Boston Restaurant Reviews – East By NorthEast in Inman Square Cambridge
Aimee and I decided to try a new spot in Inman Square this evening that had some really high praise associated with it from the Boston Globe – including comparisons to the heralded Momofuku in Manhattan. The place had a rather interesting name “East by Northeast” (EXNE…just like the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin!), but the menu on the website looked really interesting and delicious – a sort of China meets France feel. It definitely didn’t disappoint.
East by Northeast is only 8 weeks old, but the chef has already established some really excellent dishes as well as specials that we found amazing at their best and pretty good at their worst. This place is really almost like a Chinese Tapas sort of menu, with small plates being the theme – each around $10 or less for the most part. The chef recommends around 3 dishes I’ll review all of the dishes we tried here, in the order of our favorites to our least favorites:
- Home made Thick Cut Noodles with Pork Ragout and Chili Vinegar (topped with a poached egg) – This was our consensus best dish of the evening. The noodles were divine, thick cut and really good all around, and the ragout was seasoned really well and perfectly cooked. One of the great things about ExNE’s (as they call themselves) noodle dishes is that you can add a delicious poached egg to any of these dishes. I highly recommend doing this, especially on this dish. The side of this dish was a small amount of chili vinegar that we (on our server’s recommendation) poured on top of the dish. The vinegar mixed with the egg yolk and created a pretty amazing taste and texture throughout the dish.
- Crispy Pork Belly, Mantou Bread, Daikon and Sweet Bean Paste (with Pickled Onion) – This was likely my favorite of the night…ok, ok, I admit – I’m a sucker for pork belly (who isn’t). This version of the meat was braised first, then sliced thinly and cooked until crispy. Served on some house made Mantou bread (which is a sort of Chinese dumpling-like roll) and topped with some pickled onion and some sweet bean paste. This was really, really tasty – like a little slider. The pork was moist and insanely delicious. I’d come back and order 2-3 of these for myself anytime.
- Mapo Tofu, Spicy Veal Sauce and Smoked Silken Tofu – As you can see from the picture, the presentation of this dish was a little bit surprising to me, almost like a sort of tofu steak, topped with the veal sauce that was actually really spicy (not too spicy though). But from what the presentation lacked, the dish made up for in flavor, which it was big on. There was also some delicious dabs of sauce on the plate that seemed like it was made out of parsley or spinach – it was very green. The combination of the spicy veal and smooth tofu with a little of that smoky flavor is what made this dish for me.
- Pork Dumplings with Butternut Squash, Five Spice-Pork Jus – Though I am partial to Mary Chung‘s amazing house made pot stickers, these dumplings were a welcome start to our meal for sure. Reading the menu, I was mostly expecting to see the butternut squash incorporated inside of the dumplings, but it was actually more of a puree that was served underneath the dumplings, along with the jus. The mixture of these two garnishes was excellent, and overshadowed the dumplings themselves, which I’d have to call rather average. Delicious and innovative nonetheless.
- Salad of Napa Cabbage, Honey, Rice Vinegar and Grapefruit – This salad was fresh an really delicious. I was a little skeptical of the raw cabbage at first, but I’m glad we ordered it in the end. The combination of the bitter grapefruit, tart but smooth vinegar and the tender cabbage was divine. Balanced with the honey, this dish was a winner for sure, something I’d be happy to order again. We shared this, but I also could have eaten one of these small salads on my own.
- Crispy Bun Duo – Pulled Pork and Smoked Pork Confit – A rather interesting presentation, this small dish was one part mini-slider that included the smoked pork confit, and another part pulled pork, encapsulated in a delicious dough and cooked until the sides were rather crisp. This was a really nice pair, but the flavors weren’t as memorable as some of the other dishes we tasted.
- House Made Lamb Sausage, Short Rice Noodles, Carrots, Parsnips – This was our least favorite of all the dishes we tasted at ExNE. I think part of the reason was the noodles themselves – rather short and shaped like small, thick cylinders. I found them to be rather gummy in the middle, and not particularly enjoyable to eat. The sauce in the dish seemed to be seasoned with curry powder and cumin and was good, not great. The lamb sausage was delicious, but in the whole dish we only found 3 pieces of sausage. Probably wouldn’t order this one again, but it was interesting to try in any case.
Overall, our experience at East by Northeast was an enjoyable one. We sat at the bar, and the servers were great at explaining and recommending. We even got a view of the kitchen as the chefs were preparing everyone’s food. Cool spot, I see good things ahead for these guys, and wish them the best of luck -
Overall: 8.5/10 – great spot!