Ready to roar? Tiffani Faison is.
Tomorrow, December 10, the three-time Top Chef alum opens her second Boston restaurant: Tiger Mama. It's just a few blocks from Sweet Cheeks Q, her perpetually jam-packed barbecue joint that debuted in 2011. Before opening Sweet Cheeks, Faison prepared by traveling the famed Texas BBQ Trail. Tiger Mama, however, takes its inspiration from the far-flung cuisines of Southeast Asia. The fabulous, funky decor certainly lends to the transporting experience. While you're waiting for the chance to sink your fangs into Faison's food, discover more about Tiger Mama's menu and interior in the slide show below.
1363 Boylston St.; 617-425-6262
It's been nearly a decade since Faison placed runner-up on the very first season of Top Chef. A lot has changed since then: she returned for the eighth "All-Stars" season, finished as runner-up again on the spin-off Top Chef Duels, opened Sweet Cheeks Q and, on the personal front, got married. In fact, it was a 2008 Thailand vacation with her now-wife, Kelly Walsh, that inspired Tiger Mama. "The food just blew the back of my head off," says Faison. "It was so sharp, so dynamic. I think it can be the best food in the world if done right." The idea for Tiger Mama was born then, but Faison and Walsh (a co-owner in the restaurant) took another sojourn through Southeast Asia last year, revisiting Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam for some additional inspiration.
Behold! The beautiful space is a serious jaw-dropper. The restaurant seats 135 in varying formations that suit guests' whims. You can tuck into a booth with rough-hewn wood tables, opt for a communal table with an immediate kitchen view or grab a seat at a high-top table, where a convenient Lazy Susan will let you swap and share plates without ever saying, "Pass the soy sauce, please."
Tiger Mama isn't aiming to be a bastion of tradition. Faison says she wants to "respectfully interpret" Southeast Asian cuisine, rather than simply recreate traditional recipes. “Tiger Mama is about being respectful of the flavors and presenting them in a beautiful way. But it’s still the food interpreted through my eyes. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
The menu is divided into eight different sections, including "Cold & Fresh." There you'll find this chile-spiced short-rib crudo ($13) served with an herb salad, black vinaigrette and charred leeks.
Faison called in a strong culinary teammate, chef de cuisine Mike Stark, formerly of Coppa and Toro. Together they'll turn out eats like these sticky ginger wings ($9), one of the menu's "Crispy & Spicy" selections.
The space boasts two bars. This one, dubbed the "tiki bar," is tucked in the rear of the dining room, and will focus on shaved-ice cocktails. The space glows from copper cut-outs of palm tree leaves — which, incidentally, could easily be mistaken for tiger stripes. (We like what you did there, guys.)
From the menu's "Rich & Earthy" section comes the Bun Cha Hanoi ($13), crispy pork rolls with sour broth, grilled pork patties and a lettuce and herb bundle.
A living green wall grows herbs plucked for use by the kitchen. Looks pretty nifty too.
Shrimp Saigon ($19), anyone? They're coconut marinated and treated with a fish sauce–tomato vinaigrette.
Beat a path over and get your hands on these Khao Soi Chicken Drums ($11), braised crispy chicken with khao soi broth, pickled greens and shallots.
Thai proverbs are scripted on the wall by the front bar, seen here, designed in an abstract boat shape. Full speed ahead, Faison.