Review: Pikaichi Ramen (Boston Phoenix)
Recall your halcyon college days, wandering the brick-laid corridors of knowledge. By bricks, I'm referring to crinkly packages of Top Ramen, diet of the Precambrian, pre-kitchen culinarian. Ramen's Japanese-noodle-house origins are frequently eclipsed by its reputation as a freeze-dried convenience food, but for years, you could taste the real thing at the now-closed Ken's Ramen. Luckily, Pikaichi continues the tradition in the same space, tucked behind the food court of Allston's Super 88 Market. Pikaichi's menu of ramen, donburi, and curry is brief; tables are stark and simple; service quick and capable.
Miso ramen ($8.49) features a broth whose sweet, milky brine is the richest of three options. Garnishes include sliced pork medallions, which ranged between visits from a trifle too thick and slightly tough to fall-apart tender. In case you're counting, Pikaichi specifies they serve seven ounces of noodles in their soup rather than what they say is a conventional five. Noodles retain a chewy bite; their curls scoop corn kernels and scallions on the way up. Hokkai shio ramen ($7.99) — salt-flavored — delivers chicken, pork, and vegetable stock in its most elementary state. Expect thinner broth compared to thicker collagenated cousins. A pat of butter (50 cents) melts to a salty glimmer across the broth's surface. Donburi ($6.99) are rice bowls, here topped with sweet, spiced beef and crimson shreds of pickled ginger. Hearty eaters in my company remarked that the "extra beef" is probably worth ordering. Tatsuta curry ($7.99) is an attractive arrangement: a bed of rice, a pile of fried-chicken chunks, a scoop of curry all in a row. The mild, fruity gravy tastes of pineapple.
Sides include a tangle of crunchy, sesame-specked seaweed, and a cool cube of tofu in a pool of soy, chili, and scallion ($2.99). Tako balls ($5.49) resemble doughnut holes, whose creamy batter encloses tips of chewy octopus tentacles, drizzled with tangy chilied mayonnaise. Tonkatsu ($3.99), a pork fritter, is a juicy cutlet in a thick panko crust. Dab the sliced cutlet into dark, plummy tonkatsu sauce, its bowl smeared with hot mustard. Beverages range from canned soda to canned green tea. I wish they served hot tea, as I tend to enjoy turning my dates with ramen into a trip to a steam bath. Vegetarians should seek solace elsewhere.
This review originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix, April 22, 2011.