IN THE KITCHEN Thomas Viyaran, the owner of Tom Can Cook in Waltham, oversees a kitchen that he says always tries to reward diners with new tastes. His latest shake-up: a partnership with InBoston, which bills itself as a modern Korean kitchen serving a number of dishes that are unusual in the Boston area.
THE LOCATION Tom Can Cook has operated on Moody Street for more than a decade. This winter, InBoston, which also has a location (where else?) in Boston on Massachusetts Avenue, began sharing the Waltham digs, which are swathed in light wood and brightened by colorful fish tanks and a kaleidoscope of pendant lights.
ON THE MENU Tom Can Cook has long served a lineup of well-known Asian dishes, with a special emphasis on Thai. In addition to pad Thai, noodle soups, and a mélange of curries, the “Tom’s Adventures” side of the menu highlights some specialties, such as chili catfish ($14.95) and roasted tamarind duck ($16.95).
With the InBoston additions, Viyaran hopes to really stand out from nearby restaurants with similar menus.
“We wanted to try to have something different than everything else in Waltham. Korean fried chicken is very popular right now,” he noted, and his team wanted to be the first in Waltham to introduce it to local diners.
The InBoston infusion indeed elevates the menu, starting with that fried chicken ($10.95). In the Korean version, the batter tends to be applied more lightly than we’re accustomed to in the United States, leading to a crispier, cracklier and less greasy exterior while remaining juicy within. Here, choose from fried chicken bites, drumsticks, and wings in savory flavors like wildfire and soy-garlic.
It’s well worth the half-hour wait for wings, which come with your choice of side dish; should you want to stick with Korean classics, skip the rice and noodles and head straight for the kimchi, a fermented cabbage that manages to be both spicy and sour.
Just as exciting is the introduction of soondubu jjigae ($10.95), a Korean stew made with extra-soft, uncurdled tofu.
“It’s really exciting when the pot comes out — it’s boiling hot,” Viyaran said. (Plus, it supposedly has curative properties if you’re suffering from a hangover.)
The restaurant serves five varieties: vegetable, beef, pork, seafood, and a seafood-beef combination. When my seafood soondubu arrived at the table, the red-chili-infused broth nearly bubbled over the edges of the stone pot. The vigorous boil eventually broke down the tofu, creating a thicker, silken base. In the stew were four giant head- and tail-on shrimp, clams, calamari, and scallions. A raw egg was served on the side, which I’m told to “crack right away” and swirl into the soup. Taken all together, this one-pot dish was fishy, fragrant, and filling — the ultimate comfort food at a price that’s right. It didn’t really require any sides, but white rice and a small dish of pickled vegetables and jalapenos are a nice traditional accompaniment.
A few more entrees round out the InBoston additions. Chicken buldak ($12.95) is glazed and grilled white- and dark-meat chicken resting on a giant bed of grilled onions, which go nicely over rice. The chicken is welcomingly spicy, full of black pepper, but not so hot that the heat wipes out the flavor. There’s also spicy glazed pork ($12.95) and bulgogi ($12.95), a popular Korean dish with thin slices of pork marinated in soy, sprinkled with sesame seeds and grilled to perfection.
Tom Can Cook is at 374 Moody St. in Waltham; 781-891-6977, www.tomcancookwaltham.com.Rachel Lebeaux can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @rachjournalist.