Where to Sumiao Hunan Kitchen, on the ground floor of the glossy new Vivo apartments near Kendall Square.
What for Cuisine from China’s Hunan province, with varying levels of spice; unusual cocktails; quality laptop time at a slick bar. It’s the creation of Sumiao Chen, a scientist-restaurateur from Hunan who also attended Le Cordon Bleu.
The scene Part sleek lounge; part college library. Groups congregate on little fuchsia chairs in a fireplaced dining area with flat-screen TVs and pendant lights, overlooking an open kitchen; singletons sit at the bar, laptops in front of them and cocktails to the side. There is a snakelike communal table situated mid-restaurant, where a lone fellow with several plates, a laptop, and a phone conducts business with zeal, framed by floor-to-ceiling windows. The Jackson 5 plays in the background.
What you’re eating Sumiao advertises itself as the first area restaurant to specialize in Hunan cuisine, known for bold flavors, bright colors, and heat. And so: Fried calamari with minced garlic; wok dishes like steak tips and chicken in bean curd sauce; pan-seared ginger cod; stir-fried green peppers with shredded potatoes. There’s also a vast “grains” section (pancakes! rice!) featuring scallion noodles in a tangy oil; sesame pancakes; various iterations of fried rice; and sweetish purple yam buns filled with white lotus. At lunch, pop in for classics like scrambled eggs and tomatoes; general Tso’s chicken with dried chili pepper; or fiery ma po tofu served over rice. Oh, and specify your preferred level of pain. Are you tame, or do you prefer “authentic spicy,” by request only?
Care for a drink? Enjoy sake, tiki drinks for two, and baijiu, a potent, seldom-seen-here Chinese grain alcohol. There’s also an admirable roster of mocktails, such as the scientifically named Mango & Mint Microgravity, with fresh mango syrup, muddled mint, and lime.
Overheard Warnings, whining, wonderings, wanderings. “Someone ordered the ‘beef on fire’ and was crying, it was so hot,” says a happy waiter, contextualizing the menu for new guests. “Not another selfie, dad!” a little girl says to her father, chopsticks in hand, who pushes his drink aside to take a shot. “She has no life’s passion, but maybe she’s good to him?” a woman tells a friend, evaluating a pal’s prospective mate. In the entryway, a man requests a menu from the hostess and sits down with it, looking up dishes and photos on his phone. “I’ll be back,” he assures her, returning the menu and bolting down the street.
270 Third St., Cambridge, 617-945-0907, www.sumiaohunan.comKara Baskin can be reached at email@example.com.