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Wagamama's preview opening

I got a preview invite from Wagamama's in Harvard Square and I gotta say that it was pretty disappointing. I know it's a chain restaurant, so my expectations weren't that high, but the food was seriously mediocre (the one in London is far better and a little less pricey for the quality). I had the yaki udon and it was nothing to write home about. Honestly, the Japanese food at Takemura down the block is much, much better and the Japanese kiosks at the Porter Exchange is fabulous -- I'd much rather spend my money there.

I will say, however, that the yakitori was great - good grilling and yummy sauce. Bravo! And the service was decent -- I know they're trying to work out the kinks now (hence, "preview dinner).

Taylor :)

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  1. I went to the preview on Friday night, and thought it was pretty good--bright flavors, fresh ingredients, quick service. I was living in London when the first one opened (round the corner from my apartment) and always try and visit one of the many UK branches when I'm back there. Really didn't notice a great difference in quality between this resto, the one in Faneuil Hall, and those across the pond.

    1. For the best Japanese noodle soups in Boston check out Ken's Ramen in the same building as the Allston Super88 market.

      One Brighton Ave Allston MA

      NOTE: Ken's is off to the side on it's own, not in the giant, and pretty darned good food court.

      1. I went Thursday night and also wasn't impressed. The duck and shrimp gyoza both seemed bread-y and bland. The steak teriyaki soba was OK, but the ebi chili noodles were gloppy and boring. Not spicy or flavorful at all. I wouldn't go back based on those dishes. The service was perfectly fine, however.

        1. Have only done the London venue, but loved it!

          2 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            Oh dear -- this is horrible news. A big fan of the original Wagamama in London's Bloomsbury, and having had good experiences in Amsterdam, Antwerp, and Dublin (except for the overly spicy/dressed warm chicken salad), I was SO looking forward to having a Wagamama in our back yard! Too bad.

            Preview dinner ... how did you score an invite, Taylor?

            1. re: ciaobaresta

              Hi Ciaobaresta -

              I'm sure there are still some good items on the menu, perhaps it just requires some trial-and-error...in any case, the yakitori was really good!

              Re: how I got the preview dinner invite, I saw the announcement on The Boston Globe by one of the staff food writers (I forget her name).

              :) Taylor

          2. I went Tuesday night and got the ginger chicken udon stir-fry-type dish and it was delicious! The place was really loud though. I felt like a had a sore throat when I left from trying to talk above everyone else.

            3 Replies
            1. re: esh02144

              I went to the one in Fanueil Hall and thought it was ok. Certainly nothing stellar or earth shattering but fine for what it is. I had a spicy chicken dish with noodles, lotsa veggies and a nice tasting sauce, certainly not *really* spicy; more like "spicy for the masses" which is fine with me. It was good and fairly satisfying.
              Our server was very attentive --the one thing that turned me off and that I still remember: we ordered two drinks --my DC had a beer; I had a soda. About midway through the meal, I asked the waiter for two glasses of water and he said "sparkling or flat..?" I was like "flat is fine, just regular water.." and he brings over two bottles of saratoga water. Do they not serve regular tap water? I didn't say anything (though I should have..) but it seemed like a pretty obnoxious way to try and pad the bill. It's not like we hadn't ordered regular drinks already! In hindsight, I wish I had refused the bottles and made it clear I was just looking for tap water, but I guess I figured it wasn't worth it for the couple extra bucks on the bill. And maybe it wasn't, but it's more about the principle of the thing for me. Anyway, left a bad taste in my mouth.
              If I find myself in Fanueil Hall and I'm hungry for "asian," sure, I might check 'em out again, but it's certainly not a destination spot for me. As for Harvard Sq, there are WAAAY too many other great dining options to choose from.....

              1. re: twentyoystahs

                they do serve tap. i think "flat is fine, just regular water" could be non-maliciously and fairly interpreted as bottled water, especially in the context of the direct "sparkling vs flat" question; i.e. regular could be understood as a distinction from sparkling.

                agree that the food is satisfying but unremarkable. megumi inside the fanueil hall bldg is equally fast-foody and marginally more interesting.

                1. re: coookie

                  Yeah, i agree, HOWEVER I feel like automatically made the assumption that I wanted bottled water, and I've never really had anyone do that before. It took me off guard, and so I probably didn't respond as clearly as possible to negate that assumption. However, I've never had that happen before. He should have said "bottled or tap?" and then he would have gotten his answer. When I say "can you bring some water when you have a chance.." I think it makes more sense to assume "some water" means tap water, unless I specify otherwise..ie. "what type of bottled water do you have...?" Anyway. Not that big of a deal but just something I remember from that experience.

            2. I just visited Wagamama's in London in late June and the preview last Thursday in Harvard SQ, so I think I am well equipped to make a fair comparison.

              1. Cost:
              Thanks to the tanking of the US dollar ($2 to £1), the relative cost of the food at both locations is actually CHEAPER in the US. Yaki Soba UK £6.70 ($13.40) in the US $9.00.

              2. Similarity in Taste to UK:
              The menu has the exact same items and the dishes I bought (I got the same ones on purpose) tasted exactly the same to me. I got the Yaki Udon and Duck Gyoza. Since I love the Duck Gyoza, this is a good thing to me.

