One of the people I follow on Instagram is the editor of Eater Boston. She is usually the first to know about new ventures from local chefs and she often gets to preview spaces and their menus before the doors open to the public. That's how I found out about Newton Centre's newest addition, Little Big Diner.
Little Big Diner is at 1247 Centre Street, next door to the Panera. The restaurant gets its name from its size. At 695 square feet, the restaurant has an open kitchen and just 19 seats.
From the sidewalk you can see guests enjoying a potpourri of Asian soul food dishes alongside ice cold beers and glasses of sake.
We arrived at 7:30pm on Friday night (they had been open just 13 days) and the hostess let us know it would be about a 45 minute wait. We took a quick look around and saw several people reaching the bottome of their ramen bowls, so we decided to wait inside.
While we were waiting, I snapped several pictures of the mural painted on Little Big Diner's exposed brick wall. I love the visual of the deep bowl packed with goodies and noodles galore. In fact, the staff at Little Big Diner wear t-shirts that say "Let's Noodle" on the back. So cute!
We had been waiting exactly 30 minutes when the hostess let us know she had a spot for us. We had already been perusing the menu while we waited, but it was time to get down to business.
Little Big Diner's menu is arranged by portion size - littlest dishes at the top, big dishes toward the bottom. All of their branding and design work is so thoughtful and adorable.
Every table has a small wooden box that houses napkins, chopsticks and ladles.
While we were thinking over what to try for dinner, we placed our drink order. An ice green tea for me and the Singapore Sling cocktail for my dinner date. Her drank came in a fun, festive tiki glass. It was gin, heering, benedictine, angostura and soda. When I asked how she was enjoying the drink, she smiled widely and said, "It's so, so good."
We placed our order (a starter and a main course for each of us) and then had the pleasure of watching the food be prepared. We were seated at a counter that overlooks the open kitchen. There are only four seats in that area, so we felt pretty lucky to have snagged a spot there.
From our seats we had the opportunity to chat with both of the chefs, chef / owner David Punch and executive chef Daniel Scott. David is also the chef / owner at Sycamore (right down the street in Newton Centre, you can read my review here). Daniel hails from Sycamore as well. Prior to his time there, he worked at Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger in Wellesley. It was very cool to watch them work and listen in as they explained certain dishes to fellow diners.
Our first plate to arrive was the green papaya salad with toasted garlic, chile, citrus and salted peanuts. I loved the combination of the freshness of the papaya with the salt and crunch of the peanuts. However, I must warn you, this dish is hot. I'm not talking a little kick or an extra shake or two of spice; I am talking lips and tongue on fire hot. Even with my entire mouth engulfed in flames, I wanted every last bite.
Next up, the grilled shrimp "salad" buns. These almost looked like an Asian twist on the traditional New England lobster roll. The shrimp was grilled and then tossed in mayo and lime, then garnished with pressed cucumbers.
My friend explained, "The seasoning tastes like what you might expect on spicy tuna sushi. The mayo is so light that it feels more like a vinaigrette." She was enjoying the tastes and textures of the dish so much that she insited I try it. She offered me the last bite of one of the buns (no shrimp left in it, don't worry) and I have to say, that bun was so pillowy and delicious that I could have eaten ten more.
For the main course, we both ordered ramen. When the piping hot bowls were placed in front of us, we were both immediately struck by the incredible smells wafting toward our nostrils. We knew we were in for a treat.
My dinner date went with the spicy miso ramen. It came loaded with berkshire pork, nori, ajitama egg, bean sprouts, sweet corn, mayu and scallions. As we were oggling the dish, she said with glee, "Corn! I never get corn in ramen. I'm psyched."
I went with the forest mushroom ramen, a fanastic mix of heiwa tofu, watercress, sesame and marinated shiitake mushrooms.
So often vegetarians get the short end of the stick, but at Little Big Diner I ate like a queen! This bowl of ramen was packed with hearty goodies in every single spoonful. I couldn't get enough. Had there not been so many people around, I would have lifted the bowl to my lips and drank every last drop.
When I asked my dinner date if there was anything else she'd like to add to my notes, she piped up, "Make sure you let the readers know, the reason there are ladles at every table is because there is more than enough in every bowl and every bite to warrant a huge spoon like that. This is not a chopstick scenario."
At the end of the meal we were both so impressed with Little Big Diner. They've made really smart use of a tight space and their branding, design and decor is super fun. The team in the kitchen is clearly excited to be there and it really shows in the food. I have eaten a ton of ramen all over the country and this was some of the best.
I'll have to go back with another meat eater because there were three other dishes that looked particularly amazing - the pork ribs, the green sriracha chicken wings and the Hawaiian style burger (yes, a burger at an Asian place). I need to see them up close!
Any volunteers to join me on trip #2?