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Dish of the Week: Braised Pork Buns at JoJo TaiPei, Boston

So much & so little has changed since I left my dear adopted hometown 5 years ago for rockier, mile-higher climes. Return visits to Boston never fail to yield delightful surprise after delightful surprise, & this one was especially fruitful—every other thing I stuck in my mouth could qualify as Dish of the Week (as you’ll see in posts to come). For sheer hidden gemminess, though, I’ve got to hand it to JoJo TaiPei.

Back at the turn of the millennium, when I lived there, Allston was—to put it mildly—no great culinary shakes. But what a difference a decade makes, eh? On a drive-by tour, pal MC Slim JB pointed out all the Burmese & Afghani & Korean & Pakistani joints that would’ve eased so much grad-student agony had they existed then, in place of the sticky dives & greasy pizza parlors. Among them, this lovely little Taiwanese storefront honored me with a farewell meal to remember.

I knew what I’d be having before I even got through the door, thanks to a chalkboard marked with the daily special: rabbit with chestnuts. That’s it on the left: a clay pot chock-full of bone-on bunny chunks & soft, chewy whole chestnuts, strewn with scallion tops, fresh ginger slices, dried chilies & star anise in just enough of your classic brown stirfry gravy to recast the usually delicate meat into something darker & richer without blurring its essence.

But I also knew I’d be having something else, & the options on the long menu nearly broke my heart for lack of time & gut space. Salty duck with “special sauce” & roasted beef-scallion pancake. Three-cup cuttlefish & pork-stuffed eggplant. White-turnip pastries &, of course, all the dumplings you could shake your rump at. Finally, I closed my eyes & pointed to something called “braised pork with steamed bun tops with peanut powder.” What I got, pictured on the right, were like nothing I’ve ever quite tasted before.

Beautifully moist & robust shredded meat in a spongy steamed bun is one thing—easy to come by, easy to crave. But these played a whole new ballgame—or bao-game—with the inclusion of crushed peanuts & a mysterious garnish of sauteed, chopped dark greens that utterly transformed the humble little pockets into things of multifaceted grandeur, at once tart & sweet—if they weren’t sprinkled with both vinegar & sugar I’ll eat crow (especially if prepared by JoJo).

So there you go. So entranced was I by the whole experience that I wound up craning my neck around the room to see what I could get to go—& bingo. Ever had mofongo?

Well, the fried or boiled & mashed mound of green plantains served in various Latin American contexts looks like this—& so, almost exactly, did the beglazed cylinder I saw on the table behind me. My server called it “bamboo-cap rice pudding” (which turns out to be a thing); I called it mine. Granted, it didn’t look as pretty in its takeout form. Nor was it quite as intriguing as the preceding dishes, bite for bite. Once you got past the crunchy browned exterior, it was pretty much a monochrome of broth-enriched sticky rice in a sweet & spicy tomato-based sauce.

Still, I’ve not only got no regrets, I’ve got a jo-jones for the place right this second.

Jo Jo Taipei on Urbanspoon

Peking Duck & more (& more, & more) at China King, Boston

This, in a head-on, crackling mahogany nutshell, is what brought me & my old Chowhound crew in to China King, based on a rave from critic-ever-in-the-know MC Slim JB.

And this is what kept us there, long after the other diners had disappeared into the neon-smeared Chinatown night: toothy, slurpy, deeply saucy Shanghainese chow mein with shredded pork;

crisp-bottomed potstickers that slid down with only the slightest jaw work & weighted with perfect, juice-squirting little spheres of more ground pork;

thick yet bouncy—more flaky than eggy—wedges of scallion pancake;

soup dumplings filled with, you guessed it, more pork, compliments of the patient-&-sweet-as-could-be house;

& then some, including snappy gailan (Chinese broccoli) & brothy bok choy.

Still, the centerpiece was just that: an imperial succession of duck parts in all their gilded forms—

from the ribbons of browned skin, glistening with mouth-filling oils—the fatty bits melting practically on contact—& wrapped with smears of hoisin & stalks of fresh green onion in crêpe-thin pancakes boasting just the right amount of satisfying chew

 

to the meat shredded fine & tossed with crisp-tender bean threads, carrots & scallions in an authoritatively simple stirfry

to the…oh wait. To the palate-cleansing soup with its carcass-based broth, I’d say, except we’d already stuffed ourselves so silly we didn’t actually make it to the final course; that went home with the others as takeout.

‘Twas well over a decade ago that I first dug for ducky treasure at King Fung Garden; that the former owners are leading new expeditions to glory, with as much aplomb as ever, at their latest haunt is solid proof of that most comforting of adages, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

China King on Urbanspoon

Myers + Chang: Dim Sum to Dispel Gloom

It was a gray, bitter Saturday afternoon, & I’d been cold & hungry a long time, when I walked into Myers + Chang with a twofold agenda: 1) to interview the ever-scintillating Christopher Myers for an upcoming piece in Stuff & 2) to thaw my bones & down dim sum with my pal T until my face fell off. I achieved it all with aplomb, if I do say so myself.

Of course, as Myers’s guest I can’t in good conscience call this a fair review. If you want a review uncomplicated by questions of special treatment, countless other bloggers have weighed in on Urbanspoon, Chowhounds have done their dissecting bit on the Boston board, & so on. Without trawling through them all, I’ve been in this business long enough to bet big bucks that the most glowing of them confirm the graciousness, talent & passion for excellence of the almost disgustingly golden couple that Myers & Chang are, separately & as such—that much has been well documented for going on a millennium—& that the most skeptical of them say things like “Go to Chinatown for the real thing” (granting that many of those same people will also add “in San Francisco”). I’ve also been in this business long enough to believe that graciousness, talent & passion for excellence are the real thing. Having dim sum at Myers + Chang is not like having dim sum at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe or Hei La Moon, nor should it be. It should be like having dim sum at Myers + Chang. And it is! In fact, it’s textbook Chang (with a nod to her exec chef Matthew Barros): vibrant, cheeky, highly personal.

Meanwhile, I don’t bite the hand that feeds me; in cases in which I’m a guest, if I haven’t enjoyed my experience, I keep my trap shut about it. In this case, I liked most everything; I adored many things. The latter I can present to you below in good conscience. So take this in the spirit in which it’s intended: not as an actual review but rather a likewise highly personal recap of one fine meal from the perspective of a food writer who wants you to know, if she were returning, say, this weekend, in disguise, what she’d order again.

Hakka eggplant. Not at all spicy, but rich, sticky & soulful.

Asian pickles. Part on fire, part on ice—a mixture as fresh & bright as fresh & bright can be, with the vegetables shining through the chilies & brine.

Pan-fried dumplings with shiitakes & Chinese greens. We also tried the lemony shrimp version, but these were my faves, from the glistening, thin dough to the filling, akin to that ofclassic leek or chive dumplings—slightly bitter, earthy-sour, oh-so-juicy.

Sweet potato fritters with Chinese sausage. The photo speaks to the crunchy exterior; inside is basically a warm, thick sweet potato puree, at the center of which is a daub of sausage that’s practically melting. Totally unexpected.

Fried oysters with fermented black beans, pickled bean sprouts & fresh herbs. Eat these the moment they arrive, because they won’t hold up long. But hot & fresh, they’re pungent little suckers, dripping with funk.

Tofu, celery & sesame salad. Crisp, cold & mild, this is quite the palate cleanser before dessert.

Lemon-ginger mousse with homemade fortune cookie. Because you do have to have dessert—it’s Chang’s world, after all. And this one, bursting with the zing of its namesake flavors to balance the almost puddinglike, dense creaminess, was easily one of the best 4 or 5 things I ate over the course of my 6-day reunion tour—

no small triumph given that I sampled more than 70 dishes. Burp & thank you.

Myers & Chang on Urbanspoon