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Perfect Meal at O-Ya

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This is my first posting on this site, though I have been an avid reader for the past few months. I'm planning a special night with my wife and I wanted to ask about your idea of a perfect meal at O-Ya. Though we are both fans of Japanese food, the menu seems foreign to us.

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  1. each dish is presented in a tasting portion size for 2 people so it is easy to just try as many (or as few) different dishes as your budget or appetite allows, rather than do the fixed price grand tasting. A couple dishes such as the otoro w/ scallion/wasabi oil now only appear on the tasting menu but can still be requested if they have enough available. A few not to miss are the fried kumamoto oyster sushi w/ squid ink bubbles, the foie gras sushi w/ cocoa nibs and sake shot, the salmon belly drizzled in hot oil, squid in uni butter, smoked arctic char, cold daikon dumpling, scallop w/ crispy sage, and (budget permitting) kobe beef w/ marrow chawanmushi. If you still have room, do the kinmedai, the hamachi banana pepper mousse, the shima aji w/ aji panca sauce, the otoro w/ scallion wasabi. (I wish they would offer firefly squid, and some fried aji bone.) Aside from the kobe, I would avoid most of the cooked dishes on the flip side of the menu, not that they're bad, but because they can run up your bill. Maybe get a bottle of their eiko namasake. Also note that if you prefer a table over the counter, you should put in that request when you make your reservation.

    5 Replies
    1. re: barleywino

      Your run-down is very useful, Barleywino, since my wife and I will be in Boston (from Seattle) for four days, October 12 through October 15. I’m a huge fan of Japanese cuisine in general and sushi and sashimi in particular, so O-Ya is high on our list of places to go. (I’ll be posting separately on the Greater Boston Area board for other suggestions.) O-Ya sounds somewhat similar to Uchi in Austin, Texas, where my wife and I also ate recently. The chef at Uchi, Tyson Cole, was a co-winner (along with Saipin Chutima of the fabulous Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas) of the 2011 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Southwest. You mentioned the foie gras sushi at O-Ya, and, interestingly, that was the one thing I didn’t think worked particularly well at Uchi, because the fat from the seared foie gras seeped down into the rice and made it lose its integrity and fall apart. It also destroyed the contrast between the rice and the tane (the foie gras). Is the foie gras used at O-Ya seared, or is it a cold form of foie gras, such as a terrine, mousse, or pâté?

      In response to your comment about firefly squid and fried aji bone, firefly squid (hotaru-ika) are generally available only during their spawning season from March to May. I understand that when the fishing boats haul in their catches, the sea surface glows a bright cobalt blue. That must be quite a show. Fortunately, when they are season, firefly squid are available at my regular sushiya in Seattle, Kisaku, which also serves fried aji bone as a regular accompaniment to aji-tataki (although I often request the fried bone even when I don’t order aji-tataki). When I order aji as nigiri sushi, I request a small saucer of ponzu, which I think is more complementary to aji than soy sauce.

      It would be fun to meet up with you sometime to share a meal. If you’re interested, you can send me a Facebook message. I go by my real name on Chowhound, so I’m easy to find.

      I always enjoy your Chowhound posts, and remember your posts on the Seattle board in connection with your visit here last June, when you ate at Nishino among other places. Thanks again for all the good information on O-Ya.

      1. re: Tom Armitage

        I suspect the foie is plainly seared, but it certainly doesn't melt into the rice. Try googling "o ya foie gras" and limiting to images; several pix come right up (at least for us in Boston).

        1. re: Tom Armitage

          tom, hope you will also try Clio, prob boston's most innovative Asian slanted restnt along w/ OYa.
          here are a few threads i hope might also be helpful. Love Seattle.

          Guide to Boston by Areas and Restaurants:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/781155

          Also, some extra Boston food profile info for you:

          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/781156

          shopping for Boston food souvenirs:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/781171

           

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            Thanks, OC. I'm mulling over all the great information you provided, and will start a new post with a proposed agenda for you and others to help me with.

        2. re: barleywino

          Thanks Barleywino. I think you have made my choice much easier. Didn't want to look like an amateur while ordering in front of the wife. It should be a great experience.

