>> Wednesday, June 06, 2012
It all started with a cryptic email from a mysterious "Kinsay Wukong" inviting me and Bryan to an evening of "inspired Chinese cuisine."
There was not much more information. Just a date, time, and an address of an apartment in Inman Square.
Intrigued and curious, Bryan and I replied to the email, accepting the invitation.
On a cold, dark night in the middle of February, we drove out to the secret location, a multi-family New England style house on a quiet road near Inman Square.
We rang the doorbell.
Tracy, who I had met at Guchi's Midnight Ramen, answered the door and welcomed us in.
We had clearly entered the home of a chef.
The kitchen was no ordinary kitchen. Instead of wooden cabinets and granite countertops, I saw stainless steel everywhere. Gas stoves had been replaced with portable induction heaters, and a shiny industrial sink took up an entire wall.
In the middle of it all was Chef Jason Doo, owner of the lovely home we had just entered.
Left: Miguel de Leon Right: Jason Doo
Who is Jason Doo?
Jason Doo is a rising chef who worked at Menton as a chef de partie before traveling to Asia for more culinary exploration and research. He's been traveling throughout Hangzhou, Taiwan and Singapore, exploring their street food cultures as well as their tea plantations. His aim? To learn as much as he can about Chinese cuisine.
We couldn't believe it, but tonight, we'd be tasting some of his new ideas and inspirations . . . based on, perhaps, his recent travels?
It felt like a secret supper club, almost.
We'd also be served by sommelier Miguel de Leon, who has worked at many well-known restaurants including Momofuku Ko and the new Hakkasan in New York (a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in Hong Kong!) where he is currently sommelier.
It was quite surreal, actually. As we sat down to dinner, who did we see as a fellow guest but Guchi (yes, the midnight ramen guy) himself! The Boston restaurant community is small and tight indeed. Tracy was also there, along with a couple other guests from Boston and New York.
I could just feel it - it was going to be a one-of-a-kind evening.
Jason created some incredible "parlor snacks" as he calls them. We munched on these while sipping on cocktails that Miguel had concocted.
Left: Mast Brother's Cocoa Nib and Black Sesame Crackers; Right, Palmiers with Broadbean and Fresh Soybean Tapenade (right), Savory Pumpkin and Scallion Madeleines (not shown).
I loved the cocoa nib and black sesame crackers. They were surprisingly buttery, with a lovely deep flavor that came from both the cocoa and the black sesame. The palmiers surprised us by being refreshingly savory. I'm so used to any cookie that's shaped like an "angel wing" to be sweet.
We also sampled some lovely Hong Kong Style Waffles. These were fantastic and tasted just like the real thing you get on the streets of Taiwan (I've never had them in Hong Kong, but I'm guessing they are similar?). I've been trying so hard to learn how to make these. His tasted so much better than mine.
The bread that arrived next was absolutely incredible. We gasped at the sheer complexity of it all.
From left to right: Boule of Nine Sacred Grains; the Dowager's Corn Cake; Tangzong 65° C Milk Bread; and Scallion Pancake (laminated like a croissant).
The story behind the Dowager's corn cake is interesting. Legend has it that Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing dynasty demanded corn cakes during a long train journey while fleeing from the Allied Forced of Eight Imperialist Powers, who had just occupied Beijing.
Her servants, afraid that the crude commoner's corn cake would not be sufficient for her, created a refined version using finely ground corn flour and powdery white sugar.
The 65° C Milk Bread is dense, milky, and gorgeously moist. The "Tangzhong" method takes ancient Chinese techniques once used to make steamed buns (baos, mantos, etc) and applies it to modern bread baking. It has become insanely popular in China, Taiwan, and Japan as well.
Along with all this fantastic bread, we tried 4-month Aged Yak Butter (unpasteurized) and 1-year Aged Homemade Soy Sauce. I'm not a huge goat fan in general, and this yak butter tasted quite "goat-y" to me. Other guests loved it, though.
I did love the aged soy sauce. It was deeply rich, with various levels of complexity I can't even begin to describe. The closest I can think of is something that's fermented - maybe like soy sauce with elements of marmite?
For tableside "snacks", Jason served us his great grandmother's Spiced Cashews and Walnuts alongside Crispy Coconut Pork Skins, which were delicate pork skins dusted with coconut cream powder. Both were fabulous, and I can totally see myself (without thinking!) down a whole tray of these.
Taro Root Puffs with winter vegetables and Carrot Bing with Silk Road spices.
Char Siu Bao with Breton Sable topping (made with pork floss) and homemade XO Sauce.
Homemade steamed Xiao Long Bao (Soup dumplings)
In a HUGE steamer!
