Sunday, July 17, 2011

Boston Bargains: Wai Wai Restaurant

Wai Wai is an adventure. Wai Wai is fun to say. Wai Wai is no joke. It's kind of absurd the first time that you're brought here by someone who says that they know "a really great place." It's almost baffling if you're trying to find the joint on your own, and you stumble upon a small sign, just down the way from a hair dresser, and head down into a basement where it feels a little like you're about to get Shanghaied or put into a bathtub full of ice and your organs cut out and sold on the black market or something equally as grisly. And just to add to the fun of the entire experience, every time I walk in, and approach the small counter to order, all I can think is, "Man, this lady hates me so bad." Yeah, it's that kind of experience... but the payoff is huge, and frankly, the whole scary, murky, mean, dungeon thing in the end is kind of charming, like you're in on a big secret or part of a club that knows about  a codeword back room or something.
Now after you muster enough courage to head down the stairs and into the teeny restaurant, the first thing you'll see a counter, the right side a glass case where they hang the various roasted meats, as well as prep the plates, and the left where you order. Further to the left and back of the restaurant there are a handful of tables. But now it's time to walk up to the counter, and do what you came here to do.

The lady stands sternly looking down at her work, ignoring you until the last possible moment. After an, "ahem," she'll bark a "what you want?" And you, feeling a little less confident, but wanting to get the job done, will say "I'll have the duck/boneless chicken plate with vegetables and rice." She'll say, "to go," and you'll confirm "yes," because honestly all the fellas sitting around the room are kind of shocked to see you in here again anyway. Then you'll step back, either to make room for other warrior diners or simply to get out of harms way. 
The strong, silent-type gentleman behind the glass will now spring into action. Grabbing a Styrofoam box, and adding first a generous heap of white rice, and then your veggies of the day (mostly sauteed Chinese broccoli from what I can tell) to one side of the container.

Now comes the interesting part:

If you've ordered the duck, a roasted duck, the color of dark maple syrup, will come down from where it hangs above where he works. He'll chop off the bits not to be used in your plate, but puts them aside for use in a stock or soup. He'll carve out a good quarter of the duck, chopping straight through bone, a few organs, and skin to give you a generous portion of deliciously prepared fowl. Now, just a fair word of warning: the duck meat is a little hard to navigate within the plate since each chunk he has portioned out will include the tender, juicy, roasted meat, a bit of that fatty, savory skin, maybe a few bits of the minerally liver or heart if you're lucky, but also the proper section of bone that was attached to all of the above. So the duck plate may not be appropriate for you to say, bring into a meeting with a bunch of coworkers you just met. But if you can sit down at your desk and get your hands a little messy for a few minutes, the duck is rich and delicious, and certainly a treat during the work week.
If you're not up for the duck for whatever reason, you have a fantastic alternative: the boneless chicken. Just as with the duck, you're going to get vegetables and rice, however, the gentleman behind the counter will remove the bones from your succulent white chicken breast and slice it into glistening, savory bites that are easy to navigate and perhaps even meeting friendly. I believe that the chicken is prepared Hainanese style, which I think involves boiling the bird to produce a flavorful broth, and later dropping in an ice bath to get the skin to have a gelatinous texture. Just to clarify, I recommended the boneless chicken, mainly because it's easier to eat and the juicy texture of the meat is pretty incredible, but if you're feeling saucy, I will also encourage getting a chicken plate with bones as to experience that salty, cool, fatty-part-of-bacon-textured skin. Not for everyone... but I like it.
But we're not done yet, after the man has added your rice, veggies, and either chicken or duck, he'll ladle a generous scoop of a rich broth that must have been produced from many of the bits left over from the roasted birds and pork cooked at the restaurant. This broth is sloshed over your veggies, meat, and rice, and then as a final step, he'll go ahead and dollop a little spoonful of a sort of mysterious, neon-green, spring onion/onion sauce onto your meat. 
The box is then handed to the lady you first ordered from. If you're smart, you'll have your money ready to go immediately after you order. I don't know why, but I feel like whatever I order, it's always $6.25. As she's sealing up your container, quickly dive in with authority: "Can I have hot sauce?" Yes, there will be a pile of teeny little hot chili flake hot sauce containers in front of her behind the glass. With a stone cold stare, you'll either get your little hot sauce, or she'll look extra aggravated, "what?!" And then you'll just have to point down at the little containers, and say "hot sauce?" and she'll probably concede and throw it into the little plastic bag containing all your other stuff.
At this point you'll probably dash out of the basement restaurant faster than if they just doused you with gasoline and set your privates aflame. It's not their fault, and I'm gonna blame myself each and every time. They're probably really nice people, especially since they produce such incredible food. But man alive, do they scare the shit out of me every time I feel the calling of the Wai Wai monster. Just the same, delicious food... super cheap... freshly prepared... and just plain special.

Location & Detail Rundown:

26 Oxford Street
Boston, MA 02111
Recommendation: Duck or Boneless Chicken Plate with Vegetables
Note: I hear they have a pork plate too, but never quite get beyond the fowl offerings.

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