Chirashizushi showdown: Toraya (Arlington) vs Oiishi (Chestnut Hill)
Happen to have the Chirashi at both Toraya and Oiishi this week which allowed me to do a nice side by side comparison.
Price: $12 at Toraya for lunch vs $25 at Oiishi for dinner. At first I balked at the $25 price at Oiishi but was really in the mood so I decided to see if it was worth it.
Miso: Every time I have miso soup at 99% of Japanese restaurants I cry a little inside. Why oh why do restaurants not make homemade dashi? It's cheap, easy, and tastes so much better. But alas, both used instant dashi. A draw.
Service: Oiishi, with four chefs working, had my Chirashi out in 5 minutes from when I sat down (granted I ordered 5 minutes before while waiting for a table). Toraya, with one chef, took a painful 35 minutes and it wasn't even that crowded inside.
Rice: Toraya wins this for me. Most sushi rice in the states I find too bland or too sweet. Toraya was balanced but with a slight hint of vinegar ie. just the way I like it. Oiishi was too sweet and had undissolved sugar in it, a huge miss.
Presentation: Oiishi, by a hair. They both came out in traditional Chirashi bowl with an eye towards presentation. Oiishi had a nice flower on top and had a wide color contrast.
Selection of fish: Oiishi definitely offered more, but was also twice as expensive. I believe Toraya was eight different types and Oiishi was twelve (approx). Neither offered anything beyond the standards/classics though. Oiishi by technicality.
Quality of fish: Oiishi's fish definitely seemed fresher, with the exception of one fish which had a distinct iodine taste to it. Toraya's was fresh enough, above average, but not sparkling fresh. Oiishi wins this round.
Cut of fish: Here is where I really enjoyed Toraya. Oiishi's cuts were just way too big. They were long and twice as thick as a standard American cut. Each piece was the size of two of my fingers together. While for some people this might be a pro, I found it detracted from the enjoyment as so much chewing was involved it took away from the flavor. The chef at Toraya, on the other hand, did something interesting, he cut the pieces in half so each piece was the size of three quarters stacked on each other. While smaller and squarer than what I'm used to, I really enjoyed it. It allowed me to savor each type of fish in a short punchy bite. The slicing was also very well done and everything was extremely tender including the octopus.
While I enjoyed both, I have to recommend Toraya (which was recommended to me on Chow). Cheap, delicious, authentic. Feels just like Japan.
I was at Oishii today (I cannot seem to stay away from The Container Store) and noticed that they're now covering their chirashi rice with sakura denbu - basically sweet, fluffy, pink fish flakes. I think that's what you mean by "undissolved sugar". I personally hate sakura denbu - I like my fish without sugar, thank you - so I just asked them to leave it off.
I love this place and decided to visit for lunch. Get here early, at noon there was one table left and 4 seats at the counter. I had never even heard about Chirashi until I read about it here and decided to try it. It's an assortment of fresh fish, eggs and vegetables over sushi rice. At least that's what the menu said. There was some tasty marinated mushroom underneath the fish and I guess that qualifies as a vegetable. The fish was VERY fresh and the rice was just right, maybe a tad sweet but perfectly cooked. If I counted right it was 10 different types of fish plus the fake crab and the egg. I hated mackerel as a kid, not so much now. The specials board is always an interesting read!
First time at Toraya last weekend, and all I can say is, where has this been all my life? Chirashi was everything chowhounds said it would be - fresh, tasty, interesting mix of fish, perfect rice, and those mushrooms underneath! What do they do to make them so tasty? Can't speak to Oiishi, but this one is definitely going to stay in the rotation.
Fun report! I love Toroya and Oishii for completely different reasons. I, too, prefer the rice at Toroya. I find Oishii is best for me for their very creative rolls. I'm especially fond of many of their more creative maki rolls under Chef's Specials, including the mushroom delight (or something like that). However, I believe Toroya's sushi chef really brings something to the table with his fish selection and knife skills.
We're pretty lucky to have both restaurants at opposite ends of Boston and I try to get to them as much as I can!
It is interesting that Toraya's rice got the praise.
I went there for the first time a few months ago and was able to get a seat after only 15 or 20 minutes wait. I ordered a chirashi. Bottom line is while I enjoyed the fish, the rice had a mixture of reasonably cooked and badly cooked rice. The badly cooked grains were mushy on top and raw and crunchy inside.
I told the waitress about it about half way through the bowl. She did apologized but did not offered to replace it. I was ok with not replacing it but wanted them to make sure they corrected it for the next customers. I already ate most of the fish by then. Unfortunately, after I paid and was getting ready to leave, I overheard another customer complained about the rice. Apparently, my warning was not enough to save the next customer.
I will likely not return even Toraya is fairly good value. The rice is just too important a part of a sushi restaurant to ignore customer complaints and not remedy right away.
Chirashi was my stand by order at sushi restaurants when I still could eat raw fish. Haven't been to Oiishi, but we do enjoy Toraya. Went there this past Sat for a late lunch and it was packed. I agree that their rice is nicely balanced and firm.
Fish Market in Allston also has a good chirashi. The classic selection of fish, but fresh and a manageable cut. If I recall correctly Samurai on Boylston also has a good one.
Both are excellent options for sure.
You can ask for the fish to be thinly sliced at Oishii (no extra charge). Each big piece becomes 2 pieces.
As far as price is concerned, Oishii doesn't offer Chirashi as a lunch special. However you can get a sashimi lunch box (with miso, salad and watermelon) that is almost enough to feed 2 people for $18. If you want Chirashi, Toraya is much cheaper, however if there is flexibility on what you are ordering Oishii can be every bit as inexpensive for lunch.
Thanks for the heads up; I will definitely ask for thinly sliced in the future. Yeah, if I wasn't alone I would definitely split the Chirashi and just round it out with something else; it is a lot of food for one person.
I'm curious to try Cafe Sushi's Chirashi for lunch now ($12). Anyone try the chirashi there? We love their sushi and it tends to be our go to spot.
SHHHHHH! - Toraya is getting really crowded these days (full at 9:30p last night - Wednesday! Arlington!) - and sometimes they can't even accept takeout orders (or need you to wait a couple of hours, literally) since the sushi chef / owner is it and has a finite capacity (those cuts take time)...also, the dinner chirashi there is $18 IIRC and a great value dinner option if you're not rushed.
Thanks for this. I've had both but not within the span of a week. Agree with pretty much everything you say though I've found the freshness of the fish comparable. Toraya is slow and I was surprised at how fast Oishii was especially in off hours (i was there ~5:30. Toraya is a real gem and wish I were closer. Oishii is a treat but as you said, twice the price and almost too much food for one person.
Thanks for this report! Chirashizushi seems like kind of a neglected option for sushi fans, but it's an old favorite for me because it was my introduction to sushi via a Japanese college friend at BU.
That was back in the days when any Boston-area Japanese restaurants were all of the teppanyaki persuasion. I had heard of sushi and wanted to try it, and she enjoyed cooking at home, so she made chirashizushi for me a couple of times. (Her big company-for-dinner specialty was shabu-shabu, though.) I've had a hankering for chirashizushi recently - I should check out Fish Market's rendition.