Har Gow with scallops and prawns
10-way Mushroom Hot Pot: pickled persimmon, porcini mushroom broth, Crimini Grissini, pickled nameko, smoked matustake, roasted honshemeji, confit trumpets, glace wood ear, cloud ear, trumpet confit oil powder
This particular dish blew our minds away with its sheer complexity. Jason had prepared mushrooms ten different ways by using all sorts of techniques. Some were pickled, others were smoked, and one was even made into a powdery "snow," which was sprinkled on top of everything else.
The flavors were fantastic (imagine all that umami from the mushrooms!) and it was a favorite for many.
Sweet and Sour Parsnip with Pine: parsnip chips, chili threads, basil, pickled parsnip, verjus sweet and sour sauce, and pine smoke
Cornish hens hung for two weeks and stuffed with glutinous rice, Morcea sausage, gizzard confit, and soy pickled spring ramps.
Beggar's Chicken is another traditional Chinese dish where a whole chicken is wrapped in lotus leaves, covered with mud, and then baked at low temperatures for several hours. Legend has it that during the Qing dynasty, a beggar stole a chicken. While being chased by the owner, he buried the chicken in the mud. When he came back later, he wrapped it in lotus leaves and cooked it whole. What resulted was the most delectable, juicy chicken, beautifully fragrant from the mud and lotus leaves.
Jason's version incorporates more creative ingredients, such as Morcea sausage, gizzard confit, and soy pickled spring ramps. As a nod to tradition, it's also stuffed with glutinous rice.
Noodles + Rice
Liaja Millet Noodle Salad
Sesame and burnet millet cake, wild sesame crumble, sesame cashew vinaigrette, and fresh sesame leaves
This was another one of my favorite dishes. I loved the creative spin on the "peanut noodle" concept. The flavors were delicious, and the sesame crumble and millet cake were creative touches to the dish.
Chestnut Fried Rice
This delicious fried rice was filled with interesting ingredients like Ardeche Marrons (a type of chestnut), pickled water chestnuts, water caltrops, 45-day aged duck "prosciutto", and marigold petals.
Pomello "spheres" with gold flakes, caviar, sea urchin and mussel vinaigrette with daikon shoots
A creative take on the traditional Cantonese dish "Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce", Chef Doo has instead created Gailan (Chinese Broccoli) with Roasted Oyster Jus, which playfully mixes in fried oysters, grilled oysters, horseradish tapioca, and grilled sudachi (citrus fruit).
Burgundy Snails with Almond and Yellow Chive Curry
burgundy snails, flowering chives, almond garlic tuile, kombu glass, purple and green lavers
The final dish went back to traditional Chinese roots -a simple steamed whole fish (in this case a Red Snapper), served with a charred scallion broth, pickled shallots, chives, salt roasted onion, and onion seeds.
We ended with traditional "Gong Fu" tea service from Peter Barthelmess of Dobra Tea House, where he served us 1998 Old Tree Pu-erh tea. Pu-erh tea is a special type of tea from the Yunnan province in China where the tea leaves are fermented (with microbes!) after being dried and rolled.
Desserts were exquisite and the workmanship was evident. Chocolates included Kaffir Lime Majong Tiles, Sichuan Peppercorn Truffles, Soursop Bon Bons, and Mangosteen Bon Bons.
Top Row: Oranges, Mung Bean Moon Cakes, Pineapple New Years Cookies
Middle Row: Almond Cookies, Chocolates, Coconut Marshmallows
Bottom Row: Lotus Seed Doriyaki, Lychee Pate de Fruit, Palmiers with Broad Bean Tapenade
At the end of the meal, we were crazy, crazy stuffed.
What had originally been described as a "three-course meal" turned out to be more like a 30-course tasting.
Though we couldn't move, we all agreed it was incredibly fun, and definitely one of the most unique meals we had ever had.
Kudos to the team for executing such a complex menu in a span of a few hours inside that little apartment kitchen!!
I'm really excited to see what Chef Jason Doo does next.
I'm thrilled he's exploring all different kinds of Chinese cuisine, everything from royal Imperial Court food to the street foods enjoyed by commoners. Traditionally, Americans have only witnessed a very, very narrow slice of what Chinese cuisine really is. Chinatowns in America are usually filled with Cantonese restaurants, and the rest of America is filled with cheap Chinese take-out joints.
Jason is taking this cuisine to a whole new level, something not seen much on this half of the globe.
I was afraid he would go to Asia and never come back, but it appears he's back in Boston, planning something - a new project, perhaps?
We'll have to wait and see.
Let's hope Jason will enlighten Boston with some really new, interesting, and creative Chinese cuisine.
I can't wait.
Update: here's the link to the second Jason Doo dinner I attended