        3. I'd recommend getting the omakase and requesting a few of their "star dishes": the hamachi with banana-pepper mousse, the otoro, and the foie gras sushi with balsamic chocolate drizzle. The latter dish is the best single piece of food I've had in Boston.

          1. since the menu doesn't change much, you'll probably still get something useful from Frank Bruni's NYT review some years ago.

            I personally never miss either oyster (one's raw and one's fried) or the foie/chocolate mentioned above. Oh, and I've been twice disappointed by the $18 potato chip and won't try that again.

            If you think of yourself someone who's learning to link your palate with the language of food, I can't conceive a better lesson on "umami" than the mushroom sashimi dish. (I suppose you could try straight MSG, but this is much more pleasant.)

            1. Here's a photo set I took a few years ago. The toro wasn't quite as white as the photo; but it was fantastic.

              Enjoy!

              http://www.flickr.com/photos/61246842...

              6 Replies
              1. re: 9lives

                Thanks, 9lives. Your photo set was very helpful. Despite an initial burst of excitement, I’m on the fence about going to O-Ya on my forthcoming trip to Boston, mostly because of cost and value. Generally speaking, on the occasions when I’ve indulged in “the big splurge,” I’ve often come away thinking, “It was good, but not so amazingly good to justify the amazing price tag.” The French Laundry was one of those experiences. I kept thinking, “I could have had four or five great meals for what I spent on this one meal. Was it really that good?” In addition, I’m somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to sushi – not rigidly so, but my emphasis is on extremely high quality seasonal fish and seafood where there aren’t many distractions from their flavor and texture. For example, at my go-to sushiya in Seattle, the itamae recently presented me with a tasting of five different kinds of snapper. I could not have appreciated the subtle differences in flavor and texture if they had been combined with lots of other flavors. So when I saw your picture of the hamachi with Viet mignonette, Thai basil, and shallot, resting in a substantial pool of sauce, I have to admit that I recoiled a bit. On the other hand, I had a great experience with the non-traditional sushi served at Uchi in Austin, Texas. Although there were lots of modern presentations and non-traditional embellishments at Uchi, they did not overpower the tane. If I go to O-Ya, I won’t spring for the $275 grand tasting menu. If I was going to risk that kind of money, I’d hold out for Masa in New York City or Urasawa in Beverly Hills. If I order a la carte and am reasonably restrained (e.g., take a pass on the 2 ounces of Wagyu strip loin for $61), it looks like my wife and I could have 11 or 12 different dishes at O-Ya (generally one piece each) for around $200. With a relatively inexpensive choice of beverage, tip, and tax, that will probably bring the total for two to around $300. Not cheap, but not so extravagant that I’ll be kicking myself if I’m not dazzled.

                1. re: Tom Armitage

                  VERY smart thinking. i,too, have had the same experiences w/ our few stratospheric costing dinners; thus we have not been to OYa or Meritage. I also am not a rock'n roll sushi fan; but I don't think that would be an issue at OYa, from what i have read. I do urge you to revel at Oleana in Cambridge ; a very unusual menu, driven by a very unique pantry and palate.

                  -----
                  Meritage Restaurant
                  70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, MA 02110

                  Oleana
                  134 Hampshire St., Cambridge, MA 02139

                  1. re: Tom Armitage

                    I hate to bash a place..and it doesn't matter to a 1 tme visitor; but my photos are almost 4 years old...and the exact same dishes are being served today. It's wonderful food at a high price. You're likely to get the same dishes I got

                    Do a search because someone else wrote that far more eloquently...expressing a similar sentiment

                    1. re: Tom Armitage

                      Tom, thanks for your kind words. (I will get back to you offline) If you prefer the purity of the fish untainted by embellishments and sauces, that is also available by request at o Ya. So you *can* just order fish. Urasawa is more of that school (temple of traditionalism), and imo falls into the category of “It was good, but not so amazingly good to justify the amazing price tag.” to use your words. If you think you would not enjoy the nontraditional presentations at O Ya, you can save your money for Sushi Yasuda or similar in NYC. If you are willing to gamble, though, I would go ala carte at O ya, and with the money you save, do omakase lunch at Sushi of Gari (or similar down) in NYC. I enjoyed Kisaku while I was in Seattle but found the chefs to exercise favoritism to some customers over others, which prevented non-regulars from experiencing the full-on diversity of offerings that was potentially available to them; at least you won't get that sort of treatment at O ya.

