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Pikaichi

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We were looking for a quick weeknight dinner option on a snowy spring day, so popped in to the newly opened Pikaichi (where Ken's Ramen used to be). The place is renovated a bit, with wood tables and repainted walls, but still retains most of the comfortingly no-frills feel. It would feel more authentically student hangout with a bookshelf of manga below the cash register counter, but they were playing Japanese pop and hip hop, which helped contribute to the atmosphere.

It's also a pleasingly simple menu: curry rice, donburi, or ramen. For curry, there's tonkatsu, ebi tenpura, or tatsuta age. You can get various extras, like egg, cheese, extra fukujinzuke, or mayo or tonkatsu sauce (I have to admit to liking tonkatsu sauce together with curry, and lots of extra fukujinzuke, so this was great news to me!) You can also choose how spicy (mild, med, hot).
For donburi, it's yakidon, gyudon, katsudon, or tatsutadon- also with various optional add-ons. The ramen options are simpler than at Ken's: shoyu, shio, or miso. (rats, no Nishiyama noodles like the ones Ken offered!) You can add on egg, butter, extra pork, etc. They also have various sides, such as takoyaki, shumai, and so on, and a la carte rice, takuan, mayo, tonkatsu sauce, etc.

We started out with takoyaki, which were on the small side and quite plain (just mayo and okonomi sauce, no bonito flakes or aonori or anything on them), but nicely crispy and not overcooked or tough inside. We had tonkatsu curry (hot), and also miso ramen with egg, just because it was somehow necessary to have ramen in Ken's old spot. The curry was fine- not all that hot, and rather sweet (they don't say what brand of curry they use), and the tonkatsu was also fine. The rice itself was sort of so-so, but that seems to be par for the course in Boston area restaurants. Standard "take-out" rice, it reminds of the rice you get at Hawaiian styrofoam container lunch places-- i.e., completely fine, but nothing memorable.
The ramen was a bit disappointing- a very generous portion, with some of the salty richness of Ken's Sapporo miso ramen, but not the same balance and depth of flavor. It seemed rather more oily than Ken's, actually, so that by the end, it was getting a bit too fatty/rich ("gamey" is the sensation that comes to mind?). The hard boiled egg was really nicely cooked, though, and the noodles were also at the right amount of doneness.

I guess it's not fair to come to much of a conclusion after one visit, on basically their first night! I think I liked it better than Ittyo or Tampopo--but I haven't been to either of those in quite a while, since they're off my usual path and they don't beckon me from afar to make the trip up there. It wasn't as good as Cafe Mami, sadly. (That's really what I'm hoping for, once they hit their stride) And certainly hasn't made me forget about Ken's, or about the kind of curry place you can find in a city with a more sizeable Japanese presence.

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Ittyo Restaurant
1815 Massachusetts Ave Ste 3, Cambridge, MA 02140

Cafe Mami
1815 Massachusetts Ave Ste M4, Cambridge, MA 02140

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  1. Since it's an offshoot of Cafe Mami, one would hope (as you say) that it could hit the ground running with their recipes/ execution. Is the guy from Mami with the dyed-blonde hair cooking there?

    1 Reply
    1. re: barleywino

      I didn't get a good peek at the kitchen, since we were ushered right to a table, and they attentively came to help me when I got up and started wandering in that direction. They were sort of in "training" mode, so we sat still and tried not to be a distraction :)

      I'd also been hoping the menu would be closer to the Mami menu-- though since we eat plenty of curry at home, I don't usually get curry at Mami, so I can't really compare whether the quality of the curry is the same or not. They don't have oyakodon or any veggie donburi option, and none of the "set" style menu (saba, hamburg steak, etc.). The appetizers and extras are also a bit different, most notably with the addition of takoyaki and fried shumai.

      And of course, the ramen is a completely new feature! That has promise. It certainly wasn't bad, just not as balanced and satisfying as Ken's. (I've tried to upload photos, but it seems that Chowhound doesn't like them...)

    2. Thanks for the review, a_a. I would definitely give them more time. The broth is complex and hard to get right and it's promising that the noodles were cooked right. I only made it once to Ken's and thought it was pretty good but nothing to compare with Asia. So no una-don there? Also, how are the prices?

      5 Replies
      1. re: gourmaniac

        Anyone else had ramen here in the past month? How's it shaping up? And is this a totally casual place - won't feel odd coming in by myself to wolf down a bowl?

        Thx..

        1. re: grant.cook

          I had the katsudon there a couple weeks ago and was gazing enviously at a hefty bowl of miso ramen at the next table, which I should make a point of ordering next time.

          It's a tiny little place inside a supermarket complex: it couldn't possibly be more casual.

          1. re: grant.cook

            Haven't personally had their ramen yet but fwiw 3 japanese students having ramen next to us said they would rate the ramen above Sapporo ramen and just a notch below Ippudo (NYC)

            1. re: barleywino

              I went in here a few weeks ago, and it was fine, but it made me miss Ken's terribly. A few comments,: the gyozo only come deepfried, not pan fried or steamed. I felt the broth was not terribly complex, and agree with another-adam's assesment about the fattiness of the broth, without having the richness from the collagen. Personally I would rate the ramen as inferior to Sapporo Ramen, and definitely not in any where near the same league as Ippudo. .

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              Sapporo Ramen
              1815 Massachusetts Ave Ste M5, Cambridge, MA 02140

          2. re: gourmaniac

            Ramen $7.99-$8.49 (Pika Miso)
            Curry Rice $6.00 - $8.49 (shrimp)
            Donburi $6.99 (Yaki Don) - $7.49 (Tatsuta Don)

          3. Based on a bowl of miso-ramen today, it's hard to say if things have progressed much further from your assessment over a month ago, Adam. I will say that I very much enjoyed the broth on first slurps. Robust, savoury, just lacking that slight bit of tang or other flavour complexity to keep one from palate fatigue 3/4 of the way through the bowl. It certainly was not too fatty though, so perhaps there is an improvement on that front. Certainly couldn't fault the bowl on its other components - noodles were of the curly yellow kind, bouncy with perfect chew; fresh & juicy chashu; etc. I regret not asking for some mix-ins, eg. like raw garlic, to help me endure through the last legs of my bowl. Overall a very good bowl, and though I tend not to eat ramen here in town, I'm more inclined to see how it compares with Sapporo for the same.