Japanese fare in the shadow of a legend
I think I’ve gone with a sure thing when I order miso ramen. So much so that I scoff when my dining companion orders yakidon, a beef rice bowl. She’ll be begging to have more of mine, I thought. After all, we are in the old Ken’s space - behind the Allston Super 88 parking lot - where the best ramen in Boston was once found.
But I am wrong. Once our food arrives, I find my chopsticks sheepishly reaching toward her bowl a little too frequently, while my ramen sits neglected and cold.
Boston foodies grieved when Ken’s owner Ken Kojima closed up shop earlier this year and moved back to Japan. Pikaichi sprang up in its place in March, co-owned by Taka Akatsu and his wife, Ritsuko, who sold their restaurant, Cafe Mami, when their old friend Kojima offered to sell them his restaurant.
Though they inherited a few recipes from Ken, the Akatsus like to put their own spin on things. Pikaichi isn’t trying to compete with or replace the legacy of Ken’s ramen. Pikaichi makes its mark with its donburi, which are both traditional and creative.
Donburi are Japanese rice bowls. The yakidon ($7.49), a donburi topped with thin slices of beef and a rich broth, is very flavorful, well-seasoned, and enhanced with a dash of heat - an upgrade to the standard beef bowl. Gyudon ($7.49) lacks the depth of the yakidon but is still a solid interpretation. Both are best with a fried egg, sunny-side up ($1).
Pikaichi offers some creative dons, like chee buta don ($7.49), a pork rice bowl, with mozzarella cheese mixed into the rice. To me, the taste is a bit odd, but it seems to be quite appealing to the two hungry men beside me, who eagerly scarf down the dish.
Don’t come to Pikaichi expecting Ken’s ramen, as I did. For one, the noodles leave something to be desired. Though they improve with each visit, they are still a far cry from the tender, heart-warming ones Ken imported from Japan.
Pikaichi offers only three types of ramen: shoyu (soy sauce, $7.99), shio (salt, $7.99), and miso ($8.49). Miso ramen tastes synthetic and bizarrely spicy. The shio ramen has a rich, meaty pork flavor expected in good ramen. Shoyu ramen is bolder, with a strong soy sauce flavor and a slightly sweet kick.
The curry rice ($7.49) is unspectacular. The flavor and consistency resemble something out of a box. For $1 more, you can add deep-fried pork cutlet, deep-fried chicken, or deep-fried shrimp. The chicken is dry, the shrimp soggy, and both are over-breaded.
The deep-fried theme continues with appetizers. Try the deep-fried Tako (octopus) balls ($5.49), which come with chunks of octopus tentacle, suction cups and all. Spicy tofu ($2.99) appetizer is a surprising hit, a very creative take on chilled tofu that works, with a nutty, sweet sauce and just a hint of spice.
Pikaichi has undergone a complete upgrade since Ken’s. Scratched tables have been replaced with new ones. Large mirrors open up the small, 20-seat space, and the walls are now in hip shades of vermillion and red, with a large dragon decal on one. Japanese pop music, with strong bass beats and airy voices, streams through the speakers. A not-so-subtle reminder that we’re not in Ken’s anymore.
Jialu Chen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.