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Kaju Tofu House-- Harvard Square

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eatinjeff Jan 30, 2014 10:14 PM

I've been to the Harvard Sq branch of Kaju a few times recently for lunch, and I think it's the best thing to happen to the neighborhood since around 1636. I have a couple complaints (see below) but overall their tofu stews are my favorite lunch in the Square. I've tried three stews:

a) Their seafood tofu stew is my favorite, though some may find a little disconcerting the beady texture of the roe which clings to the small shrimp they use. This stew has the deepest flavor of the three I've tried. (See below for a searing indictment of their clams, though...)

b) The mushroom tofu stew is my second favorite so far, with plentiful sliced mushrooms lending a distinct earthiness to the broth.

c) My least favorite of the three was the clam tofu stew. I was disappointed that they chose to use the cheap, pre-cooked white-shell clams one finds in the Market Basket freezer aisle. How nice it would have been to find manila clams, or anything else that's fresh!

General comments:

1) Banchan: For me, their banchan have been a mixed bag. Their kimchi is a little too sauce-drenched for my tastes, and today it was much too sweet. The rice cakes they always bring are floating in a tomato sauce I find cloying and strangely grainy. Their cucumber kimchi is nice, though, and today they served marvelous & sweet kohlrabi (?) pickles the likes of which I hadn't seen before.

2) Broth: Their broth is creamy and complex, though some may lament that it lacks the smokiness sundubu broth often has. But even without the smoky notes, I found the broth well-balanced and robustly spiced. It reaches its full potential with the addition of the raw egg (which they leave at your discretion). Also, their stew has never yet been overly salty (too much salt being a common problem I find with lesser Korean spicy soups & stews, especially noticeable as they approach room-temperature).

When you first sit down, they bring you such a disarrayed pile of menus and leaflets that you may fear they've mistaken you for a receptionist (are we supposed to "file" all of these somewhere?). But I've presumed that the best approach is to simply ignore everything other than the soft tofu soup, so I have no idea what else is on offer (probably just the requisite college-town "Fusion" sushi monstrosities, with names like "The Flirty Dirty Chica Roll").

The place is crowded at lunch, so I'd recommend a late lunch; come around 2 and you'll have the place mostly to yourself. The atmosphere is bland and lacking in décor, but honestly: who cares? Wait ten minutes and you'll be staring at some very fine sundubu, which is plenty atmospheric for me when it's within reach.

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  1. MC Slim JB Jan 31, 2014 04:38 AM

    Thanks for a nicely detailed review! I'm a giant fan of the Allston original, and was pleased to find the sundubu jigae at the Harvard Square location to be just as good. That space is kind of awful, though, a tragic victim of successive botched makeovers.

    http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

    6 Replies
    1. re: MC Slim JB
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      eatinjeff Jan 31, 2014 09:57 PM

      Agreed, the space has no charm or appeal whatsoever; it feels much more Kendall Sq (antiseptic & vaguely medical) than Harvard Sq. By the way, are there any other good spots in Boston/Cambridge for sundubu? I haven't had much luck with Korean food in the area generally, but I haven't come even close to trying all the options...

      1. re: eatinjeff
        MC Slim JB Jan 31, 2014 10:55 PM

        Personally, I'd never noticed sundubu jigae anywhere in Boston before Allston's Kaju Tofu House opened. Seems like the sort of thing you'd want to get from a specialist. I fell pretty hard for it, go out of my way to get it at the Allston place every fifth or sixth week or so.

        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

        1. re: MC Slim JB
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          eatinjeff Feb 1, 2014 05:41 PM

          I had a weak rendition this afternoon at Korean Garden, around the corner from S & I Thai... They got the heat-level just right, but behind the heat there wasn't much flavor. (Also, I wish I knew the Korean phrase for "Please don't give me the banchan dish that's just a sliced hotdog nubbin!") I'd gotten my hopes up, too, because the place was overflowing with Korean diners... Of course it was only on my way out that I noticed no one else in there was eating a spicy stew...!

        2. re: eatinjeff
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          qianning Feb 17, 2014 09:20 AM

          Haven't been to the Harvard Square location yet....ambiance aside, is it warm? I mean that literally, as in no huge blast of cold air when the door opens warm....

          1. re: qianning
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            valcfield Feb 17, 2014 09:34 AM

            i was there on friday, lunch, while it was cold/snowing outside. it's warm, and certainly no blast from the door as the restaurant is on the second floor of a building with interior entrances :)

        3. re: MC Slim JB
          black_lab Feb 14, 2014 08:55 AM

          I've never really thought about the space other than to note an antiseptic/swimming pool smell at times. However, the window booths looking out onto JFK Street offer good light and view. The space isn't anything that will keep me from stopping in for the excellent food in a much less crowded environment than the Allston location. It's interesting to see Wagamama more busy downstairs, while they are relatively quiet at the tofu house upstairs.

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          bear Jan 31, 2014 06:41 AM

          Thanks for the entertaining review!

          2 Replies
          1. re: bear
            opinionatedchef Jan 31, 2014 11:36 PM

            I second that! It's such fun to read good writing.

            1. re: opinionatedchef
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              eatinjeff Feb 1, 2014 05:32 PM

              Thank you for these kind words!! :)

          2. v
            VintageMolly Jan 31, 2014 06:54 AM

            Yes, definitely the best thing to happen in Harvard Square in a long time! We love the Allston branch and have really enjoyed getting the same deliciousness without the epic waits and close quarters of the original.

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