit. I'm a sucker for all things razor clammed, and these were no disappointment. Plump and juicy, these razor clams were delicious. The grapefruit added a little sweet and tart flavor, while the scallion-shrimp butter certainly gave it an Asian flair.

We also ordered the Tiger's Tears (aka bang bang and Olufsen beef) -- grilled steak with Thai basil, lime, and khao koor. What came as a total shock to us about this dish was that the "grilled steak" was served cold/chilled. It wasn't raw/rare enough to be a tartare, but it wasn't cooked enough where the flavor from the heat could be released. We weren't crazy about the Thai basil either, so overall, this dish was a miss for us.

One of the three main courses we ordered to share was the shrimp and calamari vermicelli stirfry with iceberg lettuce, crispy wontons, and sesame oil. This was another miss for us -- the vermicelli was really soggy which made it difficult to eat. The lettuce was pretty wilty, and the shrimp wasn't very good. The crispy wontons were the saving grace, but in all honesty, this dish was not a great hit. Loved the classic Chinese restaurant dishware used, though!

Next up was the chicken and rapini stirfry with toasted garlic and chili peppers. Marcus and I probably should have looked into what rapini was (I had no idea it was just another name for broccoli rabe) before we ordered it. Oops, guess we had to learn the hard way -- it is just too bitter for our palates. So for us, there was just way too much rapini and not enough chicken. Plus, the chicken was on the blander side, even with the toasted garlic (my favorite part) and the chili peppers.

Our last shared course was the genmai fried rice -- brown rice fried with toasted garlic, greens, beans, sesame, nori, and a farm egg. Give me fried rice topped with an egg any day, and I will be a happy camper. Any additional treats like the toasted garlic, sesame, and nori are just awesome surprises to something I already know I love! What made this stand out from most fried rice and egg dishes I've had is that genmai was used, which also had a slightly different texture from the typical brown rice. The grains appeared to have been toasted and pan-fried, giving it a lightly crisp bite throughout. The flavors from the toasted garlic, greens, beans, sesame, and nori were worked well into the rice, making it really tasty. The runniness from the egg's yolk and the broken up pieces of egg white added a moist overlaying texture, bringing together all of the ingredients. Overall, this rice was a big hit for me, considering that the other dishes weren't what we had initially hoped they would be.

Findings: Overall, Marcus and I had a mixed experience at Myers + Chang, but to be fair, I think the items we ordered were the problem in that they weren't very aligned with what our palates enjoy. With that being said, we probably should have consulted our waiter more about the menu's most popular dishes and to ask whether our choices would be good ones. I will have to say, though, that I think we may have had better luck ordering more items from the dim sum section of the menu. Our drinks were also unique, well-made, and delicious. So what did I take from our experience at Myers + Chang? I would definitely go back to give the menu another shot -- the initial choice paralysis seemed to give way for lots of potential menu items that would strike our palates some delectable interest. But for now, the ambiance is funky and welcoming, while the kitschy décor is spot-on with all of the intricate and meticulous forethought with all the little things, making it a great place for getting Asian-inspired cocktails and fountain concoctions whilst sharing a bunch of small plates with a group of friends. Plus,

Price point: $5-11 for each dim sum dish, $13-17 for each noodle/rice/stirfry dish.

--April 5, 2012

Myers + Chang
1145 Washington Street
Boston, MA 02118

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