The heart of the Fenway area now houses the latest creation of culinary powerhouse Tiffani Faison: Tiger Mama. Considered one of the most anticipated openings in the country by food review Web site Zagat.com, Tiger Mama, the brainchild of three-time Top Chef alumna Faison, is one of the newest Southeast Asian restaurants to open in the city. Located on the same block as her award-winning and critically acclaimed Sweet Cheeks, and adjacent to parts of Boston University and Northeastern University, it aims to appeal to the younger urban crowd. But, its family-style menu options and tables equipped with Lazy Susan revolving trays also make it the perfect place for family dinners.
Inspired by Faison’s travels to Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam, the menu consists of nearly 40 medium-sized plates as well as larger banquet-style platters. Prior to opening Tiger Mama, Tiffani Faison and her wife re-visited Southeast Asia to master the region’s authentic recipes and cooking techniques. After perfecting both barbeque and European cuisine, Faison considers learning the Southeast Asian culinary language and cooking method the most difficult aspect of opening Tiger Mama. Faison also explained to the Boston Globe that in learning a new cooking style, she had to remain open to self-teaching and ample experimentation.
The funky, modern décor classifies Tiger Mama as a tropical getaway destination rather than as a restaurant in downtown Boston. The palm trees, beautiful food presentation, and elaborate Tiki bar only add to the transporting experience. There is an array of seating options, including seating arrangements at two different bars, booths, high-top tables, and tables with a clear kitchen view. Although the restaurant can comfortably accommodate 135 people and is open every day, reservations are highly recommended, especially on the weekends.
Tiger Mama’s objective is “not to re-create traditional recipes, but to respectfully interpret them, and have some fun doing so,” according to its website. While maintaining the flavors of Southeast Asian cuisine, Faison has added her own flare to the traditional recipes. She hopes that the menu can accommodate both Asian food enthusiasts and those who are less experimental by nature. At the same time, the dynamic varieties really inspire and encourage customers to step outside of their comfort zones. In an interview with The Boston Globe, Faison said, “[We aim] to allow people to feel like they can find their place here, a door into these flavors.”
Tiger Mama recommends ordering about two to four dishes per person to try a variety of flavors and experience a true family-style dining experience. The employees serve the plates sporadically throughout the course of the meal and purposefully group certain dishes together to enhance the combination of flavors like the staff at most tapas restaurants. The amount of care and consideration the chef puts into the presentation of the food is apparent. Digging into a platter of lobster rolls feels like carving off a piece of Michelangelo’s David.
Though not overwhelming, the menu still abounds with choices and incorporates a diverse assortment of delectable foods. Because the restaurant is relatively new, it is difficult to point out signature or specialty items, but, the assistant manager said the pad tai and the Bun Cha Hanoi, or pork rolls marinated in a delectable Teriyaki-inspired sauce, are among the establishment’s most popular dishes.
The assistant manager takes the time to speak with each of the customers at the conclusion of their meal. He explained that speaking with the customers helps Tiger Mama improve and respond to the customers’ suggestions, recommendations, and needs.
When asked what sets Tiger Mama apart from the other restaurants in the area, the assistant manager confidently pointed around the room and asked, “What other restaurant is possibly like this?”
He raised a good point: no other restaurant in the Boston area serves “Cowboy Hat Lady Pork” and boasts a Tiki bar, a wall of hanging plants, and a sequined elephant. Despite being open only for a short time so far, Tiger Mama has distinguished itself as a “must-go-to” restaurant that promises an unforgettable and unique dining experience with exceptional service and incredible food.
Featured Images by Margaret Bree