2.02.2012

Restaurant Review - East by Northeast, Cambridge

In a rare turn of events, we had a Saturday night free and couldn't pass up the opportunity for a proper date night. We had just finished up teaching a chicken class at the BCAE and, feeling a craving for something different and fun, we headed to East by Northeast to take advantage of the Five Course Prix Fixe menu. It isn't often that I dissect such a big number of dishes in one post and had only planned to mention a couple but as I started to write this review, I couldn't help myself. So sit back and get comfortable, this one's going to be a long one!

Best seat in the house - at the bar overlooking the action in the kitchen!

If you ever happen find yourself in East by Northeast's tiny dining room in Cambridge, please don't pass up the five course prix fixe menu. For a mere $30 you'll be asked to select one of a couple options of vegetable dishes, one from a bread section and finally, one noodle dish and then the rest lies in the hands of the chef. Once you've placed your order, that's when the fun really begins. Dish after dish, all thoughtfully and beautifully plated, start appearing almost like rapid fire. We decided to each select three different choices so that we could sample 6 different dishes, plus whatever the chef had in store for us.

Turnip Soup with Tofu Amuse
It wasn't long before a soup amuse arrived- a velvety turnip base topped with a soft and smoky tofu cluster and a couple chive rings, it was a perfect teaser of what was to come. Shortly after we had finished, we were presented with an edamame salad. Light and refreshing, the salad had a beautiful tartness to it, courtesy of some diced apples and a thick ginger lemon vinaigrette that evenly coated the surface. Simple and satisfying, this salad was one of my favorite dishes. Rounding out our vegetable selections was a creative plate of kale, smoked mushrooms and puffed rice; a great earthy dish with a welcoming snappy crackle from the puffed rice.

Edamame Salad with Kale, Apple and Lemon Ginger Vinaigrette 
Kale, Smoked Mushrooms and Puffed Rice
Next to appear in front of us were two, terribly cute, bite-sized steamed pork belly buns that had pickled vegetables peeking out. Sticky and sweet with a hint of tartness from some slivered apples, when you got a bite of each component at once it was great. My only complaint was that each component was a little scarce and not evenly disbursed, with the exception of the apples, and I had wished that each bite contained that same great balance of flavors.

Pork Belly, Mantou Bread, Pickles and Sweet Bean Paste
Scallion Pancake with Roasted Garlic Chili Sauce
The real fun in this meal was that the dishes seemed to keep coming, providing pure entertainment for us. It seemed that just as the pork belly buns were whisked away some thick wedges of scallion pancakes appeared accompanied by a roasted garlic chili sauce. Surprisingly light for their size, they were everything you'd want in a scallion pancake; a crispy exterior and lots of scallion flavor. The sauce seemed to be missing a step, sort of flat and tasting neither of chilies or roasted garlic. Our next dish was another instant favorite. Sort of a play off of arancini, black bean and tofu rice balls had a perfectly fried, crispy exterior with a light dusting of crispy salt that gave way to a silky smooth center that was creamy and bearing almost a smoky quality to it; a total win.

Tofu and Black Bean Rice Balls
Next, two noodle bowls were placed in front of us; one, dark and soup-like with bits of root vegetables and beef shanks peeking out and the second, a more rustic looking dish of pork ragout and shredded cabbage. Both were served with long, broad handmade noodles, something that I am surprised to say I didn't love. I'm a freak for noodles but found them too be a bit too toothsome and long, making for a sloppy delivery from bowl to mouth. (Or maybe I'm just not as skilled at chopstick management as I thought?) Furthermore, I found the broth of the beef shank bowl to be a bit bitter and too earthy for me. I don't think that this was done in error on the chef's part and perhaps this is a traditional way to serve a dish like this, but it just wasn't for me.

Pork Ragout, Napa Cabbage, Marinated Sunchokes, Chili Vinegar and a Fried Egg
Braised Beef Shank, Parsnip, Grilled Scallions, Greens, Spicy Beef Broth 
Lastly, our dinner concluded with four cream puffs stuffed with a light and creamy butternut squash mousse and a drizzle of apple brown butter sauce. These were outstanding. The cream puffs were light and buttery, the mousse spicy and sweet and the sauce a caramely tart-sweet sauce that balanced everything out.

Cream Puffs, Butternut Squash Mousse and Apple Brown Butter Sauce
Sesame Caramels 
While not flawless, this was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had in the city in a long time and a steal for the variety and price. The restaurant also offers an 8 course chef's tasting menu for $35/person and while we toyed with whether or not to select that, we liked the idea of choosing some of the different dishes and we were happy we did.

East by Northeast on Urbanspoon

7 comments:

Megan said...

I love those scallion pancakes. You were right in my neighborhood.

Frederick Wright said...

What an amazing dinner especially for that price. They've been on my wishlist for a long time but they're difficult to reach without a car.

Daisy said...

I cant believe how inexpensive this is! very interesting plates and great to read your take on them.

MOLLY GALLER said...

Officially drooling! This meal looks fantastic and so vegetarian friendly! As always, thanks for the great info and the beautiful pictures!

Michelle Collins said...

Those sesame caramels look INSANE. What a great way to end a fabulous-looking meal!

In and Around Town said...

I really enjoyed my trip over there when they first opened - great review and thank you for the reminder to head back!

El said...

Now I'm craving scallion pancakes. I'll have to check it out- thanks!

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