Fritillaria (chuan bei mu)

>>  Tuesday, August 31, 2010

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*Cough cough cough cough*

I have been battling an awful cough for the last 5 weeks. I haven't been this sick since the same thing happened to me 8 years ago. I get these violent coughing spasms that are so disruptive I usually have to leave the room so as not to freak out everyone. Worse yet, I think I bruised the intercostal muscles in my ribcage, which makes it pretty painful whenever I do cough.

So August has been sort of a drag. I can't exercise anymore (sorry boot camp!), and yet I know that the warm weather will be leaving soon. Such a bummer!

My mom heard of my plight and offered to send me some Chinese herbal medicine. Apparently she always makes this for my dad and it helps out with coughs. Well, I know from past experience that even Robitussin with codeine can't really stop my coughs, so I was curious about this ancient pear soup that people in China have been drinking for centuries.

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Summer Salad Lyonnaise ("Frisee" Aux Lardons)

>>  Sunday, August 29, 2010

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I visited my local Farmers Market in Central Square the other day. Yes, yes, I know I belong to a CSA, and I really really don't need any more vegetables than the bounty that I get every week. But it was so hard to resist, and when I started walking along the stands and seeing such beautiful produce, I couldn't help myself. I ended up buying tons of stuff, including some beautiful tomatoes, amazing locally-made burrata, and some fresh corn.

The summer harvest is so bountiful right now.  This is really the perfect time to enjoy vegetables at the peak of their flavor.

Salade Lyonnaise (Frisee aux Lardons) is a traditional French bistro salad that consists of bacon, poached eggs, and bitter greens (usually frisee). I decided to take advantage of the bountiful summer vegetables that are in season  right now to create my own take on this delicious salad.

The basics are the same, but I've added some summer twists, such as fresh corn, basil infused tomatoes, and sliced avocados.

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Tiny Urban Tidbits #15

>>  Friday, August 27, 2010

Smith & Wollensky Top View
Hey All!

Hope you are having a wonderful Friday. I really should have done this two weeks ago but I just did not have a chance to get around to it. Tonight is the last official day of Restaurant Week, although some places (like Smith & Wollensky, I think), are extending it another week.

I've had mixed experiences during Restaurant Week, with most of them being sub-optimal. Nevertheless, I have compiled my reviews for restaurants participating in Restaurant Week below. The ones with an asterisk are actual reviews of a Restaurant Week meal.

I've had good Restaurant Week experiences at UpStairs on the Square (lunch) and SorellinaHenrietta's Table was also decent because it's just stuff off their regular menu. I often find that lesser known restaurants or new restaurants will tend to work harder during Restaurant Week to attract new customers. I bet places like Bergamot (which is already an excellent restaurant, btw), will be a pretty good bet since it's relatively new and the head chef is still in the kitchen most days.
Bergamot Bar menu
Bergamot

Personally, if I had to pick a place for tonight, I think I would pick BergamotOishii BostonMamma Maria, or UpStairs on the Square. A person who is in the mood for seafood or meat might opt for a place like Oceanaire Seafood RoomCapital Grille, or Smith & Wollensky at Boston's Castle.

Of course, there are also great restaurants that not participating in Restaurant Week but have their own deals, such as Craigie on Main, Garden at the Cellar, and Ten Tables.

One of these days I think I will compile all the great dining deals around Boston. There are various great prix fixe menus at a lot of these restaurants that go on year round. No need to wait for Restaurant Week! I'll work on that kind of post sometime in the next two weeks!

A Selection of Restaurant Week Restaurants
Beacon Hill Bistro
Bergamot
Bina Osteria
Blue Room 
Capital Grille
EVOO Restaurant
Grafton Street Pub & Grill
Henrietta's Table**
KO Prime**
Legal Sea Foods (only Park Square & Copley are participating)
Mamma Maria
Mare
Market by Jean-Georges
Oceanaire Seafood Room
Oishii Boston
Rialto
Russell House Tavern
Sandrine's Bistro
Sel de la Terre (Natick)
Sel de la Terre (Back Bay)
Smith & Wollensky at Boston's Castle
Sorellina**
Tango Restaurant
Tapeo Restaurant & Tapas Bar
Taranta
Trattoria di Monica
Uni Sashimi Bar**
UpStairs on the Square

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Convection Oven Roasted Potatoes

>>  Thursday, August 26, 2010

Convection Oven Roasted Potatoes
Those Thanksgiving weekend sales are dangerous.

