I am a huge Tiffani Faison fan. I watched her on the very first season of "Top Chef," I rooted for her redemption on "Top Chef All Stars," I supported her at the Anna's Taqueria Celebrity Burrito Roller Showdown and I've dined numerous times at her Fenway BBQ joint, Sweet Cheeks Q. When I heard she was opening a new restaurant just a few doors down from Sweet Cheeks, I couldn't wait to check it out. On Monday night I finally made it to Tiger Mama.
Every year, during the two cycles of Restaurant Week, I get dolled up with two of my friends, we wear pearl necklaces and we try a new place for dinner. It's a silly tradition we started years ago, but we love it. This year we missed the March cycle because our work and grad school schedules were so nutty, so we decided to pick the next night available night we could all get together, choose an awesome place and continue the tradition. For our 13th pearl dinner we chose Tiger Mama.
When we set the date, we had now idea that on April 4th it would be freezing, windy and snowing! We braved the elements because we knew Tiger Mama would be worth it.
The restaurant is on the corner of Boylston Street and Kilmarnock Street, right across from the new Target.
Inside, a mirrored elephant greets you and sets the tone for a fun, festive evening.
We were ushered in by two bubbly and friendly hostesses who walked us along the lush, green plant wall to our table.
From our seats we had a great view of the bar in the back of the restaurant. All three bartenders were constantly shaking up drinks with impressive showmanship.
Once we were settled into our booth we started looking over the menu, beginning with the drinks. I must admit, many of them had ingredients I wasn't familiar with, so I asked quite a few questions.
We wound up ordering the El Segundo (left), the Luk Thung (back) and the Da Nang (right).
The El Segundo, the dark drink with the pretty flower floating in the glass, is mezcal, cocchi rosa, damson gin and cardamaro. My friend said, "This drink was very strong and to be honest, the smoky taste was overpowering." I had the Luk Thung which was cimarron blanco, giffard strawberry, campari, honey, ginger, lemon and Thai bitters. The drink came over so much ice that it tastes like a slushie. With every sip you really tasted the booze. The Da Nang, garnished with a cherry and a thin slice of lime, was definitely the winner of the three. It was tito's, st. germain, aperol, passion fruit and lime. It tasted mostly like pure passion fruit juice and was dangerously drinkable!
The Tiger Mama menu is made up of small plates that are designed for sharing. To begin, we decided to share the crispy chili potatoes with sneaky chili mayo and crispy bits.
Across from me, a friend took a bite and shouted, "Holy potatoes!" Next to me, my other dinner date admitted, "I'm having a hard time concentrating on anything other than this fried potato right now."
A few bites later, another rave review, "This may be the best fried food dish I've ever had." I whole heartedly agree! The potatoes were cooked perfectly, the batter was crispy (not soggy or greasy at all) and the mayo dotting each potato was addicting. In fact, we wished we'd had a little extra side of the mayo for dunking. The fresh scallions were also an excellent touch.
For the second round, my friend across the table ordered the pad gia pow which was rich and spicy ground chicken, chilis, Thai basil, purple choi and a fried egg. How gorgeous is the fried egg on top?
After most of the bowl had been devoured she said, "The egg was definitely the best part. In fact, I wish there had been two eggs! Ground chicken isn't usually my favorite, but it did taste great. It had a really nice spice and heat to it. My only complaint would be that it had a lot of fennel, which isn't something I enjoy."
Next to me, our friend selected the lobster curry which was celeriac, grilled baby corn and a beautiful, bright red lobster claw.
The presentation of this dish was gorgeous. The red lobster claw set against the bright green curry was beautiful. Not to mention the pretty bowl it was plated in.
The verdict was, "There were potatoes in there, cooked similarly to the potatoes we had to start, which was a nice surprise. The grilled baby corn added a great crunch. The lobster was a lovely addition, but got overpowered by the bold flavors of the curry."
To go with the lobster curry, she requested a side of coconut sticky rice. It came in a coconut can! This was such an adorable presentation.
After trying the coconut sticky rice with the curry she said, "These were a winning combo and I would definitely order both again."
I have to admit, I was a bit nervous when we were seated and I started looking at the menu. I hadn't looked it up online, so I was seeing it for the first time and nothing was really jumping out at me. I decided to try the mala mushrooms which are described as numbing and spicy, served with smashed garlic and mustard greens. When I asked our waitress how big the portion was, she said it was about one cup of mushrooms. When the dish arrived, it was more like two cups!
The dish had that signature earthy flavor you get from mushrooms, but the spice level was just medium, definitely not numbing!
I also tried the raw spring veggie curry which was early asparagus, baby carrots, Thai green peppercorn and miso broth. The miso broth is poured tableside over paper thin vegetable slices.
I wanted to like this dish, but I just didn't. The broth was flavorless and though the veggies were clearly fresh, they didn't wow on their own (or with the broth). For me, this dish was a total bust.
When our plates were cleared, our waitress asked if we were interested in dessert. We decided to look, but neither of the two options appealed to us - mango sticky rice or a Japanese milk toast. You know me, chocolate or nothing.
On our walk out I stopped to snap Tiger Mama's illuminated sign over the dining room that reads "Talk don't cook rice."
I wanted to love Tiger Mama because I love Tiffani, but for me, this was a miss. So many of my fellow food blogger friends have raved to me about the menu, so it may just be a case of the meat and seafood options being far superior to the veggie options.
There is no question that Tiffani is a powerhouse chef. Her menus are fun, creative and they transport you all over the world. The fact that she can execute BBQ and Asian with the same precision is truly remarkable.
Tell me, have you been to Tiger Mama? What did you think?