As the Beijing Olympics approach, it’s a good time to note that China’s vast culinary landscape stretches well beyond the Cantonese cuisine most familiar to Americans. Northern and eastern China restaurants are rare enough here that most Americans have only tasted “Mandarin” fare, a bastardized form of Beijing imperial cuisine. Beijing Star offers an authentic introduction to the everyday food of the north and east of China, built around the handmade noodles, turnovers, dumplings, filled buns, and flatbread wraps of cooler climates where wheat takes precedence over rice. But you have to know the magic words “Pink menu, please,” as the beige menu first offered is full of dull American-Chinese fare.
That pink menu and the foyer’s whiteboard offer dishes like round fried-beef pancakes ($5.50/two) and crescent-shaped chive pie ($4.95/two) with black-vinegar dip. These starters show off the kitchen’s excellent frying technique, boasting thick, beautifully browned, chewy wheat-dough wrappers. Shredded pork with sliced pancake ($8.95) has the gentler chewiness of fresh whole-wheat pasta. A stir-fry of lamb with scallion ($12.95) offers very tender, thinly sliced lamb and the bracing zip of fresh ginger. Dry-sautéed shredded eel ($14.95) has a bit of chili fire and the rich flavor of the freshwater eel prized in Shanghai. Lamb soup with shao-ping ($8.95), a hearty stew whose offal-y ingredients probably don’t bear close scrutiny, has a gorgeous broth for soaking the accompanying dense whole-wheat roll. The menu’s short Sichuan section has one standout: steamed sliced beef ($12.95), featuring the unique sting of real Sichuan peppercorns.
A breather from these heartier dishes can be found in the featherweight baby shrimp with chive scrambled egg ($11.95), sautéed Chinese okra ($8.95), and Shanghai cabbage ($8.50) with black mushrooms, baby choy, and gelatinous mushroom caps in a glossy, mild sauce. For a less elaborate feast, a simple bowl of soup noodles with shredded pork ($6.95) is as humbly heartwarming as a one-dish meal can be, especially if you specify “home-style” noodles. These thick, irregular noodles, hand-sliced off a block of dough, yield fantastic textural variety by the spoonful. I suspect that bread- and pasta-loving Americans will find Beijing Star’s food simultaneously strange and oddly familiar — and indisputably delicious and comforting, even without the rice.
Beijing Star, located at 835 Main Street, in Waltham, is open Sunday through Thursday, from 11:30 am to 10 pm, and Friday and Saturday, from 11:30 am to 11 pm. Call 781.642.8888.