Glory be! Sushi has arrived in Dorchester (and not just at Shaw's supermarket). Now, you can actually sit at a sushi bar and watch the chef roll out maki, hamachi, and uni. The space that used to belong to Linda Mae's, where big breakfasts and meatloaf specials ruled, is now a pan-Asian restaurant, reflecting the ethnic change in the community. Even though the owner, James Pham, is Vietnamese, his menu is Chinese and Japanese -- to better suit his American clientele, he says. But there's also a large Asian population that has settled in Dorchester in the past generation, and he hopes to capture that market, too. "In this area, no one believes we can bring in an upscale restaurant. But there's a big Asian community, and after 20 years here, they're established and want something nice," says Pham, who used to live in the neighborhood but is now in Grafton.
Pham has renovated the space, which includes a main dining room and a smaller one, separated by a drink bar and a sushi bar. The place seems cavernous, with its large main dining room and its vaulted ceilings. There are new tables and chairs, carpeting and lighting, and Asian decorative accents. It all has a spare, minimalist feel, but it's not cold. One recent night, half the diners are of Asian descent. The menu reflects the diversity; the dishes are translated into Chinese and Vietnamese. A Cheap Eats disclaimer: Just about everything on the voluminous menu fits our budget of $14 and under -- if you stay away from the house specials. Those steaks and seafood go up to $22.95. We stuck with the rest of the menu, starting with the old standbys to see how they measure up. The scallion pancakes ($2.95) were crisp, with an ample amount of scallions but a tad greasy. Better were the Peking ravioli ($3.95), steamed al dente.
Trying to balance the menu, we ordered some sushi and sashimi (they come a la carte or by the entree). The fish is all fresh and firm. The spring rolls ($3.50) are filled with vermicelli, lettuce, chicken, and shrimp, all of it fresh and tasty, but a little more cilantro and mint would have kicked it up a bit. We did like the hoisin-chili-peanut sauce that accompanied it.
The waitstaff is Asian, and they're happy to steer you toward a specialty. Our waitress recommended the salted and pepper jumbo shrimp ($12.50). The shrimp are cooked with the shell on, which keeps the flavor in, and jalapenos and scallions add to the heat. Here, there are a dozen hot-pot offerings. If you're not a heat freak, try the cooler seafood in birdnest ($12.95), consisting of sauteed seafood with mushrooms, broccoli, and carrots in a "nest" made of fried taro. The crunch plays nicely off the tender veggies and fish.
The orange-flavored beef ($9.75) holds a smattering of chili flakes in its thick, glazed sauce; it's both a nice flavor and cut of meat. The sesame chicken ($7.95) comes in what looks and tastes like barbecue sauce, but it's too sweet for our tastebuds.
At lunchtime, there are teriyaki specials and sushi/sashimi combos ($8-$11.50); they come with miso soup and a salad. The salad is your everyday iceberg lettuce; instead, spring for the seaweed salad ($5), which is fresh and has a nice crunch. Try the beef chow foon ($6.50), wide rice noodles with tender chunks of beef. The onions and scallions are slightly charred, giving the dish a nice smoky flavor.
James Pham says he hopes to start offering his native Vietnamese food for lunch, once he hires a Vietnamese chef. He also plans to start serving dim sum on the weekends. But for now, he's proudest of his "Chinatown-style seafood" -- and his Dorchester sushi bar.
All Cheap Eats reviews may be retrieved from Boston.com at www.boston.com/ae/food/restaurants. Big Fresh Cafe 341 Cochituate Road, Framingham. 508-879-7000. Whole foods, good grains, lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, and good sources of protein. Those, Karen and Kevin Masterson believe, are the secrets to good health. So that's what they serve at Big Fresh Cafe, their good-for-you, environmentally conscious restaurant, where the motto is "eat well, live well." Tofu, all-natural chicken and wild Alaskan salmon feature prominently on the menu. So do brown rice, whole wheat couscous, wheat noodles, and fresh produce from local farms. And the food isn't just healthy; it also tastes great. (6/24/04, S.P.)
Sato II 147 Main St., Stoneham. 781-438-8786. If the sushi pizza doesn't tip you off that this isn't your usual Chinese restaurant, the merlot in the mango duck will. Light and mild takes on both Chinese and Japanese classics share the menu here with chef Fei Chen's East-West and Chinese-Japanese fusion dishes. In keeping with the lighter-fare theme, they also serve a range of salads and boast a sushi bar that's a cut above most neighborhood sushi joints. Don't miss the pizza: a crispy cake of deep-fried sushi rice topped with impeccably fresh fish, spicy mayo, avocado, and a dice of pickled turnip and cukes -- yum. (6/17/04, D.T.)
Acapulco Mexican Restaurant 464 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-524-4328. This looks, sounds and tastes like a typical Mexican restaurant, from the sombreros and serapes on the walls to the homemade sangria and guitar trio on weekends. (Alas, no margaritas: no liquor license.) Start with the hefty Mexican pizza, and if you're still hungry, try the enchiladas poblanas, stuffed with chicken and covered with a rich mole sauce. The queso asado and avocado relleno are well executed; everything is fresh and well-balanced. For a different dish, try the pollo al cilantro -- chicken cooked in a cilantro sauce with tons of peppers. Finish with a helping of flan. (6/10/04, B.E.) Dok Bua Thai Kitchen 411 Harvard St., Brookline, 617-232-2955. Lots of kitsch here -- like a neon palm tree and a row of refrigerators covered in foliage contact paper -- and some terrific Thai food as well. Everything this market-turned-restaurant makes is luscious, including pad si ew (pad Thai's kin); a puffy omelet with ground shrimp; and crunchy papaya salad. The staff is just as friendly as can be. (6/3/04, S.J.)
Krazy Karry's Backyard Grill 319 Broadway, Arlington. 617-643-2004. It looks, feels, and smells a bit like the Golden Arches, and for good reason: Its owner is a former
Steve's Authentic Greek Cuisine 316 Newbury St., Boston, 617-267-1817. Sitting pretty at the corner of Hereford for the past 22 years -- when there was nothing chic about "the other end" of Newbury Street -- Steve's offers inexpensive kebabs, along with other Greek specialties, such as the salted roe spread taramosalata and lemony avgolemono. Some Back Bay locals eat breakfast at Steve's several times a week. (5/13/04, S.J.)