I started working in Kendall Square in Cambridge in January 2015. Since then I've seen the neighborhood welcome countless new restaurants, greatly expanding my lunch options!
The restaurant is owned by Sumiao Chen, a scientist and Le Cordon Bleu trained chef. Boston Magazine reports, "She’s joined by chefs Changchun Ji and Xinke Tan, whose combined experience includes stints at the Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant Hakkasan, Nobu, and more."
The menu is focused on Hunan cuisine, from the Hunan province of China. Eater Boston describes, "Aside from its signature spiciness, Hunan cuisine features a lot of smoked, braised, and stewed dishes; plenty of garlic and shallots; and flavors that are more sour than in Sichuan cuisine, which is also known for its spiciness. (Sichuan spice, however, tends to have a numbing effect, while Hunan spice is more of a vinegar-meets-chili burn.)"
We arrived at 12:30pm for lunch, having easily made a reservation through the restaurant's website the night before. Sumiao uses Reserve, though I personally prefer OpenTable. #ReservationSnob
The space floods with natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
I was mesmerized by the glass light fixtures, which look like bubbles floating down the ceiling.
We took our seats and were excited to really dig into the menu.
At lunch, Sumiao offers a $13 dollar special - a bowl of soup, plus one signature dish of your choice.
While that deal was tempting, I really wanted to try multiple dishes. When it came time to place our order, our waiter informed us that at lunch, every guest receives a bowl of soup (even if you don't want one). I chose the hot and sour soup, while my lunch date went with the tomato mushroom.
I found the hot and sour soup quite tasty. It was thick and warmed you from the inside out. It was spicy, but not overly so. My friend shared that the tomato soup was actually quite thin, more like a broth. She said it tasted like a can of Progresso vegetable soup (not exactly high praise).
We decided on two appetizers to share. The first was the scallion pancake. I always order this dish at every Chinese restaurant. It's my barometer, the way you might order a margherita pizza at an authentic Italian place.
The Sumiao version was paper thin. It had all that fried deliciousness, but still left you with room to try other things. We both loved the dipping sauce, which tasted like a chipotle mayo.
Next we sampled the purple yam bao. I had seen these on Instagram and just had to try them! I'm obsessed with taro, and taro and purple yams taste very similar, so I had a feeling I would like it.
The dish arrived and the bao were the size of tennis balls! There are four to an order.
The filling inside is white lotus seed, which tasted just like white bean paste. Remember this white bean pastry from Koko Bakery in Newton?
The bao were actually quite sweet, so I wish we had ordered them to arrive last, almost like a dessert.
For our entree round, my friend requested the General Tsao's chicken with a side of white rice. The menu marked the dish as spicy, but she commented, "This really wasn't as hot as the menu had me thinking it would be." She continued, "Thankfully the bowl had a generous amount of sauce, which gave me plenty to drizzle over my white rice."
When I was perusing the menu, I was hoping to order a dish that would involve both tofu and vegetables. Unfortunately, all of the tofu dishes on the menu also had meat! I eventually settled on the Chinese broccoli with red pepper, ginger and soy sauce.
What arrived was, well, not what I was expecting. Apparently Chinese broccoli is a bit like the love child of broccoli and bok choy - a thick stalk on the bottom, with leafy greens on top. I immediately regretted my order.
The veggies didn't have a very strong flavor and the stems of the broccoli were quite hard to cut. I ordered a side of brown rice, which was actually the best part of this course, as it was perfectly cooked.
Though I wasn't blown away by this particular meal, I do want to come back and try more things. I have my eye on the silky tofu soup, the string beans with eggplant and the fried rice.
Tell me, have you been to Sumiao Hunan Kitchen? Did you have a favorite dish?