Last Thanksgiving weekend we walked into Sears with the intention of checking out some appliances. Before we knew it, we had plopped down a couple thousand of dollars in exchange for a spanking new double door refrigerator and a convection microwave oven.

I hadn't even considered getting a convection oven. How quickly salespeople can change your mind.

Well, it's been over half a year since we got our appliances delivered, and I have to say, this tiny urban kitchen is loving her new appliances. After having suffered for years with 20+ year old appliances (that probably needed replacement parts like these), I was thrilled to have a microwave that could properly pop popcorn and a refrigerator that dispensed water!

I've been slow to adopt the convection oven capabilities of my microwave. Maybe I'm chicken, or maybe I'm just too lazy to learn. I have no other excuse for why it's taken me this long to learn how to make perfectly crispy roasted potatoes.

But alas, I've finally figured out a good recipe that makes potatoes that I love.

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Angela's Cafe

>>  Wednesday, August 25, 2010

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Who doesn't love a best kept secret?

Angela's Cafe seems like that at first glance. A small, family-owned restaurant in the middle of a residential neighborhood in East Boston, it's easy to miss while driving by. At the same time, how could you miss that bright and cheerful little building?

Looks can be deceiving, and this place is far from secret. Step inside and you'll immediate see the numerous awards and articles splashed all over the walls. It seems like every food writer out there has tried this place except for me. Do a quick search on Chowhound and over and over, people recommend "Angela's Cafe" as one of their favorite Mexican restaurants in Boston.

So finally . . finally . . a group of food-loving women and I decided to make the trek out to East Boston* (which, in retrospect, wasn't that far of a trek) to try this elusive place.

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Cape Gooseberries

>>  Monday, August 23, 2010

Cape Gooseberries
Have you ever seen these before?

I first encountered them in my first CSA about three years ago. From the outside, they look like dried out flower petals. But when you open them up - surprise! - they look like little cherry tomatoes inside. And they feel exactly like cherry tomatoes too, from the outside at least.
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Oishii Boston

Oishii Boston sushi bar
The expression "oishii" in Japanese is an utterance that one makes in response to tasting something delicious. Such a fitting name for a Japanese restaurant that very well could be one of the best, if not the best, sushi restaurant in Boston.

Oishii Boston is actually the third outpost of Ting San's wildly successful Oishii restaurants (the other two being in Chestnut Hill and Sudbury). The original Chestnut Hill restaurant is tiny, having only 9 seats around a sushi bar and maybe one table off to the side. The sushi there is spectacular, yet you almost always have to wait in line (sometimes down the block!) for one of those coveted seats. For us, the Sudbury location was just too far, even if it boasted a larger space and more available seating.
Oishii Boston Sockeye Salmon Roll
Oishii Boston opened in 2006 and it's really a different kind of restaurant. Sure, it has the same amazingly fresh sushi and sashimi, but the atmosphere is worlds apart. While the other two are more like traditional Japanese restaurants, Oishii Boston is the more upscale and trendier cousin; more like O Ya or Nobu than Sushi Yasuda or Sushi Gen. They offer more interesting rolls, crazy special types of sushi (such as ones involving fois gras and Wagyu beef), and an expanded menu full of cooked items such as lobster, Wagyu beef, and Chilean sea bass.

The food is executed with a level of precision and graceful artistry that surpasses what you would find at most local sushi places. Though the prices are a bit astronomical, it's really worth a visit, at least once.

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Tapeo

>>  Friday, August 20, 2010

Tapeo
Zucchini rolls, Egg potato Onion Omelette, Shrimp Ceviche, Baby Potatoes with Piquant Tomatoes and Ali Oli Sauce

Dim sum, tapas, small plates - it seems like every culture has this idea of tasting little tidbits of a wide variety of food. I personally love it, which is why tapas are so fun for me. Instead of just ordering one dish, each person gets to order two or three!

Of course, beware because single items that each only cost $5-$8 can add up quickly, and before you know it, you are spending $25-30 a person.

