O Ya – a Japanese restaurant on the edge of Chinatown with an American chef. It opened just a year ago to great fanfare when the New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni named it one of the 10 best new restaurants in the country. The buzz around Boston was that it rivals Oishii both in creativity, refinement and price.
I clearly don’t have a problem spending money on good food (as I wrote about here), and if the food rivals Oishii, the place of my first culinary “petit mort,” you can count me in!
The cozy room seats around 40 people with 10 more at the sushi bar. Perched at the bar you can watch the three chefs – one for sashimi, one for nigiri, and the third for other appetizers – create culinary masterpieces. You can also peer into the spotless kitchen.
The density of the menu reminds me of the neighboring Chinese restaurant tomes. On one side of a single page menu, lists dozens of styles of nigiri and sashimi. Though, they offer traditional preparations, it seems silly in a place like this to not trust the chef’s creativity. On the other side are categories for waygu beef, pork, vegetables, chicken, truffles and a few other things.
With the least expensive nigiri at $8, I was careful in my selections to make the best choices for my money – I knew the bill would add up quickly.
The intrigue ended with the arrival of the first dish. Enoki Mushroom nigiri was served with wild asparagus and a soy glaze. The two fingers had a lovely earthy, sweet scent. The wild asparagus was a fun visual addition, but with the strong flavors of soy and mushrooms, its appeal was lost. And for $12 I was disappointed.
Two pieces of Wild Santa Barbara Spot Prawn came in at $20, and they were torched until cooked through. I had hoped for the raw creaminess that makes shrimp sushi so pleasing.
As I perused the menu for further selections, I wondered if it were possible to satiate my admittedly ample appetite for under $100. Three bite-size pieces of chicken thigh yakatori came in at $16 – though I will forgive this one for the generous slices of black truffle. I was down-right insulted when the soft shell crab arrived – only ½ a crab – also for $16.
No soy sauce or wasabi adorned a dish, nor were they served on the side. The kitchen did not send out any amuse bouche that would suggest that the $16 soft shell crab was also bank-rolling other refinements.
In the end, two of us ate 6 small plate, drank a modest $40 bottle of wine and spent $105 each. The flavors were lovely, though with small portions and none of the extra flourishes that Oishii offers, I doubt I’ll return unless someone else picks up the tab. And even then, I’m not sure… I wouldn’t want to take advantage of someone’s good nature in treating me to a meal.