It speaks realms as to how good Uncle Boon's is for catapulting me out of the sour mood I amassed waiting for table... or actually more precisely waiting for my friend that made it so that we had to wait for a table. And honestly, the wait wasn't that long, but since they do not (understandably) seat incomplete parties, waiting for my tardy second half (who had disconcertingly left for the restaurant before I did) mounted my irritation. There're no reservations at Uncle Boon's, but that should not give you reservations about going. Head in on the early side of things and you can circumvent too extenuated of a wait- although they'll prove your wait worth your while in the end.
Dark and cavernous, the room was already bustling by seven, but there were tables to be had. Had my dining companion exhibited any sort of punctuality, we would have been seated instantaneously. Instead, we suffered a bit of a wait: there is the option of giving your number to the receptionist and while away your time at Sweet & Vicious next door, if that's up your alley. Otherwise, we stood outside in the refreshing briskness until it got a little too brisk, and then transferred inside for the remainder to join the bump and grind of the vivacious bar scene. Our fifteen minutes passed and the receptionist notified us that after another ten our table would be ready, then ushered us into a cozy back room (watch your head on that chandelier) and into a comfortable crimson leather booth.
Even longer longer than the wait to be seated was the amount of time it took to decide what to order: pretty much everything looks outstanding. We decided on a few dishes, figuring we could always add more. But the one thing that really bugged me is that in the small-plates dining format, one dish should not have to sing
book. After a spell, we were bequeathed a deceptively beige dish of traditional crab fried rice, that seemed less fried than a moist and pliant pilaf, rife with enormous chunks of mild crab meat and scented with lime and generous tufts of cilantro. Cilantro is Boon's parsley: it's on pretty much everything and improves pretty much everything. Although the crispy duck leg in soy anise broth was hard to improve upon. Duck, not being my favorite protein, was lean and fall-off-the-bone tender, and the broth was so profoundly delicious it begged for a more efficient method of consumption, but we made due with the wide
soup spoons. I also had to wonder why more things don't use duck broth, although the flavor was decidedly richer and deeper than ubiquitous chicken broth. Caramelized tangerine added a toasty, sweet tang to its umami-richness.
Sauteed water spinach with garlic, yellow soybeans and chilies made a fantastic counter to the fried rice, although it arrived halfway after we were done with it. You get a lot of it as a side
dish, easily shareable by two if not more, which might be deceptive from its price tag of six dollars. Alternatively, broiled bay scallops in a chuu chee sauce screamed out for plain white rice, its creamy, coconut-thickened curry tamping the intensity of its fire, but once it came forth, it came on like a
bulldozer. Spicy water spinach isn't the best counter for its forceful heat, but we hardly needed to order rice with the abudance of comestables already on the table.... except for that strangely enough, we weren't really unthinkably full. In fact, as the scallops arrived, my companion (not such a fan of their spiciness) decided he still had room for another dish, and we couldn't resist the crispy skate, given its designation as a Traditional Celebratory Food. Uncles Boon's does feel like a celebration. Although it took so long for the skate to arrive that the rest of our vittles finally hit their destination, and we were hardly hungry enough to even make a dent in the ruthlesslessly funky concoction. The wild ginger sauce, bean sprouts and herbs were overshadowed by pungent fermented cabbage and a tangle of miniscule, potent baby mackerels, with their crooked little inch-long bodies and macabre, jaw-dominated heads, although they were conveniently cordoned off to the side in order to be able to nudge them into forkfuls to taste (for which mine needed little). Slithery rice noodles buoyed the fish above the brashly seasoned broth.
tangy and pungent in that mysteriously briney Southeast Asian fashion, garnished with a halved, hard-cooked egg whose yolk was almost candied to a brilliant yellow. I'm not sure what this dish celebrates, but its no typical American holiday. It's exotic and foreign, like the pagan roots of Halloween. Intriguing and tantalizing, if not necessarily something you'd want to eat every day.
As for dessert, on the other hand, the warm, bruleed tapioca pudding IS something I could imagine consuming daily- or at least frequently. I'm not sure I've ever had a warm tapioca, and this treatment with its candied brown-sugar crust contrasted an earthy, porridge-y flavor, enhanced by a smattering of fresh, ruby pomegranate seeds. A slightly less sweet version would be a respectable breakfast, and we had stayed so long it was about to become that. Boon's is a fooderati's hotspot, but it retains a homey coziness above all that buzz: literally, a boon on all fronts.