New England Regional | tastes and tables
Burgers, Fries, and Kohlrabi Remoulade
A Watertown luncheonette morphs into a stellar restaurant
Strip T’s, which sits next to a convenience store on a busy street, not far from the Arsenal Mall, is a welcome antidote to the market-research-driven restaurants that often pass as “fine dining”—even in Boston.
Thank goodness for the outliers. Paul Maslow ran this very popular local haunt for more than 20 years. He served typical American fare: burgers, fries, soups, chicken wings, and Caesar salad, along with a sirloin-strip sandwich (for which the restaurant was named). His son, Tim, grew up there, of course, then moved on to train at the French Culinary Institute. Rising through the ranks of professional kitchens, he became chef de cuisine at David Chang’s famous Momofuku Ssäm Bar in New York—before returning in 2011 to cook in Watertown.
Since then, Strip T’s has been reincarnated. Theoretically, the father runs the lunches while the son takes on dinners, although overlap occurs. Thankfully, they kept the unassuming décor: a counter and stools, linoleum floors, red laminate-topped tables, and tin ceilings. (Visitors must experience the bathroom, a.k.a. “throne room,” in the basement.) Instead, they innovated where it counts: in the food. Vibrant and complex, the often Asian-infused cuisine is based on the old luncheonette menu, at least in name.
Try the soup of the day. We had the chilled summer-squash soup ($9): chunks of smoky roasted zucchini and yellow squash in a refreshing lemony yellow purée tasting of fruity olive oil, mint, and parsley. A dollop of harissa, a North African pepper paste, lent zing. The kohlrabi remoulade ($8), comprised strips of raw vegetable, sliced green onion, and diced gravlax slickened with buttermilk dressing, was a cooling complement.
The salad also teamed well with Tim Maslow’s version of chicken wings with “Moxie® sauce” ($9). This poultry is not dumped in a fryer, then doused with Tabasco®. Rather, it’s first cured overnight in sugar and salt, simmered, then seared on the grill. The sauce, which should be bottled and sold at the register, is made of an Indonesian chili paste and Moxie, the gentian root-based official soft drink of Maine. When eaten, the lean, crisp wings have a unique burnt-sugar BBQ flavor.
Maslow also spins the mussels ($19) his way. Steamed, then sautéed in an umami-flavored broth, they are thickly layered with crisp onions that lend texture and contrast to the sweet meat. Underneath all is a mellow potato purée. Also of note is the banh mi (Vietnamese-style) sandwich ($10): slabs of fried tofu and blackened Japanese eggplant (a sweeter variety) are layered on a toasted baguette among cilantro, pickles, shredded carrots, and a hoisin-like spicy sauce.
Desserts are just as novel. The sugar-glazed brioche donut filled with rhubarb-infused cream ($8) is topped with fresh herbs, like yarrow and ox-eyed daisy, that add bitter, dry notes. The coconut suman ($8), a Filipino dish made of sticky white rice, came in squares with ripe mango slices and shards of salty, tortilla-like crunchies. Shavings of dehydrated black vinegar were sprinkled around the plate.
Any change is difficult, especially for a popular restaurant that is also a family business. Yet it appears that the Maslows are working it all out—much to our benefit.