Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Kenshi Imura’s hake nanban-zuke as served at a Pagu roundtable meal April 19. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Under the banner of “Food, Community and Collaboration,” Tracy Chang and the good folks at Pagu may just be the epitome of pivoting and ideological action when it comes to food and the food industry. The Asian-Spanish fusion restaurant south of Central Square was part of an effort to provide front-line medical workers with free meals during the early stages of the Covid pandemic and later provided culturally appropriate provisions to food-insecure Asian communities. Chang’s been up for a James Beard Foundation Award, and now the Go Pagu team  places its foot firmly in the “sustainability” ring with the launch of a Sustainable Roundtable series that kicked of April 19 in honor of Earth Day. 

Pagu’s Tracy Chang helps prepare a fluke pirão de arroz by Christine Lau. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Like Chang and Pagu’s previous community efforts, the roundtable folds in like-minded others to help develop, deliver and evolve the concept. The format is a five-course meal – not bad for just north of $100 a plate – kicked off with hors d’oeuvres and a complimentary bar drink before and a cooks’ panel conversation at the end. Each guest chef gives the what and how of their creation, something not unlike the fine-dining experience in last year’s foodie satire-turned-horror flick, “The Menu,” though I can testify all diners left sated and smiling, and none in a body bag. 

The evening’s Earth Day focus was the sea and green crab. Croquettes started the night, and bowls of small European crustaceans adorned each table; it’s not considered a great eating crab, but good for accent. Guest chefs included Kenshi Imura of Cafe Sushi; Jordan Rubin, owner of various Portland, Maine, pescatarian eateries; New York-based Christine Lau, whose specialty is Japanese-Italian fusion; and James Beard-nominated Dave Vargas, whose Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is hailed as one of the best Mexican eateries in New England. The first courses were all generous servings of various fish: Rubin’s marinated bluefish, lightly breaded, meaty and moist; Imura’s hake nanban-zuke, which had a near-ceviche quality to it and seems apt for a sushi chef; and Lau’s fluke pirão de arroz (rice flour). Then came Vargas’ red fish carnitas tamale, a something-else invention fusing Mexican and Japanese concepts in all the right ways. Eschewing the typical corn husk or banana leaf, Vargas wrapped his masa and fish center in seaweed and served it in a ramen bowl lined with a kind of edamame hummus and green crab consommé that together made for a misolike broth – just fantastic.

A green crab serves as a garnish at the Pagu roundtable. (Photo: Tom Meek)

The final course was a knockout by Chang herself: a kombucha mochi concoction with soy caramel. The meal came with optional drink pairings that alternated between Spanish wines and smooth sakes. The after-dinner conversation was a bit hard to take in because of the limits of the sound system and the acoustics of the cavernous space; I’m told that’s being looked into for future roundtables. Upcoming roundtables are May 18 for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and for Oceans Day in June.

In the interim, you can still still stop by Pagu for its fusion tapas (knife-cut noodles, people) and meal kits to go (part of its marketplace offerings). 

Pagu (310 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridgeport, 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.