Szechuan Samurai ‘Follows No Rules Whatsoever’ this Saturday
It’s been an exciting summer at Commonwealth, with chefs from Boston and beyond taking over brunch with a different Sunday Slam every week. That final service was yesterday, with an a la carte Southern Hemisphere spread, courtesy of KO Pies and Kaki Lima.
But the special services continue this weekend: Szechuan Samurai, an off-the-cuff concept by two of Commonwealth’s own, is bringing a five-course feast to the Commonwealth private dining room this Saturday. It’s just the second event for the pop-up by chef de cuisine Ellie Campbell and sous chef Nicco Muratore.
“The whole thing is on a whim, to be completely honest,” Campbell says. An alumna of Hamersley’s Bistro, she has no background in Asian cuisine, and neither does Muratore (Sofra, Oleana, Union Square Hospitality Group). It came about when Commonwealth owner Steve “Nookie” Postal announced the Sunday Slam series, as a way to mix up a staid brunch service.
“Nico and I participated like everyone else. We brought in our food, and had to come up with the food cost, rent the space, and pay the staff, so we wanted to do something we knew we could easily execute and going to cost-effective,” she says.
Bold and spicy flavors are some of the chefs’ favorite things to play with, she says. Postal actually dubbed it Szechuan Samurai, a catchy reference to one regional Chinese cuisine, and to Japanese military culture.
“We wanted something that wasn’t anything specific,” Campbell says. “We’re certainly not following any kind of rules whatsoever.”
The team used the hashtag #GringosDoAsian during the first pop-up, which is a nod to the predominantly Colombian kitchen staff at Commonwealth.
“It’s becoming less of a stigma for people to venture outside their own cuisine,” Campbell says, shouting out as a great example the colorful homage to Southeast Asian flavors at Tiffani Faison’s Tiger Mama. “We’re not taking ourselves very seriously. We certainly are writing good menus, but you’ve gotta have some fun with it,” she says.
“Growing up, I remember [going to Chinese restaurants where] your bill would come with maraschino cherries, a few slices of canned pineapple, and a couple of fortune cookies, and that was dessert. How can we interpret this Americanized not-Chinese food dessert and have fun with it?”
Saturday is a full-service meal with five courses, still inspired by street food, with flavors that lend themselves to experimentation, Campbell says. The menu will be offered for limited seating, and Commonwealth’s regular dinner service will continue in the dining room.
She and Muratore are still finalizing all new items, including things like a braised pork belly taco, a spicy tuna hand roll in a crunchy, Sriracha batter waffle cone; and grilled beef skewers with blueberry kimchi.
“People stick to their pu pu platter, or this, or that, but they know other things are out there that are a little off the tracks. It’s OK if we put weird things together. It doesn’t shock anyone,” Campbell says.
Campbell and Muratore both met Postal at Fenway Park, where he was previously executive chef. At this point, they have no plans to grow Szechuan Samurai beyond a pop-up, though a guest did inquire where their restaurant is located after the first event. Mixing up the format during this weekend’s service will allow them to continue gauging what people like.
Postal has a lot going on right now, between managing Commonwealth, planning Steinbones, as well as a third, undefined concept slated for Davis Square. Campbell says her biggest priority is supporting her boss, but she hopes people continue to enjoy the playful pop-up percolating.
Szechuan Samurai at Commonwealth, Saturday, August 27, 6 p.m., $65 including one special cocktail, 1 Broad Canal Way, Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-945-7030, commonwealthcambridge.com.