I had an opportunity to visit Boston for the weekend and Pagu was on the top of my list for dinner. Boston has recently seen a surge in restaurants exploring fusion cuisine and Pagu is a promising star. My friends and I made a reservation for Friday and were asked to put a deposit of $25 per person for the reservation. This was something new to me, as a required deposit was more prevalent at ultra-exclusive restaurant where a meal can easily costs a few hundred dollars. Pagu has average pricing, which made this policy a bit perplexing. Once we arrived, we were quickly seated at a table far removed from the kitchen bar that we had requested. After speaking with the host, we were promptly moved to the kitchen counter. This is a seating area surrounding the beautiful open kitchen where one can watch the magic happen.
For our meal, we selected a few different tapas to share and they were either hit or miss. The service was attentive overall and the staff tried to accommodate the diners’ needs. The chefs working in the open kitchen put on a silent orchestrated cooking show to impress the guests. The cocktails were also creative and… very strong. This was a good start to the dinner.
Dish #1: Sea Scallop with Meyer Lemon and Shiro Shoyu
This was a well-executed dish that affirmed our excitement for Pagu. The citrus punch elevated the scallop sashimi and we all enjoyed the tease for the next dish.
Dish #2: Cheesy Wafflato with Smokey Mozzarella and Caramelized Shallots
We commented that this dish would be perfect for a Sunday tailgate. The melted mozzarella oozed out of the potato waffle as we bit into them. The only negative was that the waffle could have been crunchier as it was on the softer side.
Dish # 3: Pan Con Tomate + Boquerones
The anchovy and roasted red bell pepper dish was simple and standard for tapas. It tasted like the one that I just had in Spain.
Dish #4 Pan + Avocado + Ikura
This creamy avocado toast topped with salmon roe was an unexpected and well thought-out combination. The salty salmon roe contrasted with the buttery avocado and the hint of sake mixed with miso completed the flavor medley. I should have ordered more than one serving of this pintxo.
Dish #5: Shiitake A La Plantxa
This vegetable dish was the undisputed favorite for our group. Perfectly cooked shiitake topped with sherry and an egg yolk, reminiscent of a tartar dish. There was so much to love about the salty mushrooms smothered in a creamy egg yolk on a crunchy baguette. I will be recreating this simple yet effective dish at home for my next dinner party.
Dish #6: Oxtail Croquetas with Shitake and Vino Tino.
This croquet is a miss as the oxtail flavor was very subtle and was lost in the potato mix. All of the croquets were also scorching hot as my dinner companion found out as he burned his tongue eating one.
Dish #7: Curry Crab Croquetas with Aji Amarillo and Coconut
This rendition of croquet was much better than the oxtail version, however, I found the crab and curry combo did not mesh as well as intended. When I bit into the fried curry ball, I got a hit of crab followed by strong curry and was left with an intense coconut aftertaste. Somehow I would imagine that the whole sequence should be mixed together and not in an actual queue.
Dish #8: Squid Ink Oyster Bao with Noriola, Shiso and Purple Cabbage.
The baos are the highlight for Pagu and are well designed. I thought the squid ink flavor would be more prominent with this particular version, but the ink was use as a decoration. The star was the crunchy oyster filling and we all remarked how delicious it was.
Dish #9: Braised Pork Belly Bao with Pickled Cucumbers, Fried Shallots and Peanuts.
The pork belly was fragrant and braised perfectly. I have been spoiled by the amount and variety of baos that are offered in NYC, but this one was slightly better than average for me. The combination of pickles, shallots and peanuts also gave the flavor of Vietnamese banh mi.
Dish #10 & 11: Braised Oxtail Mazeman with Vidalia, Baby Carrots and Scallions and Uni Mazeman
Mazeman are “dried noodles” topped with various ingredients and drizzled with a sauce. These two dishes were disappointing, especially since the chef was renowned for her noodle pop up restaurants prior to opening Pagu. The oxtail mazeman was surprisingly bland and weirdly flavored. My dinner companion described it as the weird aftertaste that you get from using Splenda. The flavoring issue was more pronounced with the uni dish. We were unable to finish the noodles which rarely happens. Uni is my favorite thing to eat on earth so that was likely why I was more disappointed with this mazeman. It’s really hard to mess up uni. Uni has a strong taste that stands out on its own and somehow was fighting the sauce the whole time in this particular dish. Since we had an 8:45pm seating, the main chefs had finished their shift by the time they prepared our mazeman. I do not know how much of that timing impacted the noodles that we received.
Dish #11: Roasted Kabocha Ice Cream with Pan de Especias and Satsuma
Pagu redeemed itself with the creative dessert options. The kabocha ice cream had a custardy texture and was very airy. The crunchy bits accompanying the ice cream provided for a textural contrast and the citrus slices lightened up the kabocha ice cream.
Dish #12: Black Sesame Tofu with Hojicha Syrup, Tofu Foam and Sesame Tuile.
Tofu as a desert is one of my favorite ingredients and this rendition was no exception. This nutty mousse was simple and delicious. The sesame tuile added another layer of nuttiness. I would come back just to eat the desserts at Pagu.
Pagu is a new restaurant with a creative and promising menu that still has some kinks to work out. Perhaps our mazeman dishes were a fluke. Overall, the restaurant has enough variety that one can sample different tapas to form their own opinion of this new restaurant. We would not hesitate to come back to try to the other dishes on another night. Maybe we will get lucky with a different noodle dish and get the main chef to cook it.
Overall Rating: 3.5 / 5
Author: Chau Hoang
Featured photo courtesy of Pagu