Nevertheless, I always love trying tapas. I had heard great things about Tapeo from others (plus I had tried their sister restaurant Dali years ago and loved it). When given a chance to sit outside on Newbury while enjoying some fine Spanish tapas, how could I say no?

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Italian Rainbow Chard Salad

>>  Thursday, August 19, 2010

Swiss Rainbow Chard
Rainbow chard has got to be one of the most colorful and exotically beautiful vegetables. The vivid pink is up there with the dragonfruit when it comes to hot-pinkness factor.

Being the ignorant Asian cook that I am, when I first received chard from my CSA I would just saute it with garlic like I do with any other leafy green. For some reason, it always came out a bit tough and didn't really taste particularly wonderful.

Lucky for me, I picked up Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking at the library this past weekend. What a wealth of information that book has! I'm seriously considering purchasing it. I love how it teaches you the true basics of Italian cooking in nice, simple detail. There are also a TON of great, classic Italian dishes.

Best yet, there was a super simple yet delicious preparation for Swiss chard. Finally, I was able to prepare it properly in a way that really brought out the flavors yet was still simple enough to throw together in a few minutes.

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Sous Vide Scallops (bacon-wrapped scallops)

>>  Wednesday, August 18, 2010

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Scallops are tricky.

When done right, they are sweet, succulent, and melt-in-your-mouth tender. When done improperly, at worse they are rubbery, fishy, and even sandy!

The key, of course, is to purchase high quality scallops and not overcook them. The first part is relatively easy once you've found a good source for seafood. I picked up these gorgeous plump and fresh scallops from Whole Foods. They have no hint of fishiness. Instead, they smelled clean and almost sweet - the way scallops should smell.

And the second part?

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Rialto (the Bar)

>>  Monday, August 16, 2010

Rialto Caprese Salad
Local mozarella, farm fresh tomatoes, microgreens

One great way of enjoying fantastic food without spending too much is to eat at the bar of an expensive restaurant. After having some amazing entrĂ©es at Jody Adams' Rialto in Harvard Square, we decided to stop by on a Monday night to try the bar menu.

What a pleasant surprise! We loved the ambiance of the bar inside the Charles Hotel, and the food was really enjoyable. Choose from an assortment of antipasti ($4 each or 3 of $10). Salads made from farm fresh vegetables range between $7 and $8, and pizzas and sandwiches range between $10 and $15. You can also order pasta, seafood, or steak, which range between $12-$18.

All-in-all, it's a great way to try Jody Adams' great Italian menu without breaking the bank. Best yet, Mondays are $1 oyster days!

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Marea

>>  Sunday, August 15, 2010

Marea Uni
Just imagine.

A warm toast topped with fresh, creamy sea urchin, thin buttery sheets of lardo, and sprinkled with a tiny bit of sea salt. Perfection on a plate? Just nearly.

Welcome to Marea, Chef Michael White's latest venture in New York City. Opened in the spring of 2009, Marea focuses on Italian seafood and already boasts one Michelin Star, 3 Stars from the New York Times, and countless other accolades. Of course White is no stranger to Michelin stars, having received three other stars (total) for his other two Italian restaurants this past year - two stars for Alto and one star for Convivio.

I had a business trip in New Jersey a few weeks back. I took the opportunity to stop by New York (which was on the way) to enjoy a fun dinner at Marea with other New York food bloggers. It was great - we ordered a bunch of different things, tried each others' dishes, and of course, snapped tons of photos of the entire experience.

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Tiny Urban Tidbits #14

>>  Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy Friday everyone!

Here's a peek at some upcoming posts. Can you guess the restaurant from the photos?
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One of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Boston.
Marea Uni
Uni with lardo on top of toast from an Italian one-star Michelin restaurant near Central Park in NYC.
Tapeo quail
Quail from a European restaurant on Newbury Street . . .
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More experiments with sous vide! Can you guess what I'm making?

Check out my interview as a Featured Foodie on Travel Wine & Dine.
Ever wondered how I got into blogging? Or what my favorite posts are? Or maybe my favorite dining experiences and restaurants, both in Boston and around the world? If so, check out my interview on Travel Wine & Dine!

Have a great weekend!

