by Cassandra Landry
| August 20, 2012
Photo: JOEL VEAK
The shōjō is a mythical creature from Japanese lore: half monkey, half man, all sake fiend. Legend has it he ran out of his beloved rice wine and embarked on a lengthy quest to find sake paradise — a massive, sparkling sake waterfall in the jungle. If he had asked us, we would have sent him straight to Chinatown’s modern-day equivalent: cousins Brendan and Brian Moy’s brand-spankin’ new Asian fusion joint, Shō jō (9A Tyler Street, Boston, 617.423.7888), tucked beneath the familiar China Pearl sign.
Surrounded on all sides by tradition (Kung Pao chicken here, Buddha’s Delight there), the Moys, along with executive chef Nick Lee, set out to reinvigorate the neighborhood’s food scene. The result: an upscale-yet-laid-back lounge vibe and an equally modern menu, featuring full entrees as well as a stacked selection of appetizers, sides, happy-hour bites, and late-night offerings — perfect for sharing and snacking before or after a night on the town. The suckling-pig bao ($8) is a perfectly executed riff on the increasingly popular pork-belly buns of New York’s Momofuku and beyond. But instead of hoisin, Lee splashes the pork — alternately falls-apart-in-your-mouth tender and lightly crunchy — with smoky BBQ sauce, then tops it off with house-made kimchi and shaved cucumber. The smoky-sweet-pickled combo is a revelation. The fried oysters ($9), nestled in beds of sea-foam-green rock salt, are topped with a sweet kimchi sauce, paprika aioli, and crispy egg noodle. The oysters’ briny flavor is played down, barely ebbing on the back of your tongue, and the subtlety works since texture is the real star here. Duck-fat fries ($6) are also not to be missed, since they arrive with a sriracha aioli you’ll want to smear all over everything you eat for the rest of your existence.
Barman Markus Yiao’s drinks operate under the same M.O. as the kitchen, to strong results: besides the extensive sake list, the Reiko Greene ($10) is a standout. A blend of gin, green Chartreuse, and lime, it features a huge hunk of cucumber ice and acts as a two-part cocktail; as the ice melts, the glass is newly flooded with the cool essence of garden cucumber, and you’re never left with a watery drink.
Shōjō is a gust of fresh air in Chinatown. Breathe it in, people.