PAGU

310 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02139

My first stop after getting back to Boston was PAGU! It’s Tracy Chang’s new restaurant right up the street from campus on Mass Ave with a cuisine sporting a unique combination of Japanese and Spanish influences. The restaurant’s name is the Japanese word for pug, a mascot of sorts for PAGU. There’s an option for a $65 fixed menu, but Cathy, Krystal, Katherine and I opted to order a la carte. If you make a reservation, you’ll put down a $25 per person deposit that’s taken off the final bill.

The menu has a considerable variety, ranging from sashimi and croquettes to salads and ramen. We ordered a good amount of food, so get your eyes ready!

Above are the Cheesy Wafflatos, which were petite, crispy waffles with smokey mozzarella and caramelized shallots. One order of wafflatos comes with two pieces, and each piece was a bite-sized combination of carbs and cheese — how could that taste bad?

As appetizers, we also had the Pan + Avocado + Ikura (above), which were little toasts topped with avocado, and salmon roe, and Pan Con Tomate + Boquerones (below), which had toppings of cured anchovy and roasted red pepper. My tastebuds are more accustomed to the combination of avocado and roe from sushi, so I preferred the Pan Con Tomate + Boquerones because of stark contrast between the sweet pepper and the salty anchovy. If you’re dining on a budget, I’d skip over these toasts that came at $7 an order, and save up for the baos instead (which I’ll get to in a bit!).

The Curry Crab Croquetas (above) came with an Aji Amarillo sauce, and were pleasant bites of coconut curry and crab. “I enjoyed the croquetas because they were crispy and hot, and I liked the flavor of the Japanese curry,” Krystal explained.

The Shiitake a la Plantxa (above) came with PAGU baguette, shitake mushrooms, and an egg yolk on top, and they were a favorite all-around. “I loved this dish because everything was deliciously savory, and the egg yolk made the mushrooms nice and creamy,” Katherine explained. Cathy felt similarly, and liked that the mushrooms were “perfectly flavorful.”

The Tortilla de JB (below), inspired by MIT professor John Bush, a collaborator in PAGU, was a fun eggy dish. Fun fact: Spanish tortillas are actually a combination of eggs and potatoes, and not the typical circle of carbs we order on the side at Chipotle. The egg and potato part on the bottom half of the dish was not as flavorful as I would have hoped, but the layer of goat cheese and sweet peppers on top balanced it out.

From our seats at the chef’s counter, we were able to watch the food preparation in action and Tracy introduced us to the Jamon Iberico de Bellota, a 36-month aged, acorn-fed Spanish ham. We watched her carefully trim and slice slivers of ham, and the result were these nutty, savory, melt-in-your-mouth bites.

And now, we can get to our favorite part of the meal: the baos! We tried two different varieties, the first being the Braised Pork Belly Bao (below). “The lightly sweet bao wraps the delightfully tender pork belly,” Cathy said. “I loved that there wasn’t much else to complicate it.”

“I loved the pork belly baos,” Katherine explained. “I thought that the acidity of the pickled vegetables complemented the saltiness of the pork belly.”

I was a fan of these Squid Ink Oyster baos (below), which came with norioli, shiso, purple cabbage, and a fried oyster. Similar to Cathy’s thoughts on the Braised Pork Belly baos, I thought that the squid ink buns had the perfect touch of sweetness that complemented the savory dressing and pickled toppings. Definitely, definitely order the baos here if that’s the only thing you try.

 

Next up, we tried the noodle dishes. Below we tried the Braised Oxtail Mazemen, which also came with vidalia onions, baby carrots, and scallions. Mazemen is ramen without broth, and these noodles were the perfect texture of chewy but not *toooo* chewy.

We also shared the Guchi’s Midnight Ramen, which came with pork belly, a soft boiled egg, and umami oil in a rich, flavorful broth. I would best describe the dish as a delicious bowl of classic ramen that hits the spot in your stomach craving that warm, savory bowl of soup on a chilly winter evening. Overall, I’d highly recommend ordering the baos and the noodles dishes if you’re looking for a place to start on the menu.

We also tried the Beef Sliders that came as adorable little skewers of meat, mushroom, cheese, and a lightly toasted bun. “I liked the sliders, except mine was strangely raw inside,” Krystal explained. “I did appreciate the fried mushroom on top.”

Okay, and finally now to dessert! Above, we had the Chocolate Cake, which came with salt flakes and a dollop of buckwheat ice cream. The warm cake had a strong espresso flavor, giving it a nice bitter contrast to the sweet, cool ice cream.

We also tried the Roasted Kabocha Ice Cream, a winter squash flavored ice cream that came with bits of mandarin orange and crumbs of spiced bread. This was the favorite dessert between the four of us with its unique flavor and the crunchy crumbles that added a fantastic texture.

“I thought that the experience was enhanced by sitting at the chef’s counter,” Katherine added. “Being able to watch the kitchen operate and also interact with Tracy was really exciting.” I have to agree completely — Tracy was incredibly approachable, and she wanted to get to know us and learn more about the MIT community right down the street.

Overall, PAGU is a welcome addition to the growing and thriving Kendall Square food scene, and I’d give it a taste the next time you’re looking for a fancier dinner perhaps with a date or with family. The flavors are carefully curated, and the menu has a few standout dishes, but do expect to pay more than a typical “dinner amount” of money if you’re looking to sample multiple parts of the menu.