Review: Floating Rock

Spicy Asian that rises above the rest
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  July 27, 2011
4.0 4.0 Stars

Floating Rock
TEARS OF JOY The “tiger tear salad” — a mix of sliced steak, bell pepper, red onion, and lemongrass
— could be spicier, but it’s lovely nonetheless.

Floating stones are significant in Buddhism, and "floating" cities are several in Cambodia, where rivers, marshes, and canals can be worked into idyllic towns. If you want to know whether "Floating Rock" refers to either of these things, you will have to ask (an anonymous critic never does). In either case, this Floating Rock was once a much-admired Revere storefront, now moved into a handsome and larger space in Central Square, Cambridge. If summer brings an urge for spicy Asian food, this is a splendid place to get some, despite a few chili-pepper compromises.

The new place is among the most handsome Asian restaurant in these parts: a white-oak floor, two larger-than-life wood sculptures in an Angkor Wat style, red-stained tables, and orange, tan, and beige walls with black ceilings. The effect is a kind of dusty haze that is light, elegant, and exotic all at once. As a blessing, there is no background music, at least not on an early weekday, so you can talk about your food, elegantly presented in square white plates and bowls.

My favorite appetizer is the recently added fish cakes ($6), which resemble the tod mun pla served in Thai restaurants, but are much tastier, with a provocative blend of chopped lime leaves, chilies, and galangal worked into eggy little fish squares. Four are arranged around a terrific salad of thin-sliced cucumber marinated in sweet vinegar with some red-pepper flakes.

Another knockout is "spicy sour soup" ($8/individual; $15 family), a jade-green sonata in the flavors of lemongrass, kaffir-lime leaf, garlic, and Asian basil organized by a solid base of hot chili, filled with bean-length pieces of what I think was the Chinese "hollow-stem vegetable" u-toy. I may have the vegetable wrong, but you won't go wrong ordering this.

A more familiar form of spicy is the "jumbo spicy wings" ($7), which are buffalo wings fried and dipped in something like sriracha sauce (hotter and sweeter than what they use in Buffalo). No celery, no blue cheese.

If that's too mouth-tingling, fresh spring rolls ($6; $5/vegetarian) are prettier than any you would roll yourself (the traditional presentation), with sliced shrimp glowing like gold coins through the translucent rice skins, and filled with rice noodles, cabbage, carrot, cucumber, and mint. The dip is like a Vietnamese nuoc cham, sweet with a little fish sauce, and chopped fresh-roasted peanuts on the side.

The dish that got them out of Revere is the famous "tiger tear salad" ($16). Here it's rated without a silhouette, but it's the kind of thing that should actually burn your socks off. As it is, you have sliced steak, red and green bell peppers where the scorching chilies ought to be, red onion or shallots, a complex lemongrass flavor, and ground toasted rice for crunch. It's a lovely dish.

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