Friday, August 30, 2013

Inside the redecorated Yume Wo Katare

for more information.

Yume Wo Katare was closed for most of the summer, but they're reopening tonight. I got a picture through the window a couple of weeks ago which didn't show much, so I stopped by this afternoon and got some shots of the interior. It's more of a makeover than a renovation. A guy named Hayato did the artwork and they have a new mascot - Buta-Ra-Man! (10/11/17: The artist is Hayato Kawai, who has been Yume Wo Katare's Creative Director since August 2012.)


Ninniku Iremasuka?

The Three Little Pigs and the Big Delicious Bowls

You might wonder what the deal is with the gold train. I asked Tsuyoshi what it was and he said "To-ma-su" (as in Thomas the Tank Engine), then he said it was actually Yume-su (note the kanji for yume on the back).


Tasty cha-su ready to go

More photos beginning here.

Izakaya Ittoku!

Update 11/11/13: Ittoku is finally open! See First Look: Ittoku!

It seems that Ittoku set up a Facebook page last month saying they would open in August, although we're at the end of the month and they're not open yet. They're hiring staff so hopefully they'll open soon.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ebi Sushi Façade Makeover Indiegogo Campaign

Current façade 

Supporters of Ebi Sushi, one of my favorite Japanese restaurants, recently launched an Indigogo campaign to raise funds for a makeover of their building's façade, which doesn't really reflect what the inside of the restaurant is like or how good the food is. I admit that for a long time I didn't go in because it looked like a dive. I only investigated after hearing a rave review from a regular customer. Had it not been for her, I might never have gone. I think a lot of Ebi Sushi's customers have come through word of mouth. Many of my friends have become regular customers and everyone says the same thing - they're shocked the food is good because they didn't want to go because of the outside.

The vision

Perks run the gamut:

  • $10 gets you a shout out on their Facebook page
  • $20 gets you an origami crane (folded by me!) Update 8/31/13: It seems I was given incorrect information. I thought you got to keep the crane but I just noticed that the perk actually states that the crane will hang in the restaurant in your honor. I suspect that if you'd rather have the crane, José will be more than happy to let you take it home.
  • $25 gets you 10 free miso soups
  • $50 gets you entrance to a sake (and food) tasting event
  • $150 gets you a private sushi class at the restaurant with co-owner José Garcia

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Snappy Ramen: Davis Square now has Ramen

The Snappy Sushi sign is still up

Update 9/28/13: Finally made it back to Snappy to try the Tsukemen. It was very good and the pork belly was much improved. The menu and interior has changed a little bit since my last visit. Ramen is now more customizable. Most bowls start with a cheap basic ramen with a few toppings to which you can add extra toppings. The prices appear lower, but I think that just reflects them moving some of the toppings to the extra toppings list (i.e.: Tonkotsu is now $9, but doesn't include pork belly which you can add for $3, which equals $12, the original Tonkotsu price).


Sometime in the past few days, Snappy Sushi in Davis Square became Snappy Ramen. The sign still says Snappy Sushi, but there's a new logo on the door and the sign in the window spells out Snappy Ramen. The restaurant has been redecorated and the seating reconfigured.

They're still serving sushi, but the menu is limited to just 10 options.  There are currently 5 options for ramen:
  • Chicken Shoyu - $10 - no pork
  • Tonkotsu - $12 - pork broth
  • Spicy Miso - $14 - pork broth
  • Tsukemen - $14 - pork & fish broth. Not available until next week. Tsukemen is usually served with very hot broth separate from cold noodles which you dip in the broth. Snappy plans to serve warm broth separate from lukewarm noodles. 
  • Cold Ramen - $10 - sesame-based sauce. Similar to mazamen. There's usually a crabstick in it, but it can be made vegetarian. This is just on the menu for summer.
In addition, they have 3 options for appetizers and an assortment of Japanese and American beer. I asked the waitress if there were any plans to expand the menu over time and she wasn't sure. I wasn't able to ask the chef at that point because they were too busy. Will find out next time I go.

Apparently they serve ramen at Snappy Sushi on Newbury Street, which I wasn't aware of. The ramen at Snappy Ramen is different - the broth takes 4-6 hours to make, whereas on Newbury Street they're using commercially-made paste to make the broth. Snappy Sushi and Snappy Ramen are owned by Kazu Aotani, who also owns Yakitori Zai. I should note that I know Kazu-san socially through my activities with Tewassa. He's been a big supporter, providing gift certificates for our Christmas concert last year, bringing Zai's yakitori chef to cook at one of our quilt send-off parties, and feeding the volunteers at a showing of Fukushima 2011: Chronicles from the Heartland.

