By Bovey Rao ‘19
What exactly is a pop-up restaurant? Most people do not know this terminology, as they are a relatively new development. Pop-up restaurants are when kitchens are lent out to other restaurants or chefs for temporary residence. While this seems like an extravagant venture, many great restaurants (Mission Chinese, NYC) have emerged from pop-ups, and many great restaurants (Aliena, Chicago) have hosted pop-up sessions. Usually, the menu is specially prepared for each individual session. Thus, when I heard that Mei Mei was hosting a pop-up at the nearby Shepard, I quickly booked a reservation.
Entering Shepard, we were greeted by the two teams and were seated after a brief wait. Glancing at the menu, I was immediately drawn to the unique fusion dishes. However, glancing at other tables, I noticed that the portions were a little small and ordered accordingly. After we ordered a long list of various dim sum dishes, I waited excitedly for our mix of buns, dumplings, and vegetables.
The dry aged lamb buns were a delicacy with complex savory notes of Chinese five-spice. While incredibly soft and moist, the order only came with three relatively small buns, which was unfortunate for my party of four individuals. Later, we would discover this applied to most dishes we ordered. The corned beef and xo dumplings similarly had rich, savory flavors, but texturally the shredded beef was not the most appealing. As the dishes continuously arrived, I enjoyed the mildly spicy beef tendon. The gelatinous texture melded perfectly with the crisp skin that garnished the dish.
Still insatiated, I salivated as stuffed chicken wings and Carolina gold rice were placed at the table. Chicken wings filled with a smooth chicken mousse with a sweet glaze proved to be one of the highlights of the brunch. While rice may seem to be a peculiar dish to order, Carolina gold rice is a specific breed that garners significant national attention for its flavor. Anson Mills, a seed restoration group, found and revived this heritage breed and distributes it to many of the United States best restaurants (notably, Husk). Thus, I was excited to see them on the menu with a soy butter. While it may not taste empirically different, I had a profound appreciation of the crop, which may have altered my perception of the dish.
After these courses, we added rounds of cabbage, leek, brined duck egg dumplings, lily shoots, and lo bok go, parsnip cakes. Dark green dumplings quickly reached the table, and we dived in. Freshly steamed, the dough was stickier than I was normally accustomed to but were appropriate to hold the looser filling. While the lo bok go were respectable, the accompanying fermented black beans were truly delicious. A light acidity complemented the natural creaminess, and I snacked on them thorough the meal. My favorite dish of the day was actually the lily shoots with fried shallots. Dark soy sauce provided the perfect salinity for the chewy but smooth shoots. I honestly was tempted to order more sets of lily shoots with rice but instead settled with the select dessert courses.
The fried sesame balls and egg custard tarts proved to be elevated versions, but nothing that truly affected me. Delicious and simple, we enjoyed them as a solid finish to the meal. Overall, I was slightly disappointed with the size of the dim sum and the unequal portions for the table. I expected that they could accommodate a table of 4, since that is a standard party number. Regardless, the dishes proved to be soundly delicious with a few notable standouts. Mei Mei is arguably one of the most important restaurants in Boston, and I am glad they decided to come nearby. Hopefully, they will return soon with yet another nuanced menu. Shepard is one of the newest restaurants in Cambridge, and I hope people will join them for dinner one day.
Location: 1 Shepard St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Reservation: OpenTable or Call (617)-714-5295
Location: 506 Park Dr, Boston, MA 02215
Reservation: Reserve or Call (857)-250-4959
Stand-Out Dishes: Lily Shoots, Carolina Gold Rice, Stuffed Chicken Wings
Overall Rating: 4/5
Atmosphere (Shepard): 5/5
Feel free to contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org with food musings, dining requests, or any restaurant advice!