There are so many new restaurant openings in Cambridge lately, I’m having trouble keeping up – like Mamaleh’s and Smoke Shop in the Kendall Square area; Waypoint, Tatte Bakery, and Tom’s Bao Bao in Harvard Square; and Little Donkey and PAGU in Central Square.
These are exciting times!
I’m especially thrilled about the opening of PAGU, Chef Tracy Chang’s new restaurant in the Takeda building at 310 Mass Ave right near Central Square, MIT, and many of the area’s biotech and pharma companies. PAGU, which is the Japanese for pug, will focus on Japanese-Spanish fusion food, a nod to Tracy’s two favorite cuisines.
Tracy’s creative food direction is largely inspired by her childhood memories and her travels, which have brought her to Spain, France, Japan, and China (among many other destinations).
Tracy grew up around restaurants. Her grandmother owned the restaurant Tokyo in Cambridge (1988-2000), and it shaped many of her early experiences with the restaurant industry. After graduating from Boston College with a degree in finance, Tracy spent two years working at O Ya before heading off to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris to study patisserie. She then traveled to San Sebastian, Spain to work at three Michelin starred Restaurante Martin Berasategui before returning to America. In Boston, Tracy focused her energy on a variety of local projects, such as the insanely successful pop-up Guchi’s Midnight Ramen, the Harvard Science + Cooking series, and the Alícia Foundation.
The food at PAGU is a mix of all these influences – strong Japanese memories ingrained since childhood, Spanish concepts hatched from experiences in San Sebastian, and solid culinary training from O Ya and Le Cordon Bleu.
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the items which will be featured on the new restaurant’s menu!
Aunt Jin’s Seaweed Salad is a cold noodle salad of konnyaku (shirataki) noodles, wakame (a type of seaweed), quick-pickled cucumbers, sesame paste, goji berries, and black vinegar.
It is a homage to Tracy’s grandmother, her Aunt Jin, and all the family members who made the restaurant Tokyo possible. The dish represents nostalgia: her family’s continuous efforts to perfectly recreate her grandmother’s dishes – like her seaweed salad – purely from their memories because the recipes are long gone.
Ikura + Avocado Toast tastes just as amazing as it looks. Imagine a bite with the briny pop of salmon roe, creamy avocados, and a perfectly toasted piece of bread. It’s delicious such brilliant combination of ingredients.
Inspired by one of the best ikura she has ever had (in Los Angeles at Urasawa), Tracy continues to work and re-work her own recipe for marinated ikura to achieve that unforgettable experience.
Croquetas de Curry Crab is the perfect example of a dish that incorporate both Japanese and Spanish elements. In Spain, croquetas are breaded and deep fried balls typically filled with bacalo (salt cod), jamon (Spanish ham), or queso (cheese). In Japan, korokke is essentially a deep fried mashed potato ball covered with breadcrumbs on the outside and filled with curry, meat, or crab on the inside.
Tracy’s version incorporates the potato element of the Japanese korokke and but mixes it with curry crab and deep fries it like a croqueta. She mixes it with an aji panca alioli, a creamy garlic based sauce made from a Peruvian chili sauce.
Wafflatos are waffles + potatoes, and are one of Tracy’s signature dishes. This Smoky Cheese Wafflato is a reinvented “waffle” without the sleepy side effects of carb overload. Instead of refined white flour, Tracy mixes a modified version of a traditional French pastry dough together with Spanish olive oil, roasted baby creamer potatoes, and lots of gooey cheese to create this addictive, savory, wafflato.
It is so good. It’s definitely fitting for breakfast, but why not for lunch or dinner? It’s warm, savory, cheesy, and oh-so-satisfying. I love the hot mashed potato goodness inside and the crusty exterior.
Tracy recently held a pop-up event at the PAGU patio and these were the first to sell out.
The Squid Ink Oyster Bao is a strikingly black squid ink steamed bun (“bao”) filled with a deep fried Island Creek oyster, quick pickled purple cabbage, and norioli, an aioli (garlic + oil emulsion) mixed with Japanese seaweed. The resulting bite, which also includes a refreshing shiso leaf, is a beautiful combination of flavors and textures. I’m guessing this will most certainly be a crowd pleaser and a very popular item on the menu.
Txipirones de Gandarias, or baby squid tentacles with caramelized onions, is a very traditional Spanish pintxo (small plate). Tracy has fond memories of enjoying a dish like this during her first night in San Sebastian. She had decided to go on a pintxos crawl by herself and discovered delicious food as well as warm hospitality from the people.
Tracy’s PAGU version includes baby squid tentacles sautéed in Spanish olive oil and flambéed with sherry, alioli with lemon zest, togarashi, and chives. The togarashi and and chives add that little Japanese touch, though in general the dish is largely Spanish.
If you ever see collar at a fish market, grab it! It’s hard to find, and has some of the most tender meat you’ll find. Here we enjoyed Hamachi Kama (yellowtail collar) marinated in sherry and red miso, a slightly European twist on the traditional Japanese recipe, which uses sake, mirin, sugar, and white miso. This is fired in the oven just long enough to result in a beautifully crispy skin over the tender collar meat. All in all, it’s a wonderful dish.
For dessert, we enjoyed a hojicha (roasted green tea) cookie made with house-ground buckwheat, house ground winter wheat and ground almonds. The resultant cookie definitely has a roasted toasty flavor, reminding me a bit of a black sesame cookie. Tracy calls this the “roasty toasty cousin” to her matcha cookie, one of her favorite creations from her college days.
I am obsessed with PAGU granola (sorry, no photo – I ate it too quickly). It’s crunchy, super flavorful, not too sweet, and makes me feel good after eating it. Tracy was inspired to make a healthier granola after seeing how her father, a medical professional, never had access to really healthy snacks at work in the hospital setting. Tracy has spent countless hours optimizing her recipe for her granola, and the final version is incredible. Ingredients include cocoa nibs, fresh-ground buckwheat flour, fresh-ground local whole wheat flour, organic oats, puffed rice, puffed kamut, coconut oil, and a touch of maple syrup.
Once PAGU opens, I’ll be very tempted to stop by for breakfast so I can have some of that granola!
Construction is now actively going on at the space, and major progress is being made every day. It’s hard to promise an opening date since so many things (city approvals, contractors, delivery of supplies) is often unpredictable. Having said that, they are hoping that PAGU will open before 2017 begins . . .
Here’s a few fun shots of Tracy and me in the current unfinished space.
Can’t wait for PAGU to be open!!
310 Mass Ave
Cambridge MA 02138