On the Cheap: Seven Star Street Bistro (Boston Phoenix)
The trick to loving Seven Star Street Bistro is to forget how enticingly they've managed to remodel such a tiny sliver of space, and to take their name literally. Ignore those pretty lacquered tables with the low-set seats, the framed art on the cinnamon walls — even the doting, congenial service — and hit the road with your superb takeout. Otherwise you'll discover there is no bathroom, on, say, a night when you've been sucking down water because it's 98 degrees in the shade, and the best advice anyone has is to ask nicely across the street. The bartender there didn't bother taking the phone away from his ear when I inquired — clearly, I was the latest in a series of toilet-seekers — and started laughing. His buddies at the bar mercifully pointed me toward the restroom next door. As I walked back across the street, he was still laughing.
You might ask, why love a place contingent on a trick? Start with orange soy-glazed baby-back ribs ($8/five pieces; $10/half rack; $16/full rack), and their sticky, amber glaze; the meat falls apart, the fat is melty except where it's crisp. On a recent night, I was stopped in my tracks when my tongue poked something cold — the bone was icy, my illusions shattered. I did what I almost never do: explained, and sent them back. A new plate returned, graciously; they were perfect. I think of them and now feel pangs of longing for the multisensory pleasure of sinking my teeth into one — they're just that good.
Hot-and-sour soup ($4/small; $7/large) is brighter with vinegar and spice than the starchy standard. Pork-belly bun ($6) is soft and white, folded around crunchy celery, pickled mustard greens, and succulent meat. In a simple pork stew, sweet broth soaks into creamy rice, topped by fatty hunks of braised pork. Kung pao beef ($9) features tender meat and toasted peanuts, and is excellent with a bowl of steamed black "forbidden" rice ($2; $4). Eggplant tempura ($7) are ear-shaped puffs with a chilied-up mayonnaise. Scallion pancakes ($6) are fine; crab Rangoon ($7) contains flaky meat and distinct cream-cheese flavor served with a kicky tamarind-chili duck sauce. Lo mein ($8) is another great example of Seven Star's ability to gussy up what's normally a greasy side. The firm, slender noodles are splashed with sweet soy and fried with vegetables. Good entrées include five-spice chicken ($10), earthily perfumed with the traditional spice blend, and Shanghai-style shredded pork with ginger ($9).
This review originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix, August 10, 2011.