                      1. re: barleywino

                        I plead guilty to being one of those customers that gets special attention at Kisaku. I’ve found, over many years, that the relationship between an itamae (sushi chef) and a regular customer can become quite intimate and personal, as the itamae grows in his knowledge and understanding of the sophistication and preferences of the customer, and is eager to sustain the regular business of the customer. This was the case for me in Los Angeles with Shibutani-san, and also in Seattle at Kisaku with Nakano-san. For example, Nikano-san knows that I love shirako (cod milt), and when it’s in season he will call me and put some aside for me. But I understand that this can be very off-putting to a visitor who feels that he or she isn’t getting the same service and attention as I am getting. On the other hand, it’s a fact of life, not just for restaurants but for all businesses, that regular customers get special attention. So, as a first-time visitor to a sushi restaurant, unless a customer knows the season for cod milt and asks for it, what would prompt a sushi chef to ask an unknown customer whether he or she would like some sperm sacs? At many of the sushiya I went to in Los Angeles, I was the only non-Japanese customer. It took me a long time to establish my credibility with the itamae and, even then, at some places I often felt that I was being discriminated against because I wasn’t Japanese. This was particularly the case at Morimoto in Philadelphia, which was a one-time visit. I sat at the sushi bar and was excited to learn that Morimoto-san, his Iron-Chefness, was there preparing the sushi. He pulled out lots of special stuff for the two Japanese customers at the sushi bar but, despite my efforts to engage him and ask him to share some of the special stuff with me, he totally – even rudely – ignored me. So I feel your pain. Sometimes, even as a new customer at a sushiya, I can engage the itamae, as I recently did at Sushi Kappo Tamura in Seattle, where I commented on the similarity between kawahagi (filefish or leather fish) and fugu. The itamae, Taichi-san, looked very surprised and said “Wow, you sure know a lot about sushi,” and then began opening up about some of his more exotic and seasonal treasures. My only point is that it’s often hard to establish this type of rapport on a first visit, especially at a sushiya where the relationship between the itamae and the customer is more personal than the typical relationship between the chef and customer at other types of restaurants.

                        Nouvelle sushi, at places like O-Ya, Uchi, and the pioneering Matsuhisa in Los Angeles, is very different from classical edomae sushi. I am sometimes guilty of elevating “authenticity” and “tradition” beyond what it deserves. The history of food involves moving beyond the traditional to new creativity and innovation. So I don’t have any real bias against nouvelle sushi, aside from some of the more abominable Americanized rolls, such Philadelphia rolls (smoked salmon and cream cheese), and I didn’t mean to imply that I’m stuck in the rut of traditional edomae sushi. Both traditional and non-traditional sushi have their place, and each is quite different, not necessarily better or worse, in aesthetics and approach. But this is fodder for a much longer, more philosophical thread. As a serious home cook, I went through a “show-off” phase where I made very elaborate dishes, sauces, etc. Now my efforts are primarily focused on trying to find the very best and most flavorful ingredients, getting to know the local organic farmers, and trying to develop the techniques to coax out and intensify the natural flavors with just a few subtle grace notes. But, as I said, this is a topic for another day.

                        1. re: Tom Armitage

                          I've experienced this sort of discrimination from both Morimoto and Nakano-san, despite being a regular at both places (Nobu NYC while Morimoto was head sushi chef there in the mid '90s, and Kisaku) and recognized as such by both (Morimoto even had a nickname for me, "Hachi", a reference to the famous faithful dog in japan). Taichi, on the other hand, was quite open to sharing his best with the first time customer. I think you'll find the same attitude, or rather lack of attitude, at o ya.