Japan Meets Spain at PAGU (Cambridge, MA)
I have read good things about the new restaurant PAGU by chef/owner Tracy Chang (formerly of O Ya) in Cambridge’s Central Square. It’s a spacious restaurant with a variety of seating options, some of which change from a breakfast-and-lunch cafe-style configuration to a nighttime pintxos bar. There’s also a mezzanine section that overlooks the restaurant, a couple of main dining areas, and a counter surrounding the open kitchen.
We opted for the a la carte menu instead of the tasting menu experience since we wanted to try a bunch of things that appealed to us. We started off with Island Creek oyster shooters, bread and tomato topped with bocquerones, and hand sliced Iberico ham. The latter two are a self-explanatory, traditional Spanish snacks. The ham is delicious with its gentle aged funk and deep pork-y flavors. The pan con tomate and bocquerones were tasty and unfussy in the best way. The oyster shooters were filled with a sparkling liqueur with grated fresh ginger and salmon roe on the bottom of the glass. It’s a refreshing combination but a little too much liquid for the entire shot to be enjoyed.
My dinner companion had the the Costa Brava Gin Tonic for a drink. It’s an unusual one for its briny, savoriness of the olives and the Tanqueray 10 gin works but the delicate sweet-tartness of the apricot that runs on the background makes me pause and think this is a weirdly cool cocktail.
The squid ink oyster baos, norioli, shiso and purple cabbage are one of the creative dishes that we really liked. It’s a beautiful sandwich studying the contrasts of soft, crispy, warm, cool and crunchy. The fluffy, moist squares of inky black squid ink buns filled with warm, crispy fried oysters that yield to a creamy texture when bitten was beautifully contrasted with the delicately briny seaweed infused aioli and cool, herbaceous shiso and crunchy purple cabbage.
The chanwanmushi made of shiitake dashi and scallions was a good steamed egg custard. It’s feels like it’s missing something after eating that spectacular bao. The mushroom flavors were rich and the texture is densely silky as one would expect for chanwanmushi but it didn’t reach a particular high note.
Mazeman is a no-broth ramen, showcasing creative toppings for a ramen noodle bowl. Chef Chang and her team did an excellent job with the bowls we had — roasted mushrooms mazeman and uni miso. The roasted mushrooms mazeman was amazing given the fact it’s a vegetarian friendly option, it’s incredibly intense with the in-your-face flavors of mushrooms and the creamy sauce that’s sitting in the bottom of the bowl containing the shallot oil is brilliant. I’d be happy to have this bowl any time.
The uni miso mazeman was very tasty. Usually I would think uni would be the one taking the lead for the flavors but surprising brilliance is the white miso. The creamy white shiro miso sauce had a perfect balance of salty, sweet, and other umami flavors that works in tune with the uni that neither doesn’t dominate each other but balance.
We wanted a relatively light dessert since we’re pretty full at this point and opted for the unique Japanese inspired ice creams meets Spanish fruit sauce accompaniments. The quenelle of smoked purple yam ice cream, sheep’s milk yogurt with the red fruits sauce (salsa de fruto rojo) was a very fruit forward dessert without being too sweet and the ice cream’s texture was perfect. Not too rich and not icy at all.
The roasted kabocha ice cream with finely crumbled pan de especias (gingerbread) and segments of page mandarin was sublime. The gentle, warm flavors of the gingerbread spices enhanced the squash ice cream. The mandarin oranges added subtle sweetness and acidity. This was my favorite of the two ice creams.
It’s a very good dining experience at Pagu. Our waitress was professional, friendly yet has some wit. The atmosphere is casual yet upbeat with the mix of popular hip-hop and R&B songs circa 2000s to today flooding the dining area. The food was very good and a few dishes I’m craving (e.g. mushroom mazeman and squid ink oyster baos) that I haven’t found in New York.
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310 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139
Phone: (617) 945-9290