June's Can't-Miss Dish
May's Can't-Miss Dish
July's Can't-Miss Dish
Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it.
June’s Can’t-Miss Dish
Famous Nhậu Platter at Shōjō Cambridge
On the plate: Famous Nhau Platter
Where to find it: If you’ve dined at the eateries of Brian Moy—Shojo, Ruckus, or Nomai—you know that the restaurateur is a master at creating a vibe. So it’s no surprise that his latest outpost of Shojo, now open in Central Square, delivers energetic ambiance in spades. The spot’s hip-hop soundtrack sets the mood, as does the floor-to-ceiling mural featuring graffiti-style depictions of Jackie Chan, Biggie Smalls, Bruce Lee, and Homer Simpson. Affable bartenders shake up tropical drinks behind a bar illuminated by goldenrod-hued neon, while diners tuck into Green Papaya Salad and Wu-Tang Tiger Style Ribs.
The Cambridge location feels a lot like the original Shojo, which Moy launched a decade ago in Boston’s Chinatown, next door to his family’s dim sum restaurant China Pearl. He’s thrilled to bring the vibe of his flagship venue to Central Square, a neighborhood where he has fond memories sorting through LPs at Cheapo Records and attending shows at the Middle East Nightclub, he says. But setting up there is about more than nostalgia. “We want the food to start showing our new direction, which is an elevated version of Shojo,” Moy says, noting that the Cambridge menu reflects a “Southeast-Asian, Vietnamese-cuisine-forward” sensibility.
Notes on the nosh: Famous Nhau Platter, listed on the menu under “Snacks & Shareables,” will forever change what you crave at happy hour. Fried skin-on peanuts, tossed with ample salt, anchor the center of a round sectional tray surrounded by a riot of colorful offerings. Among them are batons of green mango, served as juicy-crisp crudites, dusted with flaky sea salt and ground chilis; and chewy rehydrated shrimp garnished with pickled pearl onions—a pairing designed to be popped into your mouth at the same time.
Three surf-and-turf “jerkies”—dried-and-seasoned shreds of beef, chicken, and squid—all deserve special mention. Shojo’s versions offer a tender chew; they don’t in any way resemble the tough-as-nails trail snack that might come to mind. Here, pliable ribbons of beef taste savory-sweet, while the chicken sports flavors of lemongrass and makrut lime leaves punctuated by fiery bits of green chili. Filament-like threads of squid are addictive, especially with a squeeze of lime and a dunk in hoisin swirled with sriracha.
“‘Nhau’ is a term of gathering, of sharing food and sharing drinks,” Moy explains, pronouncing the word “now?” as if asking a question. It’s an approach to sipping and noshing that’s distinctly Vietnamese. Moy credits his wife and her family, whose roots are in Vietnam, with inspiring the platter—as well as a drink you should not miss.
Sip alongside: A cocktail called Phoget About It might sound savory when you learn that star anise—an aromatic seed pod featured in Vietnam’s iconic noodle soup—is a key ingredient. That spice is toasted, ground, and then infused into simple syrup, which is shaken with lemon juice, starfruit, and a splash of vodka. A leaf of Thai basil, lightly crushed to release its herbal scent, lends a subtle green note to this brilliant sour.
So the next time your best bar buddies are at a loss for where to meet up, suggest Shojo Cambridge—not only for this thirst-quenching libation, but for nhau, right now.