Shojo makes Chinatown a bar-food destination.
9A Tyler St., Boston | 617-423-7888 | shojoboston.com
There’s a youthful energy to Chinatown’s first craft cocktail bar. Specializing in sake and house-infused vodka and gin, Shojo looks the part of an urban trendsetter with its graffiti mural (depicting the fable of a monkey on an epic quest for a sake river). The space is replete with concrete and dark wood, and music videos play on the wall. It’s to Chinese cuisine what Bodega is to sneakers: a curated, funkified interpretation of a staple. When the team behind dim-sum mecca China Pearl set out to introduce something new to the neighborhood this past summer, and by extension lure neophytes to the district, they drew on Chinatown’s strengths to create one of the best bar menus in Boston.
Start with the rightly raved pig baos ($8). A spin on the stuffed steamed breads found at dim sum, these fluffy, sweet buns come with fatty roast suckling pig offset by sliced cucumber, spicy kimchi, jalapeño and a smear of smoky barbecue sauce. The pork rivaled any in town, and for an appetizer, the portion (two per order) made for a generous starter. Duck fat fries ($5) were also delicious. Served in a fryer basket and accompanied by a Sriracha aioli light on the chili, the hand-cut potatoes had the clean, non-greasy taste that results from expert preparation. Sesame shrimp toast ($8), on the other hand, was crispy but oily, with the shrimp paste’s delicate flavor lost amidst the grease.
Unfortunately, two of the restaurant’s best dishes—the banh mi club ($7) and the “damn damn noodles” ($8)—were only offered on the lunch menu. Shojo’s version of the Vietnamese sandwich featured char siu pork, bacon, cilantro, jalapeños, pickled carrots and daikon on a hoagie roll. The sweet, spicy, sour combination hit the perfect notes, but the untoasted, lackluster bread was a downgrade from the crispy French baguette of the traditional banh mi. The reinterpreted dan dan noodles packed a Szechuan peppercorn punch, and combined with a runny fried egg, the pork and noodle dish had a spicy, unctuous depth even without the usual peanut butter sauce.
Dinner entrees were more conceptual yet less memorable. While both the steak frites ($18) and shrimp and grits ($16) featured perfectly cooked meats, the accompaniments tended to overwhelm rather than complement. Kimchi butter and ginger-infused demi-glace were overkill on the beef; and bell pepper gravy obscured any nuance in the congee-chive grits. The char-siu pulled pork ravioli ($15) also suffered from too much of a good thing, as house-smoked bacon and shaved pecorino bombed the pasta with fat instead of flavor. The shrimp cappellini egg nest ($15) was standard Chinese banquet fare, with noodles shaped to form a nest then mounded with a shrimp-and-vegetable peanut sauce. A better choice was the braised short ribs ($17) with a star anise sauce and mashed taro base.
While the food was rich and plentiful, the cocktails were more elegant and restrained. The Reiko Greene ($11)—Hendrick’s gin, green Chartreuse and lime—was emerald in color and glowed with a block of cucumber ice. The Dynasty Nail ($10)—which subbed Bombay Sapphire East and house-infused lemongrass Drambuie for the Rusty Nail’s Scotch and Drambuie—was a stiff concoction. While the Reiko Greene would pair with most of the spicy-sweet dishes on the menu, the Dynasty Nail was better enjoyed as an aperitif. The sake offerings were as equally edited as the cocktail list, with half a dozen options ranging from the highest-grade junmai daiginjo Pure Dusk ($26) to the honjozo Funaguchi Eight Peaks ($75, bottle; $9, glass).
In keeping with their goal to draw new folks to Chinatown, first-cousin co-owners Brendan and Brian Moy run a welcoming, laid-back house. There are lots of smiles, ready recommendations, even an occasional, complimentary extra bao for that group of three, so they don’t have to share. Shojo’s hospitality, well-executed food and playful drinks present a strong case for the neighborhood as a place to go not only with fellow food-nerds for dumplings and noodles, but also with your work friends for drinks. While Shojo attracts all types, you’ll feel a little cooler for knowing about it.
•Bahn mi club
•"Damn damn" noodles
•Braised short ribs
Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri., 11 am-3 pm. Dinner: Mon.-Sat., 5:30-11 pm
Credit Cards: Yes