Quincy Market Building, near Victoria's Secret and Crate & Barrel
Open Mon-Sat 11:30 AM - 11 PM; Sun noon - 10 PM
For many months, I had been eagerly awaiting the opening of internationally heralded noodle bar Wagamama in the US - first in Quincy Market and later this year in Harvard Square. I recently journeyed on a Thursday night to the newly opened Quincy Market location. Needless to say, I was disappointed by just about every aspect of my experience.
First, the wait. Everyone knows that Quincy Market is a huge tourist destination, but on a sweltering Thursday night, it still took my group of four an hour to be seated. We were not given any buzzer that would allow us to leave the immediate area.
Second, the seating. Instead of individual tables, the restaurant is set up with long cafeteria-style seating. So be prepared to rub elbows with giggly high school girls and sweaty fraternity boys, and to be churned out as soon as you're done with your meal. This is not a place to linger.
Third, the menu. While I commend Wagamama for its sensitivity to various types of allergies, the statement that the restaurant "is modelled on the ramen bars which have been popular in japan for hundreds of years" is totally a piece of crock. Not a single ramen item comes with sliced roasted pork, the staple of traditional ramen, or a shoyu broth. Instead, Wagamama offers toppings like grilled chicken breast, grilled salmon, steak, and shrimp in soups of pork and chicken broth accompanied by non-traditional garnishes like lime and carrots.
Fourth, the service. If Wagamama is high-tech enough to give its waiters wireless handheld devices, do they really need to draw all over my paper placemat? In addition, since Wagamama prides itself on making everything "fresh," the dishes are brought out to individuals one at a time. This means that one person in your party can sit and watch his/her food getting cold while the others wait for their meals to arrive at various times. My server was very nice and did everything she was supposed to - the problem was in the conception, not the execution. Well, at least you get free green tea.
Last but not least, the food. I ordered the chili beef ramen, which is described as "noodles in a spicy pork and chicken soup topped with a marinated and grilled sirloin steak, fresh chillis, sliced red onions, beansprouts, coriander, spring onions and a wedge of lime." The dish was so overseasoned that the broth was completely inedible and the rest of the dish almost so. Every bite was dripping with sauce and oil. The steak itself was pretty good, but did not belong in a bowl of ramen. Generally, the flavors were so strong that it was hard to find any texture or subtleties. The portion size was disappointing and left me hungry to order Wagamama's overpriced and underwhelming desserts (which include such hundred year Japanese staples like chocolate fudge cake).
I would like to note that this review was written about Wagamama's ramen specifically, and not the other noodle options available. In fact, some people in my group did enjoy their rice noodles. You might enjoy places like Wagamama if you're the type of person who thinks that PF Chang's is the epitome of Chinese food. But as far as ramen goes, for a more authentic experience, head straight to Ken's Ramen in Allston or Sapporo Ramen in Porter Square instead.
Monday, May 28, 2007