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.
Chef/owner Phillip Tang. Formerly at Hungry Mother.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Onto the noodle dishes. Exne offers a choice of short rice noodles or thick-cut long noodles, both homemade.
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.
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.
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.
Poached egg oozing its goodness.
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.