Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Lobster tempura ramen at WakuWaku in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

There are now four places to feast on ramen in Harvard Square, where around a year ago there was just one – Hokkaido Ramen Santouka on Bow Street, known for its its rich and spicy broths. Then came Menya Jiro in the bottom of the Crimson Galeria building, filling out a chain also in Boston’s Seaport and Dedham’s Legacy Place. The follow-ons Basso Ramen and now WakuWaku strike you with their ambiance and izakaya vibe, though in terms of late-night spots to imbibe and nosh, WakuWaku wins – it’s open until midnight, while Bosso is open only until 10 p.m.

WakuWaku, which had a grand opening Feb. 1, is part of a local chain with locations in Chinatown and Waltham (and, according to its website, ambitions to expand around the globe). The Brattle Street locale in Harvard Square is in the old Flat Patties spot, so there’s limited seating – mostly window-front bar seats and a smattering of tables in a loft. The decor is all thing lotus, purple and aglow in neon, giving off a comforting yet festive vibe.

The flagship dish of WakuWaku is lobster truffle ramen made with a chicken bone broth. I have a chicken-based broth preference, though I know there are many out there who consider pork-based broths to be the only real ramen – that’s why there’s Yume Wo Katare in Porter Square for you, the porkiest of the porkies. And that’s an important point: Ramen tastes are very personal.

The menu at WakuWaku is focused on ramen, sushi tacos and basic appetizers such as chicken karaage, edamame and gyoza. I began with a crawfish salad; whenever I see crawfish on a menu, I almost always engage. What I got was a generous heap, rich and slightly spicy, light on the mayo and coming with what I can best describe as house-made Terra Chips. A good start, and the house sake (get it warm) is some of the smoothest I’ve had, with no bitter aftertaste, while being very easy on the wallet. 

WakuWaku in Harvard Square. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Now onto that lobster ramen. (I was leaning toward the miso mushroom, but thought: Lobster, right?) It was a bit of a mixed bag. You get a hearty amount of arthropoda for your $35, and the presentation is amazing: It comes with the head, body and claws in the bowl the way it might be in a cioppino. The tail meat is pulled, tempura fried and served on the side. That’s a bit of a letdown – lobster is best as lobster, not fried, not with celery and not with a lot of bread crumbs. It’s like filet mignon; you don’t mess with its natural perfection. I ate some of the chunks and found them not as good as the claw meat that I pulled. I dropped the other chunks in the broth, and that was more satisfying. But again, the claw meat, perfectly streamed, was the win.

As far as the ramen and broth went, it was a light, slightly sweet broth with a faint spicy kick that, like all good ramen bowls, gets more flavorful as you get closer to the bottom. The scallions and mushrooms were nice, subtle additions and the noodles, like the linguine-like ramen you get at Yume Wo Katare or Basso, were silky and fine, though I generally prefer the wavy kind I get at Sapporo Ramen in Porter. (Sapporo in Porter serves chicken broth; its sister outpost in H Mart in Central Square is pork-based. I far prefer the version in Porter, which I believe is the oldest ramen house in Cambridge.) My one complaint regarding those claws: WakuWaku did give me crackers to work the shells, but the only other tools I had to pull out the meat were chopsticks and my soup spoon. I made do, but some kind of pulling hook or a fork and extra napkins would be my ask next time.

WakuWaku (33 Brattle St., Harvard Square, Cambridge) 

Tom Meek is a writer living in Cambridge. His reviews, essays, short stories and articles have appeared in the WBUR ARTery, The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Globe, The Rumpus, The Charleston City Paper and SLAB literary journal. Tom is also a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and rides his bike everywhere.