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Restaurant Review: Zoe's Gourmet Chinese Cuisine

I should already be a regular here. Zoe's is a mere thirteen-minute walk from my door - less if I take the sketchy Fraggle Rock-painted tunnel from Somerville Avenue - and it is fantastic. I can't believe it took me so long to try it out. I'd heard that Zoe's serves fairly authentic Sichuan and Hunan cuisine, two types of Chinese food that tend towards the hot and spicy side, my favorite. Due to its proximity and promise of spiciness, I had a good feeling about it.

When my boyfriend and I walked in late on a Monday night, it was completely empty, which made us a bit uneasy, but it was an odd time for dinner, after all. The location is fairly hidden as well; Zoe's takes up residence on the stretch of Beacon St. where you can find Petsi Pies, Pho 'n Rice, and R.F. O'Sullivan's, probably the busiest part of the neighborhood but still relatively unknown to outsiders.

We decided to split our order between something a bit adventurous from the more authentic-sounding dishes and something more Americanized. We settled on an order of Hunan-style spicy fried frog and and an order of strawberry chicken, preceded by steamed juicy pork buns. When we ordered the frog, our server seemed hesitant and asked how spicy we wanted it, warning that it could be really hot. It took a little convincing, but I think we persuaded her that we wanted it as spicy as it was meant to be served.

One messy bite into the buns and we were hooked on Zoe's. By the time we finished the thin dumplings, which were packed with pork and seasoned broth, we were already feeling pleasantly full. The strawberry chicken arrived; it was very much like the American-Chinese staple General Gau's chicken, but with strawberries. I've had plenty of tasty General Gau's before, but this was a huge step up. It was so light and airy and perfectly crispy that it must have been triple-fried or made with a magical mystery ingredient. It was very sweet, which countered the spicy frog well. As requested, they didn't hold back on the spice in the frog dish. It was right around our upper comfort level as far as heat goes, just the right amount of challenge balanced with good flavor. The heat was also high temperature-wise; it was served in a metal pot heated from below, so it kept sizzling for a long time after it reached the table.

Uncomfortably full by the end, we waddled home thoroughly satisfied. The service was very friendly - hopefully not just because we were the only ones there - and the food was so good that we definitely overate. The menu is a good balance of the "Chinese" food that Americans have come to expect as well as more authentic dishes, and I look forward to venturing further into the Sichuan and Hunan dishes, although admittedly the pork kidneys, tripe, and intestines are a bit beyond my comfort zone. There's also a small dim sum section of the menu which I plan to eat my way through entirely.

Even before our meal ended, we decided that we'll be regulars at Zoe's.

Hours: Sun to Thurs, 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.; Fri to Sat 11 :30 a.m . - 11 :00 p.m.

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