Fans of Yakitori Zai's weekend ramen lunch may wonder if the ramen is the same as Zai. I thought it might be, but I was told that while Snappy's ramen is the same style as Zai's, they're using different recipes.

Tonkotsu minus negi and fried onions

I was a big fan of Zai's tonkotsu so I had to try Snappy's. It comes with commercially-made straight soba-like noodles that are traditional for tonkotsu ramen, two pieces of pork belly (mine came with one medium sized and one small), a big pile of what are often called wood ear mushrooms - the unfortunate correct name is actually cloud ear fungus or arage kikurage (キクラゲ) in Japanese, lightly toasted sesame seeds, and negi (scallions) and fried onions (not pictured because I got mine without). 

The broth was on the full-bodied side, but not as rich or as creamy as Zai's broth which was opaque. I could actually see my noodles at Snappy. The pork belly was a little confusing. I couldn't decide if it was kakuni or cha-su so I asked. Chef Youji Iwakura said it's a bit of both - he started cooking it as kakuni but finished as cha-su. While the flavor was good, it wasn't as soft as Zai or Osushi's kakuni or Yume Wo Katare's cha-su. I'm hoping that was a one-time problem. I happen to really like wood ear so I enjoyed it even though it's not a commonly used ingredient, which the chef acknowledged. The toasted sesame was a nice addition and added a subtle nutty flavor. The noodles tasted the same as what Zai was using on a couple of my visits there (on some visits they were using the curly noodles that most people are familiar with). 

Front: Chicken Shoyu, Back: Spicy Miso

Snappy Ramen seats 6 at the bar, 12 at a large table in the center of the room, and up to 4 at a smaller table near the window. I think their total capacity may be 23 because I saw an additional chair off to the side. They also have one high chair.

I arrived a few minutes after they opened so service was fast, but they're still training their staff and probably still working things out in the cooking process so I'd expect service and food to vary in the next few weeks. When I left, the restaurant was less than half full but was extremely noisy. If you're looking for a restaurant to have a quiet private conversation, this isn't it, especially since you're likely to be seated at the large table.

Snappy's ramen is quite different from Yume Wo Katare and Sapporo Ramen in nearby Porter Square so I don't see them as being in direct competition. I also suspect that there's enough business to go around regardless. I'm sure some people will love Snappy Ramen and other's will hate it.

Snappy's prices are a bit on the high side compared with other ramen in Boston. My meal was around $15 after tax and tip. I can't decide if the food quality justifies the prices. I think perhaps not. The restaurant is not as upscale as Zai or Osushi (which both charge $14 for ramen) and they don't put as much work into the broth as some other restaurants. The noodles aren't handmade. However, I didn't leave hungry (a problem I have at Sapporo) and the broth was good enough to finish, so I will definitely be back. I encourage readers to check it out for yourselves and let me know what you think!

Additional photos.

Closed for Good? Yakitori Zai may not be Reopening

Update 9/9/13: Boston Restaurant Talk is reporting that the closure is official because the building is for sale. Also, Yakitori Zai's website is no longer up.
Update 11/11/13: Ittoku is finally open! See First Look: Ittoku!

Yesterday I heard from one of my restaurant sources that Yakitori Zai's temporary closure is in fact permanent. Last night I tried to reach owner Kazu Aotani (also owner of Snappy Sushi on Newbury Street and the newly rebranded Snappy Ramen in Davis Square) who I know socially to get confirmation, but wasn't able to. Today I went to Snappy Ramen for lunch (post to follow) and recognized one of the staff from Zai. I asked if the rumor was accurate. It was immediately clear that I'd asked an awkward question so I suggested that Zai's future was "unclear" to which he agreed and said it might reopen at a new location.

Later in the day I heard from a friend in the Japanese community that she had also heard Zai is permanently closed. Between the two sources I pieced together that the closure may have been the result of a neighbor(s?) complaining about the venting of Zai's grill. If so, it won't be the first time a restaurant in a mostly residential neighborhood has been forced to close due to issues with the neighbors. Yakitori Zai has only been open since June 2012, so it's really unfortunate they couldn't work things out to remain where they are.

Fans of Zai's weekend ramen lunch can check out Snappy Ramen. The chef told me that their ramen is a little different from Zai's but the same style.

