SOUTH BOSTON – In South Boston, Phantom found some of the tastiest and creative food he’s seen in a long time, and the chef behind it is full of surprises. As the owner of Moonshine 152, Asia Mei is one of the city’s best young chefs, but she certainly hasn’t taken the most traditional path to get to where she is today.
Asia grew up as an elite gymnast in Silicon Valley, studied Biology and Economics at Boston College, and has done Martial Arts stunt work in Hollywood films. But the first time she stepped foot into a restaurant kitchen, she was hooked.
“When I saw the professional kitchen, I saw the hierarchy; I saw everybody running around like crazy, but at the same time, I saw people working with fire, with food, in an active crazy environment, but in a way where you contributed to a team, and that was something that really, really spoke to me.”
Because Asia has worked her way up through some of Boston’s best kitchens, she’s a chef who can hold her own, no matter how crazy it can get.
“I like rising to the challenge and I feel like kitchens are certainly a good source of challenges. So, it keeps you on your toes, but in a good way,” she said.
Asia describes Moonshine 152 as a Modern American restaurant, a real neighborhood place where the atmosphere is laid back, but quality of the food is taken very seriously. The menu is the culmination of Asia’s culinary journey to this point.
“I like to say that the type of food that we do here is very reflective of my background, and my background in terms of how I learned to cook, where I learned to cook. I grew up in California, so what I grew up eating was a lot of just wonderful Asian food, really great Mexican Latin American flavors. But, the thing is, I learned how to cook here in New England. So I was able to really steep a lot my background with proper technique, but then I ended up missing the flavors of back at home.”
So she created a menu filled with local, seasonal ingredients cooked up with the Asian and Latin American flavors she loves, like the outstanding Grilled Skirt Steak Nachos.
“We took a wonderful cut of skirt steak; we flash grill that to order. It gets served over a bed of nachos with a heavy amount of pepper jack cheese melted all over it; and then we just kind of went over the top by adding all of our favorite salsas,” she described. “It gets topped with sour cream, scallions, and a fried egg. It’s a pile of food, and it’s all these different colors, all these different textures, and really the best way to do it is to just get into it with both hands.”
Another messy mash up is the Korean BBQ Tacos, with short rib, Asian pear kimchi, and candied ginger aioli.
“It’s just a great snack because it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s sweet, spicy, salty, rich. It’s approachable, it’s fun, it’s different, but at the same time, it’s a taco,” Asia said.
Like any great neighborhood spot, Moonshine 152 has dishes that can be a quick snack, or a full-on feast. There’s Housemade Pickles and Fried Olives, Pan Seared Scallops atop Street Corn Salad, an ever-changing Burger of the Month, and Buttermilk Fried Chicken Wings with a poblano ranch sauce.
“The first thing that you taste when you taste it, is you’re gonna get a little bit of the poblano ranch on the bottom. And then you get into that really crispy texture of the buttermilk batter. Once you bite into it and the meat starts falling off the bone, it’s just to me, the perfect bite of fried chicken,” Asia said.
The only thing more perfect might be to finish the meal with a bowl a Butterscotch Pudding, topped with Chantilly creme and toasted amaranth crumble.
“Everybody says the same thing when they eat it. They always just take a spoonful and they think, ‘Wow, this brings me back to when I was a kid.’ That’s all we are trying to do. We’re not trying to recreate the wheel.”
On Saturday and Sunday, Moonshine serves what’s quickly become a very popular brunch, due in no small part to the outrageous Tater Tot Poutine with Red-eye Gravy, Green Onions, Chinese Sausage, and Chopped White Cheese.
Of all the great dishes coming out of the kitchen, there’s one that’s not available at brunch or dinner. The Dirty Fried Rice is only served late night – from 10 p.m. until 1:30 a.m.
“My entire life, this has been my perfect late night snack,” Asia explained. “It’s something that just satisfies on a different level, especially after ten o’clock. It’s something that was inspired, quite honestly, by my mom’s fried rice that I grew up eating. So she always just made the perfect fried rice and it was stir fried fresh with Chinese sausage, spicy pickles, scrambled eggs, scallions, and then just a little bit of soy sauce to finish. It’s really bright; it’s really light.”
No matter how late you get a craving for great food, Asia wants to be there, which is why she stays open so late and why she named the restaurant Moonshine.
“We are here until 2 in the morning every night. We work by the light of the moon, and so I always just wanted to create a neighborhood spot where, when the sun went down, everybody knew where to go for a great gathering place. And that’s why we are here.”
You can Moonshine 152 at 152 Dorchester Ave. in South Boston, and online at moonshine152.com.
Watch Phantom Gourmet on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 and 11 a.m. on myTV38.