Watertown, MA: The Grilled Romaine Salad (and Other Hits) at Strip-T's
I'd never met a salad with such a reputation. Of all the tempting dishes at Strip-T's, the Watertown lunch-counter-turned-fine-dining-gem by Momofuku alum Tim Maslow, the Grilled Romaine Salad with Oxtail and Poached Egg ($12) is what my trusted dining-out sources were raving about most. A few bites in, I had to agree. It was stunning.
Maslow, who returned from New York last year to shake up the dinner menu at his dad's 25-year-old diner, lightly chars whole romaine hearts, which creates that fresh-and-crunchy meets smoky-and-faintly-bitter relationship—a brilliant reminder that these hearty lettuce leaves also make a great grilled vegetable. The braised oxtail is plush and ultra-beefy, but also mysteriously bright and tangy. Fellow Serious Eaters Kate Shannon and Mari Levine wondered if there's lemongrass in there, which I could see; several of Maslow's dishes hint at the Asian kitchen he came from. Or perhaps it was the acid in chili vinaigrette. Either way, the meat juices, vinaigrette, and oozy egg yolk combined for the world's most decadent salad dressing.
But after all that, the salad wasn't even my favorite dish of the night. That title went to the pasta special: housemade garganelli tubes with chicken wings, blistered cherry tomatoes, pickled turnips, and radishes ($15). It's a pretty dish, isn't it? An impressive arrangement of what I guessed were a lot of leftover ingredients. (Chicken wings are another of Maslow's signature dishes.) But aesthetics aside, it didn't look that flavorful, at least in terms of a sauce. Well, it was. In fact, it was one of the most savory pasta dishes I'd ever had. Picture the best, most concentrated roast chicken you've ever had, and then imagine someone squeezing that flavor all over the pasta. That's what I kept thinking as I scooped up every last morsel.
Two other great hits: the grilled summer squashes sauced with green tomato chutney and Fresno chiles ($8), and the eggplant banh mi ($9). Like the grilled romaine, the squashes (mostly the dense, creamy pattypan variety) had seen just enough grill time to render them smoky but still crisp-tender, and paired perfectly with the sweet-tangy chutney and mild heat of the Fresno salsa.
The banh mi was anything but authentic, but there's a reason it's gaining a cult following of its own around town: Loaded onto an Iggy's baguette with tiles of crispy tofu and strips of roasted Japanese eggplant coated in a salty-sweet sauce that reminded me of hoisin, mayo, pickled carrots, and cilantro, it was really tasty.
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.