Unless you’re craving clam chowder in a bread bowl, Faneuil Hall is one of the worst places in Boston to have a fulfilling dining experience. It is full of faux Irish pubs and tourists, and generally most locals steer clear of the place unless they have family in town or are cutting through to get to the North End. That is why it is to my great surprise that I have eaten lunch at Faneuil Hall 5 times in the last 4 months, including my birthday lunch with co-workers. I have even waited in line to eat there. I suffered all of these embarrassments for Wagamama, a pan-Asian, now international, chain restaurant where you have to sit at cafeteria tables elbow-to-elbow with people you don’t know, and where the servers bring your food at any time and in any order they feel like. And to be fair, it’s not even that good.
I initially went to the Faneuil Hall Wagamama out of curiosity. Some co-workers were going, and I wondered if it would be the same as the dozen Wagamamas I regularly patronized while studying in London. It was. It’s the same room, the same menu, the same tatooed and pierced servers (I’m convinced the Wagamama establishment requires them to wear 15 pieces of flare, which include these piercings and tattoos, as well as black skinny jeans and asymmetrical haircuts). During this inaugural visit, I tried to remember what I ordered at the Wagamamas in London, because there was definitely something I ordered. That’s another strange thing about Wagamama–everyone I know has a thing they order there, including myself. That was true in London and it’s true of my colleagues in Boston. And I don’t like anything else there except for the one thing I order. In any event, I couldn’t remember what I ordered in London so I got ramen, which I didn’t like. It’s supposedly their signature dish, or at least features in their signature picture of a child with his head in a bowl, but it’s bland and the noodles are mushy, and there isn’t enough meat.
I thought this disappointment would be the end of my Boston Wagamama experiment, but a month or so later, a friend from out of town called for a spontaneous lunch and she wanted to go to Wagamama (she also had fond memories of studying in London). And it was on this second trip that I found my new go-to meal: raw salad and duck gyoza, which actually are both dubbed “side dishes,” a territory I mistakenly never delved into in London. They would be called appetizers in other restaurants but Wagamama doesn’t believe in “order” so they are just side dishes that may come before, during, or after the rest of your meal. The duck gyoza are deep-fried and served with a cherry-hoisin sauce, and their aroma and flavor seem to get better every time I visit. The raw salad is basically just dressed greens with a few red onions and carrots and crispy fried shallots on top, but the house dressing is very tasty and the leaves are perfectly dressed, and I’m actually willing to wait in line for what is a lettuce salad. And to add insult to injury, some of the lettuce on yesterday’s salad was sort of slimy and mushy, but I doubt that’ll stop me from feeding my addiction. I am toying with the idea that Wagamama is actually adding addictive chemicals to the food (or maybe it’s fat and sugar), because I just can’t figure out what keeps bringing me back to this place that isn’t that cheap, isn’t that comfortable, and where the food is generally mediocre and inauthentic. Except for the duck gyoza, which is a triumph.