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Mar 2, 2007 02:14 PM

Gari in Brookline (long)

So based on positive preliminary reports we checked out Gari last night. The space is utterly unlike the old Greek restaurant that was there, even the shape seems different, deep but not very wide - maybe they cut it down and made two spaces? We forgot to check on leaving. Anyway, it's got a very hip-cool look, with deep textured accent walls, a sculpted backdrop to the sushi bar and a (somewhat annoying, actually) green laser show twirling on the wall.

There are eight two-tops, all along one wall, and eight or ten stools on the other side at the sushi bar. We were there from about 8 to 9:30 or 10 on a Thursday night and there were never more than eight customers in the place, and no one when we left.

Staff is very friendly, and service was prompt and professional. The china (from Crate & Barrel) is oversized and suits the atmosphere. The music played throughout the evening was outstanding and eclectic, a low-key mix of traditional Japanese, jazz, Enya, Western classical, and a touch of synth.

The unisex bathroom is a must-see, with deep blue walls, a cool modern sink, and an electronic trash bin that opens when you put your hand near it.

So OK, you ask, why all this blather about the decor and nothing about the food? I guess, to be honest, I have mixed feelings about the food. I started with miso soup ($2), which was excellent and had exceptionally light little tofu cubes in it. I'm not a tofu expert, and normally don't bother with it (though I'll eat it if it's there), but these were different than any I'd tasted before - the adjective that came to mind at the time was "fluffy.' They counterbalanced the strong-flavored seaweed quite effectively.

We ordered two apps, the wok-fried calamari ($8 or $10) and the lobster tempura roll ($12). The calamari was surprisingly large (2" - 3" rings), not rubbery but not the most tender I've had by a long shot. It was served with a tasty mango-chili sauce, but even so, I would not order it again.

The lobster was better, basically shreds of lobster in a cream-based (?) sauce wrapped with an asparagus stalk in a seaweed roll, deep fried with just a touch of tempura batter on the outside. It arrived mouth-searingly hot, with a drizzle of fruit sauce on the plate (mango again, I think).

There are three chef's choice fish platters (for one) on the menu, sushi ($20), sashimi ($25), and a sushi/sashimi combo ($28). We ordered one of the sushi and one of the sashimi to share, and when they showed up we realized we'd ordered too much food (especially after those heavy starters), each was around 20 pieces. Sashimi fans take note: the sashimi platter included four or five kinds of plain fish plus a couple of maki rolls.

The fish was definitely fresh, and of good though not stellar quality. Next time (and there will be a next time!) I'll choose my own selections from the a la carte menu though, the chef's selection included too many items that were a bit too chewy for my taste.

My wife loved all the fish, while I thought the rolls were great (I'll get to those in a moment) but the standard sushi were less than ideal. I think a perfect piece of sushi should be a balance between the fish and rice, should be sized to allow you to eat it in one bite, and should hold together when dipped in the soy/wasabi. These were unbalanced, the fish pieces were huge, at least two bites each (and twice as large as the rice beneath them), and the rice not only fell apart easily in the sauce, if you didn't pick them up carefully the fish simply came off the rice, as if it were just lightly sitting there and not formed by the chef to make a unit!

Anyway this is getting really long but I would like to say that the maki rolls (is that redundant?) were outstanding, especially the lobster app and one that was filled with avocado and cucumber and rolled in flying fish roe instead of seaweed.

All in all, we will be back, and will be more careful in our ordering henceforth.

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  1. We also figured out it was time to check out Gari last night, since it's just down the street and we crave a decent Japanese place in the neighborhood... Agree with everything above about the decor (really very nice!!) and the service. The place seems a bit swank/modern while still being friendly. (I wish the music stuck more to the lounge/trip hop/jazz side, but I guess the occasional koto number isn't going to keep me away)

    My first impression about the food is: it is definitely japanese fusion food from an american perspective, not a japanese perspective. By that I mean: the menu focuses mainly on japanese things (actually, mainly sushi), made with non-japanese touches (like cream cheese or mango). OK, so yeah, that's fusion, but I guess just about every sushi place in Boston is a fusion place in that sense. I was a bit disappointed by this, since I really want to see boston get past the "Japanese food = sushi" stage so we can get some good japanese-style fusion places (some yoshoku-style spaghetti or curry houses, or even some hip japanese french or korean places...) It would be great to have places that do western food with Japanese sensibilities, but this is very much a place for sushi, fish, and noodles with western twists. I'm bored by sushi places that "push the envelope" by adding fruit or chilis or cheese to their rolls.

    OK, now that I've gotten that off my chest, on to the actual food:
    We were feeling tired and skipped drinks (they have an assortment of sake and beer, would have been more intrigued if they had some inventive sake cocktails)
    We decided to sample the "fusion" by starting off with a couple rolls (mango and cucumber, and philadelphia roll). They were OK-- would have been nice to see them come with some inventive sauces, since soy doesn't really go with either one. (In my book, wasabi is good with mango & cucumber, but it needs a vinegar-based sauce, not soy) For me, it's hard to go wrong with mango and cucumber, and the fruit was flavorful, so it was a nice starter. The rice was OK but nothing to write home about. It was a little on the dry/unsticky side-- this might correspond to the previous poster's comment about the roll integrity... Since I subscribe to the "dip only fish, not rice" school, this didn't bother me so much. All in all, decent rolls, but not so different from what I find so boring about the Japanese scene in Brookline and Boston in general.

