Absent rice, we are to fill up on noodles. Besides the square, hand-cut pasta, there are broad noodles like whole wheat chow fun, and “short noodles” like barrels of gnocchi, only fried to a browned near-crisp. When I found myself picking the short noodles out of the topping of shitake mushrooms, onions, greens, and roll-cut carrots ($9), I suspected that the dish was too complicated for its own good.
I had a smoother but similar experience with the flat noodles under crab, corn, squid, and mixed vegetables ($11). The one that worked was smoked tofu, with a poached egg, green beans, eggplant, sliced tomato, and a bit of ginger ($9). The egg was clearly made by a real chef, since the white was done in the shape of a football around a liquid yolk. The combination was as Italian as Asian, but the smoked tofu held it together.
Of the cocktails, I can vouch for Number 1, which is grapefruit-infused vodka, pink-grapefruit juice, and some jasmine tea ($11). It isn’t sweet, too sour, or alcoholic smelling. It’s a little dangerous is what it is, a quaffable cocktail that goes with food. The logical drink with this food is beer, and there are a few draughts and some clever bottles. Brooklyn lager ($7/16 ounces) comes in a can now, and it is still on the malty side of microbrews. Mayflower IPA ($6) from guess where is much more flowery aromatic and hoppy bitter. Even better with food. The other classic would be tea ($4), here made from loose tea by Mem, of which the Ma Feng green is pleasantly if surprisingly astringent; the ginger lemon is whistle clean; and the roasted Oolong, a specialty of Taiwan, is actually toasty and my pick.
There are no desserts, but the chef sent out four little cubes of white cake, exactly as much dessert as we could take by then. Service at ExNE is excellent. Our server knew the menu and paced the small plates into flights that made sense. The room is not large, but despite a semi-open kitchen, and the kitchen’s contribution of loud alt-rock to the ambience, it isn’t unduly loud. It is dark in spots, although again our server finds us a well-lit table early on a weeknight.
Robert Nadeau can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.