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Market by Jean Georges

>>  Thursday, August 12, 2010

MarketbyJGDinner

I first visited Market by Jean Georges on a lazy snowy day between Christmas and New Years this past winter. We had previously been blown away by the 3-course $29 prix fixe lunch at Jean Georges in New York City (a fantastic deal, by the way), and we were intrigued to see what the Boston version would be like.

Well, the $28 Market lunch was decent, but really nothing compared to Jean-Georges in New York. Disappointed, we told ourselves we should at least give it one more chance. If nothing else, we would at least try the 5-course Market Menu dinner ($58, with wine pairing an additional $35 or $45).

Well, half a year later, we finally made our way back out to the W Hotel to see what this 5-course tasting menu was all about.

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Helmand

>>  Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Helmand
One thing I love about living in Cambridge is the wide diversity of ethnic restaurants you can finding within a few mile radius. Stand in the middle of Central Square, and you can probably walk less than 15 minutes to enjoy Chinese, Italian, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Puerto Rican, North African, Portuguese, Indian, Irish, or Korean cuisine - not to mention all the excellent pubs, bakeries, and sandwich shops.

Whenever friends and family come to Cambridge, we love taking them to Helmand for Afghan food, partly because the food's fantastic there (of course), but also partly because it's so unique. Most people haven't tried Afghan food before, and lucky for us, Helmand does an excellent job of making it. Better yet, it's reasonably priced and not too far away.

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Traditional Pork Belly Buns (Gua Bao)

>>  Sunday, August 08, 2010

Gua Bao (Pork belly buns)
Gua Bao from Shangri La in Belmont, MA
Long before David Chang made pork belly buns famous with his famous Momofuku signature dish, Taiwanese people have been enjoying "gua bao," a traditional pork belly bun, for decades. The pork belly in gua bao is slowly braised in an aromatic mixture of soy sauce, shallots, wine, and 5-spice powder for hours. Mix it with some braised pickled mustard greens, fresh cilantro, and a dusting of peanuts, and you have a decadent treat that has elements of savory, sweet, crunch, and a refreshing crisp all in one bite. Absolutely heavenly.

Inspired by the many fantastic gua baos that I have enjoyed at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in Boston, I decided to try making my own.

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Homemade Baos (Steamed buns)

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There are so many variations for making steamed buns, and they vary in their complexity. Some use shortening, others use butter; some require making a dough starter, while others use regular flour. Some add milk, some even use Bisquick (!) as a starting material! Finally, some preparations take multiple days, while others can be done in an afternoon.

I've actually tried the Bisquick method, which works great if you're super short on time (no need for yeast!) but the results are only so-so. I decided this time I would actually try to make a yeast-based bun from scratch.

The cookbook I was using had two methods: a home kitchen method that only took a few hours and only had 6 ingredients; and a bakery/restaurant method that not only seemed to have twice as many ingredients, it took multiple days and required making a dough starter.

Since this was my first time making steamed bread, I decided not to be too ambitious and decided to try the "home kitchen" method. The book said that the home version would create steamed bread with larger air bubbles, and thus less the buns would be less refined. The restaurant version, on the other hand, would result in a super light and delicate bun "with a delicious flavor".

I found this home method to be pretty do-able, although it still involved several steps, a reasonable amount of equipment, and quite a few hours.

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Tiny Urban Tidbits #13

>>  Friday, August 06, 2010

Tiny Urban Tidbits is where I share with you some insights, "tidbits", or just random encounters from the week. I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and I love capturing photos of interesting things that I discover. These may include new dishes from a restaurant that I've already reviewed, updates on what's going on locally, or encounters I've had in the kitchen. It could even include a beautiful sunset, a funny sign, or just stuff I find amusing. Think of it as snapshots (literally!) of my weekly experiences with food - intertwined with stories, of course.
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Cooking Tidbits
Caprese Sandwich
"Il Panino"-inspired Caprese Sandwich

Summer is a time for refreshing sandwiches. This is inspired by one of my favorite sandwiches from Il Panino Express, an outpost of a North End establishment which used to be right near my home until they were essentially pushed out by the landlord with high rents. It's a bit unusual because I did not have normal bread lying around, just these whole wheat hamburger buns from Nature's Pride. What's in the sandwich? Arugula, proscuitto, tomatoes, and fresh mozarella. Perfect for a hot summer day.
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We got just a few pattypan squashes in our CSA farm share last week. I love these squashes. Not only are cute and look like tiny UFOs, they have a wonderfully creamy and nutty taste that I absolutely love. You can mix them up with almost any other root vegetables to make a beautiful medley of roasted vegetables. My favorite way of preparing them is to roast some garlic on the side and mix it all together. You can click here for a more in-depth post that I wrote last summer about this.
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I prepared a huge batch of frozen garlic logs this weekend. This is a great way to always have chopped garlic on hand. You can click here for the detailed tutorial on how to make these logs.