Front: Chicken Shoyu, Back: Spicy Miso

Fans of Zai's yakitori may want to head to Ittoku when it opens. I was also told by my restaurant source that Zai's yakitori chef, Sho Inoue, had found a new job at Ittoku. I confirmed this with co-owner Carlos Garcia who gave me permission to share the news. Co-owner Chiki-san gave me a sneak peak of their menu a few weeks ago but I'm wondering if they'll be retooling the yakitori section of the menu now that they have a trained yakitori chef. In my excitement, I forgot to ask Carlos. (Update 9/7/13: I talked to Chiki-san today. The yakitori portion of their menu will not be changed. He showed me pictures of the interior, including the yakitori grill. Looks really nice! Update 11/11/13: Inoue-san's plans changed and he returned to Japan.)

Friday, August 23, 2013

More Food News: Snappy Ramen, Miso Market

Menu @ Snappy Ramen. Photo courtesy of sartak

Snappy Ramen!

I was really surprised to hear from 2 people today that Snappy Sushi in Davis Square has re-branded as Snappy Ramen. I hadn't heard anything about it. I wasn't able to get there today, but my friend sartak has kindly said I could share his pictures. Looking at the menu, my guess is that they took most of the ramen dishes from the Yakitori Zai weekend ramen menu (they have the same owner). I'm excited to have more ramen nearby and hope to get there this weekend. Their hours are Sunday through Thursday 11:30am to 10pm and Friday and Saturday 11:30am to 11pm. Update 11/18/13: They're no longer open for lunch Monday - Thursday. Their hours as of 11/6/13 were Monday - Friday 5 - 10pm, Friday - Saturday 11:30am - midnight, Sunday 11:30am - 10pm. 

See also: Snappy Ramen: Davis Square now has Ramen

Miso Market

Miso Market is closing at or before the end of the month. I went by today and there's not much left. They had lots of Matcha Cream Pocky and assorted candy, a few drinks, random food, and housewares including some beautiful Japanese dishes. The shelves are quite bare and all the refrigerated food is gone. The owners told me that the person who was making their prepared food is planning to continue selling from Chocho's, the Korean restaurant in the Porter Exchange.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reopenings: Miso Market, Yume Wo Katare

Update 8/21/13: Miso Market's hours on August 22nd will be noon - 5pm. I'm unclear if that will be their hours for the rest of the month. Metal shelving will also be on sale for $25 & $35.

Miso Market is reopening this Thursday, August 22nd for their final few days before they close for good at the end of the month. I spoke to owners, Steve and Fumi Genova, before their vacation and they told me they have no plans to reopen Miso Market in a new location because they couldn't find another space to relocate to in the Porter Square area, which is too bad.

At long last, Yume Wo Katare is reopening on Friday, August 30th! They've even created a Facebook event for it. Yes, they're now on Facebook. They also have a new mascot. I guess he's Butaman? He's Buta-Ra-Man - says it right on the window, but I failed to see it.

I've missed their ramen, but I think it's still too hot for jiro for me. I was thinking of getting some Yume Wo Katare cha-su to try a men bāgā (メンバーガー), the Japanese-style ramen "burger".

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ebi Sushi @ Ignite!

Juan preparing onigiri

Even though there's been a sign on Ebi Sushi's door for tonight's Ignite! A Fire and Street Food Festival After Dark, I hadn't bothered to read it, so I had no idea it was happening. I was surprised when I got to Ebi Sushi for dinner and Chiki-san and Juan were preparing salmon and spicy salmon onigiri, which isn't on their menu. I asked Chiki-san what they were doing and he gestured across the street and said it was for the food festival.

I was too hungry to wait for Ignite! to start at 6pm, so I ate dinner:

Chicken Teriyaki Donburi - $9.95

After dinner I headed across the street. Many Union Square restaurants participated, but Ebi Sushi was the only East Asian presence. Indian food was heavily represented (3 restaurants including Dosa-n-Curry and India Palace). The rest was a mix including Neighborhood Restaurant, CasaB, Cantina la Mexicana. Unfortunately a number of the restaurants didn't have signs on their booths or have their staff in restaurant t-shirts, so I'm not sure about all the restaurants who were there.

Ebi Sushi was serving California rolls, gyoza, onigiri, shumai, seaweed salad, tatsuta age, and chicken teriyaki, which they prepared at the restaurant and then ran across the street. Owner José Garcia discovered that the downside to not preparing food onsite or having food in warmers as other restaurants were doing is that the aromas can't entice people to your booth. The upsides are fast service (since you don't have to dish up the food) and not having to worry about the health inspector, who was making his rounds and spending a lot of time at some booths. I was a little sketched out that one of the restaurants had beer coolers full of their curry (no liners or anything) and were spooning it from there to the warmers. But since they were still serving I guess they passed.

