Monday, November 7, 2011

Good Fortune at Myers and Chang

Spanish tapas, those delicious miniature delicacies long available at restaurants such as Ken Oringer’s acclaimed Toro and South Shore’s Loco, have unfortunately become a bit of a culinary cliché. If you’re looking to spice up your dining options, head over to Myers and Chang, which offers innovative, flavorful tapas courtesy of the Far East. The restaurant is helmed by husband and wife/restauranteur and chef superduo Christopher Myers and Joanne Chang, who opened their funky, upscale indie dim sum diner in Boston’s South End neighborhood back in 2008.

The ambience is trendy, to be sure, but Myers and Chang’s proprietors don’t take themselves too seriously, either. Take, for instance, the venue’s mirrored walls with playful, handwritten messages, as well as a giant dragon lurking across its windows. Diners are indeed in for a good old straightforward fortune here: fun. There is, however, one caveat: be prepared to shout across the table to your eating companions, as tables are tightly packed together in this surprisingly small space (are the owners trying to re-create China itself?), while indie music blares loudly.

The menu offers creative takes on traditional Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese specialties. Each dish, our server explains, is made fresh to order and served immediately once it hits the plate, so be prepared to eat items out of order. Herbs and spices are abundant and enliven many selections. Sharing several small, affordable plates is highly encouraged. Ah, communal dining at its finest.

A mid-sized bar and open kitchen are located at the back of the room, perfect for viewing one’s food being prepared as well-coiffed singles and couples smile and sip on nicely crafted cocktails including sake sangrias and one of the finest muddled mint mojitos you’ll ever have.

Although sharing s encouraged, you may not want to part with some of the dim sum selections, including a comforting bowl of iridescent orange-colored butternut squash and coconut soup with 5-spice charred wild mushrooms ($7). It’s creamy (but not heavy) and instantly craveable, is punctuated with hints of lemongrass and chili, and is accompanied by crunchy fired kimchi balls (perfect for dipping and contrast). Less inspiring is esti’s hot & sour soup with fresh shitakes, pork, and local tofu ($5), which consists of a broth neither spicy nor tart enough to inspire anything more than slight acknowledgement from Esti Parson herself (for whom the soup is named, a local restauranteur and close friend of the owners). Silky soft braised pork belly buns ($9) with bao, brandy hoisin, and house pickle are also memorable. A friend of mine initially expresses reluctance upon ordering tiger’s tears ($11) given the menu’s disclaimer about its high level of spiciness. He’s happily brought to tears, however, after realizing how delicious this complex blend of grilled steak (served cold), thai basil, lime, and khao koor really is. Island creek clams with housemade black bean sauce and infused with sake ($12) are wonderfully smoky and fresh. My wife expresses mild disappointment in the dish, but I find it bordering on spectacular given all its nuanced flavors.

Under the ‘…and then some’ portion of the menu, which consists of slightly larger portions, the tea-smoked pork spare ribs ($14) are a carnivore’s delight, the perfect sweet and sticky meaty combination. Also highly enjoyable is chef Chang’s playful take on a Southern delicacy of fried chicken and waffles ($17), inserting a ginger-sesame waffle (which will definitely make you leggo your Eggo) and swapping out maple syrup for hot and sweet sauce. It instantly makes me reconsider having breakfast for dinner. The lone misstep of the evening was a heavy, rather bland-tasting noodle dish of beef and broccoli chow fun ($15).

Desserts (all $7) are not to be missed, particularly given Chang’s notoriety for her confectionary concoctions at her nearby Flour bakery. Coconut cream pie with lime whipped cream is an airy, divine delight. “ancient Chinese secret” chocolate mousse – dairy-free, no less – is wonderfully dense and shouldn’t be kept hidden from the public any longer. It’s laced with miniature tasty 5-spice merungues. Lemon-ginger mousse coupe is too tart and curd-like in texture for my taste, but is accompanied by a crunchy homemade fortune cookie.

Service is surprisingly good given the somewhat cramped and chaotic setting. Our waitress’s recommendations are spot-on, her knowledge of the entire menu is extensive, and she is extremely attentive to all of our needs and requests, as evidenced by her repeated spot checks with my wife to ensure that the meal met her expectations given her dairy allergy. Confuscius says, “Superior service makes for very happy customers, indeed.”

So, too, do the reasonable prices for such delicious fare. With dim sum dishes averaging $8-10, and none of the larger dishes exceeding $16, you can enjoy a sultan’s feast at Myers and Chang, particularly when dining with other adventurous couples who are equally eager to sample unique dishes. Don’t forget, however, to tack on an additional $12 for parking in an adjacent lot due to no valet parking and little, if any metered parking alongside Washington Street.
As Chef Chang brought out our plate of clams early on, I announced in jest to the table, “We have a celebrity in our presence.” Chang laughed along with us, politely asked us if we were enjoying ourselves, and proceeded to chat with other customers about their dining experience. It was a pleasant, casual exchange that perfectly embodied what makes Myers and Chang so appealing. Like that wonderful sauce accompanying those chicken and waffles, the restaurant not only remains hot right now in Boston’s dining scene but also packs lots of genuine sweetness.