Myers + Chang (and an unexpected surprise)

>>  Monday, August 02, 2010

Totally unsuspecting. Completely oblivious. Little did we know what was actually going on.

Oh little did we know.

We had been invited to a lovely dinner at Myers + Chang hosted by My Blog Spark, a blog network I had recently joined. I was so excited. I have always wanted to try out this Asian restaurant by Joanne Chang (of sticky-bun fame) and her husband, Christopher Myers (founder/owner of various well known restaurants in Boston including Rialto, Great Bay, Radius, and Via Matta).

Joanne and Christopher, who met while working at Rialto back in the late nineties, are an interesting couple. Both studied at Harvard, yet left their original careers to pursue their passions for food. Joanne became a pastry chef, training in several prestigious places before finally opening up Flour Bakery in 2000. Chris has never had formal restaurant training, yet has successfully opened multiple restaurants throughout Boston.

Joanne and Chris felt that Boston really needed a fun, hip Asian restaurant that would serve the foods Joanne grew up eating and have a trendy and stylish atmosphere characteristic of Chris's other restaurants.

Would it deliver?
Myers + Chang Lanterns
The decor was definitely very inviting. I loved the Asian accents all over the place, such as the beautiful paper lanterns strung in a line against the wall. The space was big, bright, with lots of light coming from the dragon-decorated windows.
Plus, the bar menu looked interesting. Nice drink choices, great, hip vibe. We were off to a great start.
Bryan and I settled into our cozy table and started off with some drinks. I liked how the dining space was an interesting mix of casual and upscale modern. One the one hand, they kept disposable chopsticks bundled up at the table reminiscent of casual noodle joints and used cut up Chinese newspapers as place mats. On the other hand, the surrounding decor was trendy and modern, and the food selection was definitely creative and unique.
Crispy Spring Rolls - garlic chives, bamboo, shitake mushrooms
We started out with these crispy spring rolls. Instead of the usual cabbage filling, these spring rolls were chock full of garlic chives. I personally loved the abundance of fresh vegetables in this spring roll, and I liked how the garlic chives gave the spring roll a unique flavor.
Mama Chang's Pork and Chive Potstickers
I'm a little biased when it comes to potstickers or dumplings because I  prefer dumplings that have quite a bit of vegetables. These potstickers were more reminiscent of your typical dumpling, which is mostly pork with a few bits of chives. The flavors were solid and they were fried perfectly. Of course, no comparion to my favorite dumpling places in the world or the US, but it was still enjoyable and definitely could compete with the best dumplings in Boston.
Wok Roasted Mussels - lemongrass, grilled garlic toast
Bryan though these mussels were really good. The sauce had a beautiful fragrant flavor that tasted great when dipped with bread. I personally thought it was borderline too salty, but again, I tend to think that a lot. Bryan thought it was fine.
Chilled Dan Dan Noodles with Fresh Peanuts and Chili Sambal
This was our least favorite dish out of all the appetizers. The sauce was very thick and rich, yet still managed to taste undersalted and a little bland. The noodle texture was alright, but overall I found the dish to be bit to thick and heavy for my tastes.

And then things started to get weird. After our appetizers, we just sat there and waited a long long time. The waitress came out and apologized using the the ever-so-famous-and-overused phrase, "the kitchen is experiencing some technical difficulties."

Technical difficulties? What kind of machines or tools are they using to cook our food???

She offers us another drink, which we gladly accept.
Shrimp Chips (Myers + Chang)Shrimp Chips

Another 15-20 minutes go by. The waitress comes back again and apologizes some more.

"Would you like some shrimp chips?"

Sure. We looked anxiously at our watches. It had been well over an hour already. What was wrong?

Then finally . .finally . . the food arrived. Two large bowls, served family style. Sweet & Spicy shrimp and Szechuan-style chicken.

