Saturday, April 26, 2014

Totto Ramen opening soon in Allston

Photo courtesy Pete Lazar (aka CrazyPete)
My first hint that Totto Ramen from NYC was coming was when a friend texted me the photo to the left. He wrote "(Not the van…) :0" under the photo, but it made no sense and I got distracted and forgot to ask him why he was texting me a photo of a sketchy white van outside Inaka where he'd told me he was. When we met up for dinner later in the week he asked me if I saw the photo of the white van. At that point I'd completely forgotten about it and said no, you never sent me that. After finding the photo and zooming in I discovered I'd missed the most important part of the photo - the new Totto Ramen sign!


I didn't think Totto would open soon because the first time I went by in March there was a months-old layer of dust on everything and they hadn't started renovations.


When I went by three weeks later it looked much the same except for a few ladders, additional tables and chairs, and some shelves.


Then I saw that they were hiring. It seems they decided not to renovate. When I stopped by tonight it was too dark to take pictures but they look like they could open any day now. There were tables with flowers on them and it's all cleaned up. Unfortunately, no sign indicating an opening date, hours, or a menu. Some quick research turned up Boston Restaurant Talk reporting an opening date of Saturday, May 3rd. This is great news for those who love ramen but don't or can't eat pork. Totto's ramen broth is chicken-based and pork-free.

So, it seems that Camberville and Allston are battling it out to be the ramen capital of Boston. Who will win? It'll be interesting to see where Santouka Ramen lands. They might jump into the fray or they might decide these areas are too saturated with ramen and opt for another neighborhood.

Cambridge and Somerville have four Japanese-owned ramenyas, though two are the same business.

Davis Square
Snappy Ramen, 420 Highland Ave.
Owner: veteran restauranteur Kazu Aotani

Porter Square
Sapporo Ramen's original location, 1815 Mass Ave.
Owners: Manabu Ito and Taiji Mineo

Yume Wo Katare, 1923 Mass Ave.
Owner: Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Central Square
Sapporo Ramen's second location inside H Mart, 581 Mass Ave.
Owners: Manabu Ito and Taiji Mineo in partnership with José Garcia of Ebi Sushi

In Allston, if you get out at the Packard's Corner stop on the B Green Line, you'll find three ramenyas on Brighton Ave. Pikaichi and Totto are Japanese-owned. Inaka is owned by a Taiwanese-Japanese-American. 

Pikaichi, 1 Brighton Ave. 
Owners: Taka & Ritsuko Akatsu

Inaka, 72 Brighton Ave.
Owner: Jim Chen

Totto Ramen, 169 Brighton Ave.
Owner: Ryuichi "Bobby" Munekata (5/4/14: I'm actually no longer sure who owns the Allston Totto. Eater reported that the person behind the restaurant is Nghi Nguyen, a former lawyer.)

Curry Pan @ Ebi Sushi

Chef Sean Ikeda at Ebi Sushi tipped me off earlier in the week that he was introducing a new menu item last night. He's making a curry pan (curry patty covered in panko and deep fried) that he thinks will be a weekend-only item. The pan contains Ebi Sushi's house curry, beef, potatoes, and onions. They're currently slightly larger than a Jamaican patty and are priced at $5.50 but Chef Sean is still playing around so they may decrease in size. He noted that they were quite filling but my three friends and I managed to eat 6 before we even got to the sushi. My friend sartak said to tell everyone that he gives it, "2 thumbs up!" He's a huge fan of their curry. I prefer Pikaichi's curry but I enjoyed this deep fried variation on Ebi's curry. It came with mayo and shichimi which was attractive but unnecessary. The pan is plenty flavorful on it's own. The outside was crunchy and the filling was chunky and generous, though one may wish for more curry sauce. I'm actually a little surprised that sartak didn't order curry to go with his curry pan.

If you've been missing Japonaise Bakery's curry donuts (their deep frier broke months ago and they never managed to get another one up and running) these are not quite the same but might satisfy. I found it to be less rich than Japonaise's donut and was able to eat an entire pan myself. If you manage to get one, let me know what you think!

Friday, April 25, 2014

H Mart Japanese groceries

I made it back to H Mart tonight around 8pm to check out the grocery side. I take back what I've said about Ebisuya not needing to be worried about H Mart. It's been a long time since I went to the Burlington H Mart but my impression is that Cambridge has a much larger selection of Japanese groceries than I saw at Burlington. The only advantages Ebisuya has are proximity to 93 and the Saturday Japanese school, free parking, native Japanese-speaking staff (actually, I don't know whether H Mart has Japanese staff but I would think the likelihood is low), pre-made Japanese food (bento, onigiri, etc.), and a shopping experience that doesn't feel like a roller derby. I really hope that H Mart Cambridge won't drive them out of business since they're the last remaining exclusively Japanese store in the area.

