Technically, it’s in Watertown. Historically, Strip-T’s was your basic neighborhood hash house—long-standing, fiercely local—but its future is unfolding as a local-boy-makes-good game-changer involving the owner’s son, a David Chang protégé by the name of Tim Maslow. And truthfully, I was led there by culinary Pied Piper MC Slim JB last week—but there’s not a chance in a million I’ll encounter a dish as satisfying as this one in the next few days. Behold the eggplant bánh mì.
What a category-defying thing of beauty. Layered on a crusty-chewy, locally baked baguette were spears of Japanese eggplant roasted to a near-spreadable goo & squares of now-crisply golden, now-pillowy tofu; though garnished in classic Vietnamese fashion with pickled carrots & cilantro plus a smear of spicy mayo, the sandwich as a whole triggered a cascade of sensations that seemed to come out of nowhere. Its combinatory powers were its own.
And the duo that followed was very nearly its equal. Roasted cauliflower’s verging on cliché these days, but Maslow could single-handedly pull it back from the brink. Both his technique & his creative process were beyond me: How did he brown the cauliflower so deeply & evenly while upholding its essential cruciferocity? How did these unlikely ingredients come together so seamlessly? But they did: smooth & smoky chorizo puree, salty crumbled cotija, & sharp, bright pickled red onion somehow made thoroughly savory sense.
Likewise cut from whole cloth, a special of pickled, fried mussels topped with deceptively airy, cool dollops of coconut mousse & accompanied by lightly charred stalks of asparagus & green onion had buoyancy & zing to spare. One can imagine Maslow nodding ever so slightly to the New England classic of fried shellfish with tartar sauce on the one hand & Southeast Asian seafood curries on the other, but his imagination transcends his influences.
With one seeming exception: interestingly, the only slight disappointment was also the least original dish. It came almost as a relief to Neptune Oyster’s #1 fan (that would be me) that what appeared to be an homage to Michael Serpa’s buttermilk johnnycake with smoked trout tartare, honey butter & caviar didn’t quite achieve the same multilayered harmonies. The johnnycake, here made with blue corn & figs, was just too dense & sweet for its topping of sliced, delicately smoked rainbow trout with crème fraîche & trout roe; neither flavors nor textures were fully integrated.
Still, at this level of unabashed playfulness, the guy’s allowed an oops or two. I’d say run don’t walk, but you’ll have to drive or take a bus, then wait around a while for a table. Worth it. (There’s a liquor store on the corner, & the front seat of a car doubles as a perfectly acceptable barstool.)