We were looking for a quick weeknight dinner option on a snowy spring day, so popped in to the newly opened Pikaichi (where Ken's Ramen used to be). The place is renovated a bit, with wood tables and repainted walls, but still retains most of the comfortingly no-frills feel. It would feel more authentically student hangout with a bookshelf of manga below the cash register counter, but they were playing Japanese pop and hip hop, which helped contribute to the atmosphere.
It's also a pleasingly simple menu: curry rice, donburi, or ramen. For curry, there's tonkatsu, ebi tenpura, or tatsuta age. You can get various extras, like egg, cheese, extra fukujinzuke, or mayo or tonkatsu sauce (I have to admit to liking tonkatsu sauce together with curry, and lots of extra fukujinzuke, so this was great news to me!) You can also choose how spicy (mild, med, hot).
For donburi, it's yakidon, gyudon, katsudon, or tatsutadon- also with various optional add-ons. The ramen options are simpler than at Ken's: shoyu, shio, or miso. (rats, no Nishiyama noodles like the ones Ken offered!) You can add on egg, butter, extra pork, etc. They also have various sides, such as takoyaki, shumai, and so on, and a la carte rice, takuan, mayo, tonkatsu sauce, etc.
We started out with takoyaki, which were on the small side and quite plain (just mayo and okonomi sauce, no bonito flakes or aonori or anything on them), but nicely crispy and not overcooked or tough inside. We had tonkatsu curry (hot), and also miso ramen with egg, just because it was somehow necessary to have ramen in Ken's old spot. The curry was fine- not all that hot, and rather sweet (they don't say what brand of curry they use), and the tonkatsu was also fine. The rice itself was sort of so-so, but that seems to be par for the course in Boston area restaurants. Standard "take-out" rice, it reminds of the rice you get at Hawaiian styrofoam container lunch places-- i.e., completely fine, but nothing memorable.
The ramen was a bit disappointing- a very generous portion, with some of the salty richness of Ken's Sapporo miso ramen, but not the same balance and depth of flavor. It seemed rather more oily than Ken's, actually, so that by the end, it was getting a bit too fatty/rich ("gamey" is the sensation that comes to mind?). The hard boiled egg was really nicely cooked, though, and the noodles were also at the right amount of doneness.
I guess it's not fair to come to much of a conclusion after one visit, on basically their first night! I think I liked it better than Ittyo or Tampopo--but I haven't been to either of those in quite a while, since they're off my usual path and they don't beckon me from afar to make the trip up there. It wasn't as good as Cafe Mami, sadly. (That's really what I'm hoping for, once they hit their stride) And certainly hasn't made me forget about Ken's, or about the kind of curry place you can find in a city with a more sizeable Japanese presence.
1815 Massachusetts Ave Ste 3, Cambridge, MA 02140
1815 Massachusetts Ave Ste M4, Cambridge, MA 02140