Personally I'll continue to shop at Ebisuya and Reliable because I don't like a stressful shopping experience. Going through H Mart tonight was a lot like going to Market Basket in Somerville, although less rude.

I didn't take a very close look at the produce. I saw gobo and nagaimo that looked fine (the gobo was reasonably priced but my friend thought the nagaimo was expensive). We also spotted very mouldy Driscoll strawberries as soon as we entered the grocery side. They were on top of the stack - kind of surprised they didn't pull it since it was impossible to miss.

I didn't make a careful study of prices but most things seemed reasonable. Their snack selection seemed to be about on par with what you'd find at Hong Kong Supermarket (formerly Super 88) in Allston.

The store was packed but I think a lot of people may have just been window shopping because the lines at the checkouts were not as bad as what I saw on Wednesday.

Some surprises:

  • more natto than I can recall seeing in my entire life
  • very large Spam selection
  • large matcha selection (compared to other local stores)
  • a lot of mochi ice cream (I don't think I managed to get pictures of all of them - they had multiple brands)
  • a wider variety of American groceries than I was expecting (perhaps they're hoping to compete with Whole Foods and Shaws)

I took as many pictures of the Japanese groceries & products as I could with a few other random photos like Spam. There was a lot of fresh & frozen raw meat but that section was too mobbed to get photos. I also didn't bother with photos of rice cookers and other kitchen and household products.  A lot of them are hanging above your head so don't forget to look up. I didn't intentionally take any photos of Korean groceries. I know very little about Korean food so I have no comments. Photos begin here.

Over at Sapporo & Go Go Curry ramen & curry were entirely sold out as was much of the sushi menu. Paris Baguette also looked very well picked over. I did talk to José Garcia (partner in Sapporo Central) when I had dinner at Ebi Sushi tonight and he said they're going to figure that out. Sapporo and Go Go Curry's hours are officially 11am to 9pm. I'm going to guess tomorrow may be worse. If you want to go, go early.

4/26/14: I completely forgot to talk about parking last night. I got really lucky that seconds after I pulled in to Lot 5 and was wondering what to do because it looked full, a woman was walking to her car and waved indicating she was leaving. While I waited for her and her husband to put their child and groceries in the car, she came back and handed me her parking slip that she'd paid for until 9pm! I just love random acts of kindness. By the time I left though things were craaaazy in the parking lot. I tried to offer my space to someone in the same way the shopper before me had but somewhere in a crazy shuffle of 6 cars he disappeared, possibly because someone had come from the other side to steal the spot I was vacating.  I can't stress enough that if you can leave your car at home, you'll definitely want to do that.

See also: H Mart Cambridge is finally open!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

H Mart Cambridge is finally open!

H Mart Cambridge Grand Opening

Much to my surprise, H Mart Cambridge opened on schedule today. It's been a long wait for H Mart fans and people waiting to try Sapporo Ramen's new Central Square menu and Go Go Curry. The rain may have kept some people away but when I got there around 1pm, it was a madhouse.

This line wraps around the corner

Things are pretty disorganized on the Sapporo/Go Go Curry side - there is only one cashier for both so you have to stand in the epicly long line* whether you're ordering ramen, curry, or grabbing take-out sushi. I'm told that the cashier is provided by H Mart so hopefully they'll figure out that doesn't work at all. (Update 4/28/14: H Mart has added an additional cashier although if you go at peak times the line is still long. I'm told that those buying only take out sushi can skip the line.) Oddly enough Paris Baguette had 2 dedicated cashiers & registers though they weren't always there. When I got to the front of the line at Paris Baguette, one cashier wandered away briefly.
* (The line was not as epic as Yume Wo Katare's often is, but it was longer than Sapporo Porter's usually is.)

I didn't have time to stay for lunch or fight the crowds to explore the grocery store so I just took a few pictures, bought a pumpkin cream cheese pastry at Paris Baguette (which sadly, isn't that great) and left. I think it'll be a while until I get there to try Go Go Curry and Sapporo's new menu. Next time I'll have to try the fake Cronut™.

Imitation Cronut

Grocery store

I was surprised that parking wasn't as hard as I expected although I may have just gotten lucky. I found an open spot on Bishop Allen Drive as soon as I crossed Norfolk Street and one empty parking space in the lot. When I left there were several empty spaces in the lot and on the street. If people don't stay long then there will be turnover in spaces, although if you can leave your car at home and take the T that's probably better, especially on weekends. You definitely don't want to drive there on Mondays before 6pm when the Central Square Farmers Market takes over most of Lot 5 (May - November). You can also try Lot 4 at the corner of Bishop Allen and Essex Street but it's really small as is H Mart's private parking lot off Essex Street. There's also Lot 6 near Columbia Street. Note that all pay-by-space parking lots in Central Square require you to pay until 10pm. Meters have to be paid through 6pm.