Dining Out Tidbits
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What are these? They are called Spinach Squares, which we ordered at Upper Crust Pizzeria. Who would have thought a pizza place would carry something like this?

They taste like creamed spinach but are pan fried. They're not bad, but I found them to be rather cheesy and I kept thinking how I like Chinese Turnip Cakes (luo buo gao) so much better. It's worth noting I don't really love creamed spinach, so I am quite biased here.
Harvard Waffle
Did you know at the freshman dining hall at Harvard University you can make your own waffle emblazoned with the Harvard crest? How awesome is that? We never had anything like that at MIT . . . .
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I need something Sweet!
We were wandering in Harvard Square after our lovely meal at 
Mr. Bartley's Burger Cottage when we stumbled upon Sweet, a very cute bakery in Harvard Square. I thought the middle cupcake looked so sad yet cute at the same time.

He looks like he's ready for a nap, which is how I feel often!

We were too full from the burgers to actually get any dessert, but one of these days I'll actually try a cupcake at Sweet!

Wrap Up
I guess that was a pretty random set of tidbits this week. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend! Coming up next week: my fantastic dinner with NYC food bloggers at a new 1-star Michelin Italian restaurant in NYC. Also, refined Afghan food, trendy European food, and maybe some organic sushi. Stay tuned!

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. For this post, Nature's Pride sent me some hamburger buns to try.

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Flour Bakery (Flour3)

>>  Thursday, August 05, 2010

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It takes a lot of guts for a second generation Asian American to jump off the traditional academic career track to pursue a career in food.

In some ways, Joanne Chang, founder of Flour Bakery, is similar to me and a lot of other people with whom I grew up: we are second generation Asian Americans whose parents worked crazy hard as immigrants to give us the best life possible in America.

They told us to study hard, get really good grades, learn piano, join the orchestra, and learn advanced math over the summer (ha ha, at least Bryan had to). And of course, we had to do amazingly well on our SATs so that we could go to the best college possible. They sacrificed so much so that we could achieve as much as we could in this country full of opportunities.

Imagine the excitement when your child actually gets into Harvard, ("Ha-fo") the pinnacle of schools as far as Asians are concerned. And then imagine what it must be like when your Harvard-educated daughter (who graduated with honors in applied mathematics and economics) decides to leave her management consulting job to become a line cook.

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Bartley's Burgers

>>  Wednesday, August 04, 2010

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You can't visit Harvard Square without trying a burger at Bartley's. This iconic hamburger place has been grilling up burgers in this same location since 1960. Mr. Bartley himself is 78 years old and still works there sometimes. There is always a line out the door on weekends, and for good reason! After trying so many burgers in Boston, I still consider Bartley's one of my all-time favorites. Here are the reasons why.

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Slow Roasted Salmon with Dill

>>  Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Slow Roasted Salmon with Dill
If I could, I would eat almost all fish raw.  Why ruin something when it is already close to perfection in its natural state? Cooking too often dries out the delicate flesh of seafood, especially fish. Salmon especially tastes really different cooked compared to raw. However, you can't always guarantee that your salmon is fresh enough to eat raw. Therefore, sometimes you must cook it.

Well, if I must cook it, why not at least cook it minimally?

I've tried cooking salmon at low-temperatures once before, with my sous-vide technique that I tried several weeks ago. I love that method, but I also realize most people don't have a vacuum sealer, a Magic Cooker, nor their own Sous-vide machine at home. In the comments of that post, a reader suggested to me an alternate way to slow-roast salmon in the oven.

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Myers + Chang (and an unexpected surprise)

>>  Monday, August 02, 2010

MyersChang
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?

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