The cucumber and Chinese sausage dish is a complicated collage of flavors: garlic, scallion roots, anchovies, bitter melon, Chinese fermented chili bean paste, sherry vinegar and palm sugar, rice steamed in banana leaves and then griddled. The “relatively spicy” version is very good, but the “really spicy” one is astounding. Lobster natang is a New England-ized riff on a Cambodian dip traditionally made with pork. Thick, crunchy rice cakes get dunked in a thick sauce of seafood and red curry that is hot, sweet, rich, and intensely craveable.
Fluke with Chinese American flavor features cool slivers of fish with crunchy daikon and cucumber, topped with powder-fine shavings of country ham, which Mark says reminds him of Chinese ham. Chinese broccoli meets tamarind and puffed rice for a lively take on sweet-and-sour. And ramen noodles are delicate and bright tossed with tiny sweet clams and citrus hollandaise.
Not every dish shakes the earth. Miniature biscuits that sandwich Virginia ham and ginger-scallion mustard are doughy, needing to bake longer. Crab rolls — spirals of egg in a tomato-based sauce, topped with crisp potato chips — look wild but mostly taste like omelet. Dessert comes with mixed results. “Strawberries, smashed” cleverly mimics tuna tartare in appearance, but it tastes like ’80s Asian fusion fare, fruit atop wonton crisps. Then there’s rhubarb granita with creamy curds and Thai basil, not in the least bit sweet and entirely, wonderfully refreshing. Although cocktails like the Lo-Mist — pisco with lime, jalapeno, and cucumber — fit with the food, things can go too far. The Phil Collins (menu description: “It’s a game of give and take”) is a riff on a Tom Collins that includes plum vinegar. It tastes like you’re drinking umeboshi.
But when you are tearing through spicy, bright, crunchy, savory dishes, acquiring brain freeze from a negroni-esque slushie, and watching a table of women who look like anime characters feast on crabs with pure joy and abandon, all you are thinking is: Why isn’t North closer to home? And how long until I can come back?
Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.