Owner José Garcia with regular customer Ko-san

Unfortunately, I was fully stuffed from dinner, but I did get to have a piece of my friend's beef skewer from Pão de Açucar Market which was delicious and I picked up a maple bacon donut (pricey at $3.50) from Union Square Donuts. I love maple, bacon, and donuts, but sadly it didn't wow me. I'm intrigued by some of their other flavors, so I'll have to go check out the shop.

I couldn't stick around for the performance part of the evening which is too bad. I'm sure it was awesome.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Short Film: Ramen Dreams

I have ramen on the brain today, possibly because I read about Ramen Burger last night. I decided to go to Pikaichi for my usual and when I was on my way there, I drove by a new Japanese restaurant called Inaka that a friend had mentioned to me but that I'd forgotten to look up. Come to find out they're a ramen and donburi restaurant. They're getting mixed reviews but I'll have to go check it out.

After coming home I spent more time reading about Ramen Burger, which alas, is in Williamsburg. I hadn't realized that the creator, Japanese American Keizo Shimamoto, is also the writer of GO RAMEN! which I'd come across when Yume Wo Katare was competing in the 2012 NY Street Ramen Contest. He's also featured in a short film called Ramen Dreams, which seems a little like a short ramen version of Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Apparently one year Keizo ate 600 bowls of ramen. I'm envious. You might want to grab a tissue before you watch this. You may find yourself drooling. I'm already ready for more ramen.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ittoku Update / Sapporo Ramen coming to Central Square @ H Mart

Update 5/6/14: H Mart Cambridge is finally open! & H Mart Japanese groceries

Sapporo Ramen in Porter Square

It seems like lately all I've heard is bad news about Japanese food in Boston (Miso Market is closingYakitori Zai is temporarily closedYume Wo Katare is temporarily closed). Finally, some good news!

Ittoku Update

Update 11/11/13: Ittoku is finally open! See First Look: Ittoku!

I've previously written about a restaurant called Ittoku that was slated to open at 1414 Commonwealth Avenue in Brighton last year. It's a joint venture between Kentaro Suzuki (known to all by his nickname Chiki-san), a sushi chef at Ebi Sushi, Carlos Garcia, owner of Café Mami and Ittyo, and Manabu Ito and Taiji Mineo, co-owners of Sapporo Ramen. I'm excited to announce that they should be opening soon. Carlos told me last week that now that construction is finished they can schedule their inspections. Unfortunately, restaurants often fail first inspections, in which case they'll have more work to do after that, so I'm not going to speculate on when they'll be able to open.

Chiki-san gave me a sneak peek of their menu. As I've mentioned before, they'll serve sushi, ramen, yakitori, and izakaya-style dishes. Their three ramen offerings, developed by Manabu-san, will be house, yakiniku, and spicy.  I'm not sure if the house ramen will be the same as the house ramen at Sapporo in Porter Square. Update 11/12/13: Ittoku reduced their ramen offering to just one - Gyukotsu Ramen, a beef broth ramen for $8. Yakitori offerings include the usual meats, a number of bacon-wrapped options, and an all-garlic clove skewer. I'm excited to try the omusoba, which I've never encountered before. It's an omelette stuffed with yakisoba!

Sapporo Ramen coming to Central Square  @ H Mart

Manabu-san is also hard at work developing the ramen menu for the Sapporo Ramen location that will be inside the new Central Square H Mart that's supposedly going to open this winter. The menu will be entirely different from their Porter Square location. Manabu-san and Taiji-san have also partnered with José Garcia, owner of Ebi Sushi (and Carlos's brother), to serve sushi at the Central Square location.

José told me that when you walk in from Mass Ave., Go Go Curry will have the first spot on the right, followed by Sapporo Ramen, and then Paris Baguette, with the grocery store in the back. José said the food court will seat 120 (confirmed in the transcript of the July 9th City of Cambridge License Commission General Hearing).

Sapporo Ramen and Go Go Curry beat out many other applicants for the two restaurant concessions, which is great, because there isn't any good cheap Japanese food in Central Square right now. Although I'm not a big fan of Sapporo's current menu, I'm looking forward to trying the yakiniku ramen at Ittoku and Sapporo Central's ramen!

In researching this post, I stumbled upon a 2007 interview with Taiji-san (which references Sapporo's old menu) and a 2011 Savoroux Savoroux blog post about what led to their menu change. Here are some other reviews: