The goods: If one of last year’s local food trends was wallet-friendly pizza and burger joints, this year brings fast-casual Asian eateries to the scene. Rounding out Woktown in downtown and Sakaya Kitchen in midtown is the new Chow Down Grill in Surfside. Helmed by young chef Josh Marcus (formerly of BLT Steak and China Grill), the hip, date-friendly spot churns out wok-focused Chinese cuisine and French-inspired sandwiches all within a polished setting.
Ambience: The place is small but nicely decked out: mod light fixtures, dark wood tables and comfortable cushioned benches invite you to linger over Japanese beers and dumplings.
The grub: Ingredient-driven Chinese food with a gourmet approach. Unlike traditional Asian cooking, the dishes here are free of MSG, sugar or cornstarch. Marcus relies on French techniques (honed while working with chef Laurent Tourondel) to create his roster of sauces that include Spicy Szechuan, Mongolian barbecue and Green curry.
Prices are low, making it a great option for takeout or lunch. Baguettes sandwiches are $8.50, dumplings and salads are $6-$8 and mains are no more than $14.
Start off with the Chow Down chop salad, a crunchy mix of cabbage, roasted corn, carrot basil and mango dressed with fiery chili lime vinaigrette. Dumplings come with either shrimp, chicken or beef filling and work well with the house made sauces (peanut, chili and Chinese mustard) offered in squeeze bottles on the table. For mains it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure situation where you have your pick of six sauces and three proteins (shrimp, organic chicken and Black Angus steak). Go for the shrimp with spicy Szechuan sauce, made from slow roasted tomatoes, mirin (sweet sake), chilis, garlic and vinegar. It comes with fat spears of asparagus and crisp bell peppers. The green curry sauce is a coconut-thickened gravy of cilantro, basil and chili paste. Leafy greens like spinach and fresh veggies like purple potatoes find their way into the wok-seared dishes.
Beers like Sapporo and New England-based Narragansett and wine are offered along with the strong-flavored food. The dessert menu is ever-changing but will always include a bread pudding of some sort, flavored with sweet mirin, Chinese five-spice and flecked with apricots.
The verdict: Go for the fast, inexpensive Chinese with an upscale approach, stay for the cold beers and chef-focused atmosphere at this hip spot in Surfside.