    My partner had the sashimi combo ($25), which was not bad, and came with a pretty assortment of additional decorations (tamago, strawberries, etc.) Side of rice was the same "OK but slightly dry" rice. (Maybe they don't cook separate rice for sushi vs. bowl form?)

    Now on to the find for the evening: the nabeyaki udon ($15). I was craving non-sushi, but was a little apprehensive given the apparent sushi focus of the menu. Since it was a miserable rainy day, a nice big bowl of soup sounded good. And in fact, it turned out to be great! The noodles were chewy and not overcooked, and it had a generous combination of toppings: the traditional things one would expect (egg, cabbage, kamaboko, ebiten, chicken), along with a few bonus additions I wasn't expecting (some fish and scallops, and some ika rings that were a bit tough by the time I got to them and I could have lived without). It was just right: hot, big, comforting, and tasty. It's not that hard a dish to make, and I sort of balk at paying $15 for it (viz. the $15 burger thread recently). However, everywhere else I've tried it in Boston has screwed it up somehow, either by leaving out something crucial, or by adding something that doesn't work. I noticed they also have a lunch portion for $9.

    So overall, the atmosphere made it a really nice place to hang out (maybe worth the somewhat high prices), and the fact that it's close to our place means we'll definitely be back. As long as they keep making decent nabeyaki udon, I'll be happy, and hopefully the rest of the menu will evolve to add in some more creative stuff that makes them stand out more.

    1. The window of easy seating opportunity may have passed - they got a two-page photo spread in yesterday's Globe!

      1. 'm not partial to hyperbole, but this was one of the worst Japanese food experiences I've ever had. Regardless of how nice the interior is, or how innovative the menu, a sashimi restaurant should first and foremost be judged on two things: the quality of the fish, and the quality of the dashi. Once they've got that right, they can feel free to gussy it up in whatever manner they'd like.

        Ordered a 10-piece sashimi plate, chef's choice. What we got: 2 slices of hamachi, 2 slices of madai, 2 slices of tamagoyaki, and 2 pieces of crabstick.

        First: the obvious problem. That's only 8 pieces. I mentioned this to the waitress and the chef, and they both apologized, but did nothing.

        Second: not only was the madai less than fresh, but it was served warm. 1 1/2 pieces of that were still on the plate when the waitress cleared it.

        Third: tamagoyaki (a rolled egg omelet) is a strange choice to put on a sashimi plate to begin with. What makes it even stranger is when the egg is not even cooked on premises. The sashimi 'chef' opened up a cryo-vacked package of pre-cooked egg, sliced some off, and put it on the plate. If I want to pay for pre-cooked eggs, I can get two Egg McMuffins for $3 at McDonalds

        Fourth: Crab stick is not sashimi. Crab stick should not even be recognized as food. It is pulverized white-fish scraps that have been cooked, sweetened, and dyed red. I couldn't believe it when I saw it on the plate. I kept waiting for the chef to announce that I was on hidden camera to see my reaction, but it never happened. Instead, he sincerely asked me if everything was ok. I stared back at him, dumbfounded.

        At least the hamachi was ok.

        After sashimi, we had some tempura, which asides from being slightly greasy, and not too crisp, was surprisingly edible.

        Finally, we had the miso soup, if it can be called that. The miso was obviously of very low quality, and the dashi literally tasted like salt water. Making a good quality dashi is very simple. All it requires is good ingredients. Apparently Gari would rather spend its money on flashy interiors than quality food.

        This place is an insult to japanese food and should be avoided at all costs by anyone who enjoys foood more than atmosphere. If it's any consolation, the staff was very friendly and smiley, though not too useful.

        On another note, wasabi mayonnaise and spicy mango rolls is about as innovative as this place gets.

        Seeing as this place is getting so many good reviews, I feel like I have to give it one more chance, but I really don't think I can bring myself to return to a place that served me pre-cooked egg.

        1. I finally checked out Gari last night. Note - I am not a fan of raw fish so I generally stick with veggie options so I am not qualified to comment on the quality of the fish etc like previous posters! My dc and I enjoyed the decor and quality of service. We started with carribean phyllo crusted prawns which were fabulous - not a hint of oil lingered - just crispy goodness. They were served with mango sauce and guacamole. We then had avocado maki, AAC Maki (avocado, asparagus, cucumber), cooked shrimp sushi (tough and wouldn't order again) and the standout of the night - Idaho Maki which was deep fried sweet yam served warm! I will definitely go back for that dish alone! The prices were incredibly reasonable - total of $35.00 for 2 including drinks. Anyone else been here recently?

          1. For Japanese food that is a little different than the typical "Japanese food=sushi" thing, try Shiki on Harvard Street, also in Coolidge Corner, on the corner of Babcock street. They have an excellent Sake collection as well.

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