R asked me where I wanted to go for my Birthday and I told him to surprise me. He smartly chose O Ya from the top of my list of places to try this year. It’s been all the rage since NYT food critic Frank Bruni chose it as his number one “best new restaurant” last year.
The restaurant is in a strange location near South Station. There is no signage on the heavy wooden door which opens in to a small space with a 17 seat L shaped sushi bar and a row of table on the right. Rafi and I got a prime spot at the bar where we could watch the three sushi chefs perform their craft, as well as a view of the kitchen.
I wasn't certain at first, but one of the chefs in the kitchen looked really familiar. I whispered in to R's ear, “That woman looks just like Tiffani from season one of Top Chef, do you think that's her?” R said that he noticed it too, but that he did not get a clear look. A few minutes later she walked behind the sushi bar and there was no mistaking it; it was definitely Tiffani. I was thrilled; she was my favorite chef on the show. Plus, the best line in Top Chef history was said about her (“I'm not your bitch, bitch!”).
Back to the food. There were specific dishes that Bruni waxed on about that I knew I wanted to try, so I marked off 9 dishes on the menu (they gave me a pen and told me to write directly on the menu and R said, “what is it with Japanese restaurants wanting you to do all the writing on the actual menu?” and then I told our waiter that I wanted the 9 items and rest could be omakase style with a price tag of $250 total. Here was our meal:
1. FRIED KUMAMOTO OYSTER yuzu kosho aioli, squid ink bubbles
2. HAMACHI spicy banana pepper mousse
3. FOIE GRAS balsamic chocolate kabayaki, raisin cocoa pulp, sip of aged sake
4. WILD SANTA BARBARA SPOT PRAWN garlic butter, white soy, preserved yuzu
5. WILD BLUEFIN CHUTORO republic of georgia herb sauce
6. KUMAMOTO OYSTER watermelon pearls, cucumber mignonette
7. SCOTTISH SALMON BELLY cilantro, ginger, hot sesame oil drizzle
8. WILD BLUEFIN TORO wasabi oil, lots of green onion
9. SEARED DIVER SCALLOP & FOIE GRAS shiso grapes, vin cotto
Meat and others
10. GRILLED SASHIMI OF CHANTERELLE & SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, homemade soy
11. OKINAWAN STYLE BRAISED PORK boston baked heirloom rice beans, homemade kimchee, soy maple sauce, kinome
12. TEA BRINED FRIED PORK RIBS hot sesame oil, honey, scallions
13. CHOPPED TEA BRINED CHICKEN THIGHS cucumber, avocado, carrot, ponzu vinaigrette
14. ONSEN EGG dashi sauce, truffle salt, homemade pickled garlic
15. SHISO TEMPURA WITH GRILLED LOBSTER charred tomato, ponzu aioli
The highlights: who would have guessed that a Japanese restaurant could do such amazing things with foie gras? I loved the scallop with the foie gras (#9) and I couldn't believe they peeled the grapes. The foie gras nigiri (#3) was unbelievably good. R was ready to get another order of it. The onsen egg (#14) was one they picked for us; it was an egg poached in a 62 degree immersion circulator. The texture was so different; it was almost like jellied foie gras (a good thing). Bruni stated that the plate of grilled mushrooms (#10) was possibly the best bite of his whole food journey. I wouldn't go that far, but the mushrooms were delicious.
R loved the pork ribs (#12), which were truly fall-off-the-bone tender, but I thought it the honey glaze was too sweet. He also really enjoyed the braised pork (#11), but I thought it was no different than pulled pork with soy.
As for the rest of the meal, nothing was bad, but nothing extraordinary and certainly it did not all live up to the high expectations set by Bruni and the prices.
At the end of it, I think enjoyed the meal more than R did. He felt that it came down to “portions, pacing and prices,” Although 15 dishes may sound like a lot of food, most plates were one bite each. It was a two hour meal, so on average we ate one bite of food every 15 minutes. It’s partially R’s fault though, he decided not to eat all day. I warned him that I read you could drop hundreds on a bill and be still be hungry for a big mac afterwards, but he didn’t listen.
Our bill came to a little over $300, which puts it second to Arrows in the most expensive meals category. I think it was certainly a culinary experience, but for sushi happiness, we’ll be heading back to Oishii.
BTW, we did get to speak to Tiffani before we left and I tried not to be too much of a crazy fan. I did tell her that I thought she should have beat Harold in the final.