I remember remarking to Bryan, "these dishes are really Americanized." Earlier we had struggled to pick entrees that actually looked appetizing to us. After quickly picking out the appetizers, we had to choose between dishes like General Gau's chicken, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Beef and Broccoli . . . you get the idea.
Sweet & Spicy Shrimp
Sweet & Spicy Shrimp
Spicy Garlic Chicken
Szechuan Style Chicken

The Truth Revealed
And then just as we were about to take our first bite they sprung the surprise on us. Guess what? Our main entrees were actually frozen dinners! Could we tell? Did we think it was from Myers + Chang? In fact, it was not! This dinner was actually sponsored by General Mills, who owns the Wang Chai Ferry Brand. We were eating Wang Chai Ferry Frozen Dinners!They had set up this special dinner to see whether people would be able to tell the difference.

The people around us gasped in surprise. Some were amazed, thinking that this food was really good and "they had no idea." Even Bryan remarked, " you couldn't tell that it was frozen."

OK, I guess he's right. And I'll concede that the texture of the noodles were decent. In all honesty, the food didn't taste all that bad. It's not a bad weeknight meal, especially if your other choice is to get greasy  Chinese takeout anyway. It definitely tasted healthier than Chinese take-out, and it's probably cheaper and reasonably easy to prepare. Out of the two we tried, I definitely liked the Szechuan-style chicken better. I thought the sweet & spicy shrimp was way too sweet and totally reminded me of that saucy Americanized Chinese food you get at take-out restaurants. The Szechuan-style chicken was better. Like I said earlier, the texture of the noodles was decent, and it was reasonably enjoyable.

Having said all that, these dishes just did not taste like something Myers + Chang would make, which is why I wasn't that surprised. It totally explains why the menu seemed so weird when we got it. I still remember looking at other tables (who had received their main entrees well before we did) and thinking that the food just didn't look that appetizing. It was just too different from the rest of the food at Myers + Chang, which is presented in a much more delicate, artful way.
Chocolate and Cocoa Nib Terrine with Vietnamese Coffee Sauce

"Technical Difficulties"
And why did the kitchen have so much trouble? Turns out that (surprise!) the Myers + Chang staff was not used to cooking frozen dinners in bulk. In fact, MyBlogSpark had to purchase a microwave for the event. Unfortunately, that was not enough to solve all the problems. The commercial stoves were way too hot for your typical frozen dinner. The result? The cooks kept burning the food and having to start over.

Thankfully, they gave us dessert afterwards. These are two desserts off of the regular Myers + Chang menu. Both were fine, though neither really wow-ed me.
Coconut Cream Pie with Lime Whipped Cream

I thought the idea was really clever and it would have been really interesting to see how it would work if executed properly. Unfortunately for us, the experiment was fractured in many ways, starting from the kitchen "technical difficulties" to the fact that they gave away the surprise before we had a chance to really taste and evaluate the food objectively.

I still think the food at Myers + Chang is reasonably solid (everything else except for the entrees are actual dishes at the restaurant). Nothing is mind-blowingly amazing, but the restaurant does achieve what Joanne and Christopher wanted to achieve: a hip, trendy place in the South End that serves good Chinese food at relatively reasonable prices.

I'd be willing to go back and try an actual real meal there!

And the frozen dinners?
Don't worry. Myers + Chang is not serving frozen dinners on a regular basis. This was a one time promotional event sponsored by General Mills and MyBlogSpark.

You can get these frozen dinners (sold under the Wang Chai Ferry brand) at most supermarkets. They have several different types of Americanized Chinese dishes such as orange chicken, kung pao chicken, beef & broccoli, sweet & sour chicken, and shrimp lo mien. It takes less than 15 minutes to prepare, and everything is included (the rice, the meat, and the veggies). It's cheaper and healthier than ordering Chinese takeout, and it tastes decent.

MyBlogSpark was kind enough to give me five coupons for a free package of Wang Chai Ferry frozen dinner. If you're interested in trying one, just comment below letting me know you would like one. I will mail a coupon to the first five commenters who express interest.

Myers + Chang
1145 Washington St
Boston, MA 02118
Myers & Chang on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: Time to time I receive products, meals, etc. for free. I do not receive any payment for these posts/reviews. The views expressed in the posts are completely my own. This meal, the giveaway coupons, and a $50 gift card to cover the cost of parking and other incidentals, was provided by 

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