A restaurant review my professor told me was "professional quality"
I, like most human beings who enjoy the finer things in life like sleep and breakfast foods, enjoy brunch. Even as I write this, Lia and I are making some now, a sweet potato hash with onions, garlic, vegetarian sausage, and of course, eggs.
For Lia's birthday last month, we were treated by her mother to our late morning meal at Banyan Bar + Refuge, one third of the restaurants owned by the Gallows Group. I love The Gallows and Blackbird Doughnuts (in case the above and below photos didn't give that away) but hadn't yet visited the Asian fusion member of the family.
I was excited as I'd heard wonderful things about the interior, and I suspected the food would live up to the standards of its kin. The brunch options were inventive, playful twists on classic dishes, but with enough new flavours to make them exciting.
I had to write a review of a restaurant for my food reporting class, and as it was fresh in my mind and my stomach, I put a few words together on my experience at Banyan Bar + Refuge. Here they are...
Everybody should serve noodle bowls for breakfast. That was my first thought after seeing the menu at Banyan Bar + Refuge, as the Sunrise Ramen sang to me from the top spot on the “plates” list. But before I could become completely enamoured with this smokey, porky, brothy indulgence, my eyes were dragged down the menu in my hands to a smothered breakfast burrito with egg fried rice, a miso butterscotch french toast, and an eggs benedict perched on top of a Blackbird doughnut. It was a good start.
Banyan Bar + Refuge, an Asian fusion sharing plates spot from The Gallows Group which opened in mid-2015, had a lot to live up to after the success of its siblings: Blackbird Doughnuts and The Gallows. Both have been crowed about — including by myself, and less important British person, Adele — but I’d heard more about the interior design at Banyan than I had the food.
My girlfriend and I were being treated to brunch by her mother, who was visiting the city. Everybody knows the best brunch is one you don’t have to pay for. Despite the frigid winter air blasting down Tremont Street, it didn’t take long to get comfortable in Banyan’s bright, woodsy, and striking interior. It was as if an art collector had painstakingly decorated a giant bird’s nest with tastefully selected works from frequent trips to Asia. It more than lived up to the hype, and had me looking for sticks on my way home to bundle and attach to my studio apartment’s ceiling.
As per usual with brunch menus, Banyan’s was noticeably smaller than their dinner offerings, but that didn’t mean it was any less perfectly curated. The dishes were both experimental and approachable. Far from simply dressing up classic dishes with organic ingredients and declaring them “New American,” chef Phillip Tang has taken many familiar dishes — like the ones I’d already spent time drooling over earlier in the piece — deconstructed them, and reassembled them with a complementary blend of Eastern and Western flavours.
The burrito ($16) was remarkable; hefty, and stuffed with chewy short rib, the aforementioned egg fried rice, and mild mozzarella to assist but not overwhelm the gojuchang salsa rosa. At the other end of the culinary spectrum, the Sunrise Ramen ($16) was transformed into a Western A.M. dish with the addition of a poached egg instead of a soft boiled one, but retained its familiar flavours with smoked pork and a filling miso broth.
The fairest complaint I could level at Banyan is that the vegetarian options are rather lacking. Tasty though it was, the Kimchi Grilled Cheese ($13) on thick white bread hardly appeals to anybody eschewing meat for health-conscious reasons. The only other meatless option — though pescatarian in truth — was the Everything Bagel + Lox ($15), a play on the kosher classic that was still a comedown from the decadence of some of the other items.
While the menu featured hardly the most adventurous of entrees, I really appreciated how Banyan’s food could appeal both those with bold and conservative palates. Some of the combos of sweet and savoury, Eastern and Western mashups didn’t initially sound like they’d work wonderfully, like the citrus yogurt which topped the Hash Brown ($7), served with a spicy tamarind ketchup. However, after trying it, the inventive tang just turned the typically bland breakfast potato side into a genuinely covetable “bite.”
That being said, if you are eating with your friend who only consumes chicken nuggets and fries, there is at least a Toaster Strudel ($6) spin, with a sweet butternut squash jam and brown butter icing. Jam is jam. And the doughnut in the Blackbird Benedict ($15) should excite any sane Bostonian.
Asian fusion food is hardly a novel concept in Boston in 2017. On paper, Banyan had a lot of hurdles to overcome. A fairly played out food trend, a location teeming with buzzing brunch spots, and two pillars of Boston dining to live up to. But Banyan stood out to me for doing everything extremely well.
The food speaks for itself with plenty of umami to go around, and the interior alone makes it worth a visit. But they also nailed the small touches, like leaving a jug of water at the table, allowing you to refill your own glass. The menu is definitely affordable compared to any other of the city’s brunch institutions. And I’m a sucker for the ability to book through the OpenTable app.
Much like The Gallows gastropub and upscale doughnuts at Blackbird, the concept for Banyan may not be exciting, but the experience certainly is.