H Mart's grocery store hours are 7am to midnight but I don't believe the food court will have the same hours. Sapporo and Go Go opened at 11am today, although I don't know if that will be their opening time every day. Neither Go Go Curry nor Paris Baguette have updated their websites with info on the Cambridge location and Sapporo doesn't have a web presence so I couldn't look up the hours. Paris Baguette also serves coffee and other drinks so they may be open all day. (Update 4/25/14: José Garcia of Sapporo Central told me that Sapporo and Go Go Curry's hours are 11am to 9pm daily.  I've heard that both have been running out of food early though hopefully they'll sort that out soon.)

Update 5/8/14: I'm told that Sapporo will be reconfiguring their kitchen to make room for another broth pot so hopefully they won't be out as early as they have been since the opening. That will unfortunately result in no more tempura for the maki.

Did anyone get to eat there today? How was it?

Photos from today begin here.

Update 4/25/14: I made it back to explore the grocery store.

Friday, April 18, 2014

In memory of Officer Sean Collier

Officer Sean Collier's temporary memorial

Today is the one year anniversary of Officer Sean Collier's death. I visited his temporary memorial today after someone had placed white origami cranes around the edge of the semi-circle in which the stone marker sits. MIT News got a picture of her placing them. I didn't see them at first because of all the white flowers but when I did I got teary.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Origami cranes, an international symbol of peace and hope

It's been one year since countless lives were shattered, but we're picking up the pieces and moving forward. There are exhibits all over town. I visited two yesterday.

Last year when I went down to Copley Square/Boylston Street for the first time after the Marathon bombings I was surprised to see origami cranes at the memorial and in a few places on Boylston Street. I had also seen some cranes at Sean Collier's makeshift memorial at MIT. Until last April I had never been to a makeshift memorial for a tragic event and I didn't know that origami cranes have become an international symbol of peace and hope. I assume this is because of the story of Sadako Sasaki and her peace cranes.

Peace cranes @ Old South Church

Recently, I was touched to learn the story of 1,000 cranes that were hand-delivered to the Old South Church (the church at the finish line of the Boston Marathon) by the Newtown Congregational Church which had received them from a church in Chardon, Ohio following the tragic December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Pilgrim Christian Church had received the cranes following a shooting at their high school from the Saron United Church of Christ in Sheboygen Falls, Wisconsin, who had made the cranes for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The cranes are currently being exhibited in the front hallway of Old South Church until Tuesday, April 22nd, the day after the marathon, after which they'll be delivered to a church in Fort Hood, Texas following the second mass shooting at the base in recent years. If you're in the neighborhood you should stop by and see them. They're beautifully displayed.

Apparently, these cranes were not the only post marathon bombing tribute. Someone organized an exhibit of 1,000 cranes at Anime Boston last year.

After visiting Old South Church I went across the street to the Boston Public Library to see Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial where they also included a few origami cranes in the exhibit. One was a large photo of a crane at the memorial last year printed on a canvas.

It appears that they may have borrowed from the Japanese Tanabata tradition of writing wishes on strips of paper (tanzaku) and hanging them on bamboo. There were 4 trees on which you could hang wishes. There were daffodils at the base of each tree, which might be related to the Boston Strong Marathon Daffodils project. The exhibit runs through Sunday, May 11th. I highly recommend checking it out. It was beautifully and lovingly curated.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

H Mart grand opening date in doubt

Update 5/6/14: H Mart Japanese groceries

Update 4/25/14: I was wrong. They opened on schedule.

Grocery store - 4/8/14

I knew I should have waited before I posted the grand opening date. One of my sources tells me that H Mart hasn't even begun the inspection process and given that they're still not finish installing things, it doesn't seem likely they can even begin to schedule inspections for another couple of weeks. It usually takes several rounds to pass inspections so I'm thinking an opening in May or June is more likely. As you can see from these photos taken on Tuesday and Saturday, they've made some progress, but there's still much more to do.

Grocery store - 4/12/14

Monday, April 7, 2014

H Mart grand opening on April 23rd

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

Update 4/13/14: They've put up a banner announcing the grand opening, but I think it's doubtful they'll open on schedule.

Paris Baguette

Thanks to reader RiceWalker for alerting me to the fact that H Mart has announced their grand opening for Wednesday, April 23rd. I'm a little surprised because I was there yesterday and while they've made significant progress since my last visit it seems like they still have a lot of work to do before they can start the inspection process.

This is great news for H Mart fans who are tired of driving out to Burlington, but very bad news for all the independently-owned Korean grocery stores in Cambridge and Somerville (and possibly for Ebisuya, but I hope not). Reliable Market in Union Square has a major advantage over Lotte (Central Square) and J&K Han A Rum Oriental Market (North Cambridge) since they have free and hassle-free parking, but not being on a train line they may find it hard to compete with H Mart. On the other hand, if you're driving, Central Square is already a nightmare to park in so H Mart may primarily attract people who are taking the T.

Food court

Mass Ave. entrance