East by Northeast

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East by Northeast (exne) is a locally-sourced Asian fusion joint that serves a select menu of Chinese tapas.  It fits a snug 20, with 4 additional seats at the bar/cash register facing into the kitchen.

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Chef/owner Phillip Tang.  Formerly at Hungry Mother.

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Nibbles while waiting for a table — curry dusted carrot and sweet potato chips. The hand with curry was admirably restrained, but I could not tell if the chips were homemade. My guess is they were not, which is disappointing if true, but not a make or break type of letdown.

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Complimentary amuse bouche — crisp mochi balls with sesame, seasoned with soy and something else, the smell of which I could not identify. These were nice to whet the appetite. Cute, crunchy, charred exteriors, chewy inside, savory and with a hint of sweetness.

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Sauteed kale with lemon, garlic, rutabaga relish — my favorite bite of the night. The acid from the lemon, the earthy fragrant garlic, and the slightly bitter rutabaga created a balanced dish with tons of flavor, a dish I would certainly eat again and again.

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What is it about young Asian chefs and pork belly buns? Obviously the original provides a wealth of inspiration, but as with Momofuku, the rendition here just did not impress (neither me nor my dining companions, all Asian). I had no qualms about the pillowy homemade bun but the pork belly was nothing memorable — porky, yes, but not the explosion of flavor I was expecting. Maybe my expectations are too high?  The waitress said the pork buns were a must order, but I would pass on them if I came again.  Especially with a price tag of $10/2 2-bite buns.

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Onto the noodle dishes. Exne offers a choice of short rice noodles or thick-cut long noodles, both homemade.

The beef noodle soup, taking a cue from the Taiwanese beef noodle soup, niu rou mian.
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O went with the waiters recommendation, the short rice noodles with chicken and homemade XO. I snuck a bite, and the texture of the noodles was soft and dense like gnocchi, but it lacked the bounce I expected from homemade noodles.  I would consider giving this dish, and the short rice noodles in general, another shot– I have never really tasted a noodle or pasta with the texture of these rice nuggets.

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E ordered the thick-cut noodles with winter vegetables and miso broth. I liked the broth, which was full-bodied with a pleasant bitter aftertaste.

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My dish, a special that night. Thick-cut noodles with pork ragout, a riff on zha jiang mian, the Chinese noodle dish with a thick, chunky sauce of ground meat and bean paste.  Not bad, but again, nothing special.  I liked the chili oil though, on the the top left.

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Poached egg oozing its goodness.

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East by Northeast serves tasty fare, but for someone who grew up eating authentic, homemade Chinese food that is just as, if not more delicious, this kind of restaurant is a hard sell.  To be frank, I dont think I am the target audience for this restaurant, which is fine.  It was definitely worth trying, though I think I will be sticking with Mulan for my Chinese food fix in Cambridge.  My wallet approves, too.

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