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Phantom Gourmet: Sumiao Hunan Kitchen In Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE - Big, bold flavors in a dining room that is bright and lively. If you are looking to light up your palate and your mood, look no further than Sumiao Hunan Kitchen.

Located in busy Kendall Square in Cambridge, Sumiao Hunan Kitchen is the brainchild of Sumiao Chen, an enthusiastic restauranteur and scientist who wanted to bring the flavors of her homeland to the masses of Cambridge. Being the daughter of one of China's most celebrated painters, Sumiao, which means 'sketch' in Chinese, decided to deck the place out in her father's artwork.

There are cool modern touches like brightly colored chairs, funky lighting, floor to ceiling windows, and a fun bar where they shake up Asian inspired cocktails.

"The restaurant is very colorful. Hunan is just a very colorful city itself. People there are hot, and dishes there are hot," said Manager Zimu Chen. "That's what is reflected here. Everything here is designed to be a destination, not just for food. It's for a whole experience."

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Zimu and Sumiao hope to test the palates of the people of Cambridge and beyond with real deal authentic Chinese flavors. So Phantom accepted that challenge in search of The Perfect Meal.

The appetizer section ranges from conventional to crazy, with offerings like Squishy Scallion Twisty Rolls to Garlic Calamari topped with red and green peppers. There are tasty on-the-bone apps like Chinese BBQ style ribs slowly braised in a five spice broth and stir fried with chili pepper and cumin; and the taste bud tantalizing Nom Numb Wings.

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Phantom Gourmet
Nom Numb Wings at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

"We bread the chicken wings, lightly fry it for about three to five minutes, take it out, and then stir fry to add the flavor on there," Zumo described. "A little bit of dry chili pepper, a little bit of Szechuan peppercorn oil, and little bit of the garlic flavor. The Numb itself actually is from the Szechuan peppercorn. It's a little tingly feeling that will spice up your appetite."

While the wings may take your mouth by surprise, the Freestyle Meatballs will make your jaw drop. These crunchy spheres of goodness are made with a blend of tofu, fish, and pork, and coated with a thick bread crumb, creating an app that's not only interesting to look at - it blows all other meatballs out of the water.

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Phantom Gourmet
Freestyle Meatballs at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

"It's not like your average meatball. Not like a spaghetti meatball, not like a Chinese meatball. It's a bit of both," Zumo said. "It's sort of light but savory dish because of the fish. It provides a little sweetness and because of the pork it creates a savory flavor to it."

If dumplings are more your thing, Sumiao has you covered with hand rolled snacks that are made right before your eyes in the open kitchen. There is an addictive pork gyoza served with a five spice dipping sauce.

"We put them in the steamer for about five minutes. We just lightly pan sear it, so the bottom is nice and crispy. When you bite into, the juice literally shoots in your mouth," Zumo said.

If you are adventurous, try the Pork Soup Bao. Made from scratch and served in a steamer, these liquid and pork filled baos are as tasty as are they are fun to eat. Zumo demonstrated.

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Phantom Gourmet
Pork Soup Bao at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

"You gently pick up the soup bao itself, place it on the spoon, dip in the vinegar and ginger sauce, bite on the top. Enjoy the soup and you finish the whole thing up."

You can always find a flurry of chefs and plenty of fire back in the kitchen cooking all of those authentic entrees, fast and fresh.

There is Grandma's Pork, a traditional Hunan recipe made with thick sliced pork belly, green peppers and scallions; Chicken with shiitake mushrooms sautéed and served in an adorable hot pot; and something called Beef on Fire which combines flank steak with banana peppers for a dish that is as tasty as it is well balanced.

The ultimate entree has to be Sumiao's Steak Tips. Made in the Hunan style, these tips aren't like anything you have ever tried.

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Phantom Gourmet
Sumiao Steak Tips at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

"We use the finest strip loin," Zumo said, "flavored with honey, black pepper, and little bit of soy sauce glaze, bell peppers, and little white beech mushroom. The beech mushroom creates this nice soft, but tender sweetness to the dish. It's quite addicting."

After you light up your taste buds with all of that traditional fare, cool things off with the Exotic Bomba for dessert. This sweet sphere contains raspberry, mango, and passionfruit on the inside, with a white chocolate shell.

Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, Phantom Gourmet
Exotic Bomba at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen (Image: Phantom Gourmet)

The Freestyle Meatball. Pork Soup Bao. Hunan Steak Tips and the Exotic Bomba make for The Perfect Meal at Sumiao Hunan Kitchen. You can find it at 270 Third Street in Cambridge, and online at

Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.

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