Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A weekly notebook about food during the Covid-19 shutdown. Remember, if you’re dining out, doing takeout or getting delivery, the people serving up the food are part of the front line; keep it in mind when tipping.



Sugidama, which bills itself as a “traditional izakaya and soba house,” is a hidden gem among Davis Square’s variety of Asian eateries. The spare, inviting eatery stands out because of its soba specialty – the classic Japanese buckwheat style noodle, made fresh and in-house. If you’re unfamiliar with the term izakaya, it pretty much means a cafe/bar with snacks; Sugidama has a healthy sake selection and plenty of small bites to go with its traditional hot and cold soba dishes, donburi bowls and classic sushi slate.


Sugidama has done a decent job of pivoting to adapt to Covid-19 if you’re comfortable with dining out, including a small heat lamp patio on the terrace cutting between Elm and Herbert streets; its spare, spacious Japanese-styled interior made for socially distanced dining even before the pandemic. I always was a fan of the minibowl and soba lunch specials, especially the Mini Kaisen Don, a rice bowl topped with chunks of tuna, scallop, Scottish salmon, shrimp and red snapper with roe and a side of soba either cold (with a side dipping sauce) or hot (in a bowl). That’s why for takeout I was thrilled to discover its chirashi donburi offering on the diner menu. It’s essentially the same, but instead of diced fish, it’s sashimi slices (varying some, but always with salmon and tuna). As far as sushi goes, Sugidama’s freshness and quality is pretty high for the price point, and this to-go bowl travels pretty well. Pickup at the front counter is pretty seamless, even if there is a dose of organized chaos to it. The other thing that’s great about the chirashi bowl is that you can dress it anyway you want, such as with soy and wasabi. If you like raw fish, it’s a great, satisfying and healthy meal, something I’m sure I’ll turn to more in the New Year when I resolve to lose those holiday pounds. (If you want to go light, don’t eat all the rice, though I always do.)

On those izakaya “small bites”: Sugidama has a great yakitori menu, my favorites being the silky hotate (scallop in a hot shell with soy sauce and butter) and similarly prepared enoki mushroom (sealed in foil, versus a hot shell) and tsukune (chicken meatball on a skewer, which I always get with the raw quail egg option). On the appetizer side, Sugidama, according to my daughter, makes the best tatsuta-age fried chicken beyond Toraya in Arlington (which had to close recently due to lease issues) and she’s right: The savory fried chicken thighs are always moist and flavorful. The other thing under soups on the menu I sometimes like to enjoy is the chawanmushi, a creamy rich egg custard with bits of chicken, scallop, shrimp, fish cake and mushroom to add texture and punch. Not sure how it would travel, but it is a good pairing with that chirashi bowl.

Sugidama (260 Elm St. Suite 106, Davis Square, Somerville)