              3. Quality:
              The Udon was nicely filled with fresh not over done veggies and a light but tasty sauce. Yes I have had better, but I've also had a LOT worse. It is "dummed down" asian for British / Americans, but that does not make it any less tasty. I really love the Duck Gyoza though and think the dipping sauce is delish. While I love the Porter X, some of the kitchen practices in some of the stalls / restaurants in terms of cleanliness and freshness of produce are a bit suspect, so having an alternative with high level cleanliness & produce standards is a welcome new alternative.

              Over all I would say it is clean, friendly service, reasonably fast for sit down dining, tasty food, at a fair price, thus it is a welcome addition. Will it change the world we eat in?, by no means, but I think the hype plus some overly wistful memories of London vacations are to blame for the excessive expectations, not the restaurant for under delivering.

              PS: Yes they seem VERY confused by the concept of tap water. My boyfriend had the same issue. They came out with the same blue bottle (earlier he asked our waiter for water, the waitor asked still or sparkling, and he said I just want some "plain water"). Told the waitress to send the bottled water back and she said "Well it is free, so just enjoy it". We agreed, but in the future noted we would have to say "Tap water not bottled" to the wait staff from now on.

              7 Replies
              1. re: InmanSQ Girl

                "Yes they seem VERY confused by the concept of tap water"

                That is so weird. I mean, they aren't importing the waitstaff, too, are they? I mean, they are answering Craigslist ads here just like every other restaurant worker in the area.

                Oh well, guess that doesn't have to interfere with enjoying a meal (although, please lead me to something that's NOT a chain. I lived in an area for awhile that had little else BUT chains, and I thought I'd die from lack of flavor...)

                1. re: threedogs

                  I hate to say it, but as someone who has waitressed it the past, it sounds like a classic "upsell" to me..i.e. management tells waitstaff that if someone asks for water to say "still or sparkling," making the assumption that all patrons want bottled water. My guess is folks get intimitated and say "just plain water" or "still," get brought out a bottle of water, and just don't say anything, figuring it's just a few more extra bucks to the bill. Those that do make an effort to say something can get the tap water, but chances are that happens much less often...and management figures it's worth it to make the assumption and get that check totalt up, even if it's just a bit.

                  1. re: twentyoystahs

                    Now that makes more sense to me. Nasty business practice.

                    That reminded me of my very first job many, many years ago. My (insert your own adjective here) BIL owned a lunch counter in Copley, near the library. I served breakfast & lunch for the summer, before I started college.

                    He had two glasses for soda - small and large. One day, (beside himself with pride) he filled the large - then proceeded to dump the entire thing into the small.

                    They were exactly the same size, just didn't seem to be from the shape.

                    What a slime-ball.

                    1. re: threedogs

                      I've run into the sneaky water-upsell problem myself. What I always do to avoid someone plopping unordered bottled water in front of me is take control of the circumstance -- when they ask me what I want to drink, I tell them "a large glass of tap water with ice." No way they can misconstrue that.

                    2. re: twentyoystahs

                      If you really suspect the waiter of a blantant bait and switch, you can always express your displeasure through adjustment of your gratuity.

                      1. re: Gabatta

                        I don't think that's fair, though - the person serving the food isn't usually the one calling the shots - if management TELLS them to serve $$ water, they have to, or else they'll end up with no job. Don't assume it's their decision to serve bottled water.

                        I hate it when all the blame goes to the one who's hustling the food back & forth from the kitchen.

                        Besides - it'll end up looking like one is merely cheap - better to speak up & voice one's displeasure. No guessing games needed...

                        1. re: Gabatta

                          Way to give them a chance to correct any faulty service by expressing your displeasure after the fact.

                  2. I got the yasai yaki soba teppan dish and the ginger cheesecake shortly after it opened. Despite the tempting ingredient list, the former tasted pretty generic (kind of like OK pad thai) except for the sprinkling of pickled red ginger on top; the latter was OK if not really any more exciting than the desserts at Cheesecake Factory. Service was very pleasant and attentive.

                    It wasn't bad, but given that there are so many other good -- and more authentic -- Asian spots (including the Japanese food court at Porter Exchange one subway stop away) at this or better price points, I wonder if it's worth a special trip.

                    1. Went to the Harvard Sq. one with a big group and was able to taste many dishes. This is definitely not authentic, and I'm glad they don't pretend to be (instead of wearing kimonos they look like Soviet Guardian Angels or something). All the food tastes...hmm...unique, because it's Japanese/Asian filtered through Euro-western taste buds. My group was mostly Asian, and we all liked our dishes, from several types of ramen to the fried rice to the yakisoba. Everything tasted a little "off" to the purists, but not "unpleasant." The service was a bit clumsy (trouble getting the right dishes to people despite writing down the menu item number on the disposable placemat, billing problems, etc.). But in the end the food is the point, and the food here was not good enough to warrant a repeat outing (although it might be fine if you happen to be in the area). The general impression split between, "makes me long for authentic ramen", to "not bad, but annoyingly overpriced for what you get." Unfortunately, I don't know any real ramen shops in Boston. I think the main competition will be from the myriad Asian noodle places all over the city, from Chinese mein to Vietnamese pho to Thai and Taiwanese noodles, etc.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: NYA Joe

                        thanks for the write up--was considering trying them out soon, once the furor dies down.

                        re: ramen shops, there's a place called Ken's Ramen in the super88 in allston. it's a board favorite but i haven't been. (tried to go today, but they're closed until the weekend, apparently.)

                        1. re: NYA Joe

                          Autopi beat me to it, but: Ken's Ramen is as real as ramen gets, and one of the best bowls of noodles in broth that you're going to get.