A single appetizer laid these misgivings to rest: Tiger’s Tears ($10), a Cambodian salad of charred skirt steak with a bit of a caramelized glaze and three colors of bell peppers, all cut into thin strips, dressed with fish sauce, lime juice, and sliced fresh bird chilies, brightened with chopped cilantro and Thai basil, and given a starry speckle with ground toasted rice. This was beautiful to behold, nearly incendiary enough to induce the proverbial tears, and symphonic in its interplay of sweet and tart and savory, of gentle vegetal crunch, beefy chew, and grainy grit.
I was further won over by dishes like Hakka eggplant ($7), a slightly oily stir-fry with piercing notes of chili, star anise, and garlic; crunchy and cool celery and edamame slaw ($4); and braised pork-belly buns ($8), fatty slabs of fresh bacon wedged into doughy bao with cucumber strips and hoisin for sweet contrast. In the end, though, it was that extraordinary steak salad that convinced me that Myers + Chang was bringing as much care and craft to its food as it had to its meticulously honed image.
Steak tips at NewBridge Café
650 Washington Avenue, Chelsea | newbridgecafe.com | 617.884.0134
To date, the NewBridge Café is the lone reason I’ve uncovered to visit Chelsea for dinner. It’s a venerable old tavern of the sort that attracts successive generations of diners. (“Your grandpa brought me here, son, and I expect you’ll bring your kids here someday. Now run down the spa and get me some scratchies.”) Further, I’ve only ever ordered one thing from its menu: steak tips ($13.95). That’s twice what it cost me on my first trip, four presidents ago. The 12-ounce portion is no longer a spectacular deal, but it does come with a sizable, overdressed iceberg salad or side of ziti.
These are inarguably great tips, long-bathed in a secret marinade, the recipe for which inspires much speculation. (One rumor claims it includes ketchup, Coca-Cola, and bottled Italian dressing.) The NewBridge describes its tips as “sirloin,” but that strikes me as too costly for this rickety neighborhood joint. I suspect instead that it’s flap steak, an extension of the T-bone and Porterhouse cuts from the short loin. Flap has the virtue of being cheap and very tasty, but it’s also tough, and so benefits from long marinating followed by high-heat dry grilling, as is expertly done here. The NewBridge remains a bit of a dive, though the statewide smoking ban immeasurably improved its air quality (everyone smoked here back in the day, right through dinner — even the 12 year olds). If you do one thing really well (and by all accounts, straying from the tips menu here is a gamble), a bit of grittiness can be a welcome part of the experience. Add the NewBridge to your list of frozen-in-amber working-class saloons — like East Boston’s Santarpio’s — that you really should visit before they vanish and take their simple, satisfying specialties with them. If you’re a steak lover on a budget, this one’s worth venturing into the wilds of Chelsea.