O Ya Restaurant
9 East St
Boston, MA 02111
There has been a lot of talk, some criticism, and a lot of discussion about the sushi philosophy of some of our writers. While many people would classify me as traditionalist, or a purist, i still believe there exists flexibility and latitude for the itamae to do creative things with sushi. Creativity in blending ingredients works as long as it is done within the context of better presenting the flavours and textures that make sushi great, not masking inferior product with a variety of overpowering flavours.
This creativity is the foundation of many fusion, modern, or new school sushi restaurants, many of which i’ve not enjoyed. Even though my first high end sushiya experience happened at Matsuhisa in the mid 90’s, and was thoroughly enjoyable, I never really bought into the idea of modern sushi. Yet, here i am at O Ya, a place many consider to be the top modern or fusion sushi in North America, hoping to better understand the potential of modern sushi.
I’ll let the photos tell the story…
O Ya is hidden on a side street in the Financial District near South Station.
One is greeted and seated immediately, with care and professionalism
Table service is nicely spaced, ensuring privacy in conversations.
The most prominent feature in the room at O Ya is the sushi bar – where several Itamae’s work side by side. A great front row view of the action.
Small touches demonstrate O Ya’s care and attention. Playfulness abounds.
Nihonshu is a great accompaniment for all types of sushi. They have an extensive list.
The start of my O Ya Omakase – Kumamoto Oyster with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette. Fresh and palate cleansing.
Salmon with O Ya mayonette, wasabi tobiko, and shiso
Hamachi with Spicy Banana Pepper Mousse
Salmon Tataki with torched tomato, smoked salt, and onion aioli
Unagi/Warm Eel with thai basil, kabayaki, fresh Kyoto sansho
Homemade La Ratte Potato Chip with summer truffle
Wild Santa Barbara Spot Prawn with garlic butter, white soy, preserved yuzu
Fried Kumamoto Oyster with yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles
Shima Aji and Santa Barbara Sea Urchin with ceviche vinagrette, cilantro
Many dishes are torched to provide different flavours and textures. Torching is a common modern sushi technique that i enjoy – it brings a new dynamic to the fish.
Scottish Salmon Belly Sashimi with cilantro, ginger, and hot sesame oil drizzle
Kyoto Style Enoki Mushrooms with garlic and soy
Wild Bluefin Maguro Tuna with soy braised garlic and micro greens
Scottish Salmon, spicy sesame ponzu, yuzu kosho, scallion oil
Hamachi, viet mignonette, thai basil, shallot
Wild Bluefin Tuna Tataki with smoky pickled onion and truffle oil
They work so quickly and efficiently that sometimes dishes wait for servers to pick up. Sit at the bar – it’s better.
Moving onto cooked dishes…
Shiso Tempura with Grilled Lobster, charred tomato and ponzu aioli
Thai Yakitori, thai basil, micro cilantro, sesame peanut sauce
Yuzu-brined Ballotine of Chicken wing with Napa cabbage, shiitake stuffing, and homemade kimchee
Many people’s favorite: grilled sashimi of chanterelle and shitake mushrooms with rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, and homemade soy
Onsen Egg – poached O Ya style. Dashi sauce, truffle salt, homemade pickled garlic. Perfectly poached.
House smoked Wagyu with yuzu soy
Foie gras with balsamic chocolate kabayaki, raisin cocoa pulp, accompanied by a sip of aged sake
Tres Leches soaked Boston Creme Pie with Ocumare Chocolate and Sesame
My thoughts on my journey through modern sushi at O Ya are mixed. On the one hand, this was most definitely my most enjoyable modern sushi experience I’ve ever had. Top notch ingredients, skilled, even playful combinations, with some fantastic flavours and textures. Everything done was with purpose, and extremely well executed. Not too many dominant flavours fighting it out, but a well balanced structure – with a primary flavour, and nice supporting flavours making up a complex taste profile.
On the other hand, I couldnt help but wonder if many of these combinations detracted too much from the flavour of the fish – as it became less about the fish, and more about the different components and what they brought to the table. Copious use of yuzu, cilantro, sesame, smoke, basil, and garlic preserved a Japanese flavour profile, but at the same point often minimized the fish to providing texture, and very little flavour support.
At the end of the day, i guess dining at O Ya is a matter of personal preference and philosophy. Is sushi about the overall taste experience, or is it about the balance of fish, rice, vinegar, and shoyu, with a slight emphasis on the contrast of texture? My tendencies may definitely fall towards the latter, but I do have to say, once in a while, a great modern sushi meal is warranted, and highly enjoyable. O Ya is one place I would trust to navigate me carefully through those modern sushi waters. It’s good enough to please modernists and traditionalists alike.