Cooking, Opinion

Restaurant Review: Pagu

Aki Terasaki, Contributor

Fashion is a fickle industry—plaid gives way to paisley, herringbone to houndstooth. But in the spin cycle of styles, the one constant is also the most sumptuous, understated, and versatile. Make no mistake: black is always the new black.

From the soft sheen of the plush leather banquettes, to the glossy lacquerware, to the mesmerizing noir of a squid-ink bao, black reigns supreme at Central Square hot-spot, Pagu. The décor radiates sexiness, bound by restraint—a Chanel Little Black Dress or a Dior suit—offset by blond wood that glows like liquid amber in the flattering lighting. Different seating areas allow for subdued conversations in the main dining area or the chance to witness the magic within the open kitchen at the bar.

Chef Tracy Chang’s exquisite preparations reflect experience and creativity, blending together the depth and subtlety of Japanese flavors with the brightness and panache of Spanish preparations. A trembling yellow orb of egg yolk oozes over shiitake mushrooms dressed in an acidic sherry vinegar, while the sultry heat of shishito peppers is tempered by citrusy ponzu. That aforementioned bao is stuffed with a panko-fried oyster, its purple cabbage slaw lending a fermented note to this highly instagrammable aphrodisiac. Such rich textures require balance and poise, and even the humble ramen undergoes a Pygmalion-worthy transformation—eat your heart out, Audrey.

Drinks further delight the palate and eyes, from the spirit-forward “Liam Neeson” (I imagine this is what he drinks once he’s found his enemies) to the punchy “Owl’s Eyes” (served in a giant gold-plated owl). Large-format options like the “Agua de Valencia” are grown-up versions of Kong’s scorpion bowls, minus the undergrads and sugar hangover.

My dinner companions and I were all aglow as we basked in post-meal bliss (debatable how much of my glow was related to those drinks), thinking it impossible to eat anything more. Our waiter, sensing fatigue, suggested a light dessert and espresso—we could hardly refuse such a sensible close to the evening (or his honeyed voice, for that matter). And as we took our first bite of the matcha cheesecake, it seemed that maybe, just this once, Pagu is the new black.

  • Pagu—310 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge—
  • **** (Out of four stars)
  • $$$ (Out of four dollar signs)

Aki Terasaki (HBS ’18) spent the last eight years satiating his appetite (and emptying his wallet) in the city of New York. Now he enjoys regaling anyone who will listen with tales of #startuplife and fulfilling the role of Section A’s Chief Snark Officer (unofficial title).

November 29, 2017
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