Friday, January 30, 2009

Food that makes me cry? O Ya!

Howdy, folks. Still checking in on me? Well, that’s good. There’s been plenty of times, lately, that I’ve thought, "That was good. I should include that on my blog," but simply being too busy slows me down in posting. I’ll try to get back to regular updates. 

So, what brought me back from semi-retirement? Good food, of course! As a Christmas present, the Other Half took me and the Otter to dinner at a restaurant called O Ya. This place has been getting crazy good reviews…it’s even been called the Best Restaurant in America by one reviewer. With a place like that in our back yard, of course the Bear Squad had to investigate!

This place embodies the phrase "hole in the wall." It would’ve been very easy to walk right by it. Inside, the lighting was low, but not so low that you couldn’t appreciate the food. It’s tiny, too - only about 9 2-person tables that can be reconfigured for larger groups and space for maybe 18 more people at the Chef’s Counter. We had the corner seats at the Chef’s Counter, which was cool, because we could see the sushi and sashimi chefs doing their cutting and making. We could even peek back into the open kitchen beyond.
The building is in the old leather district, near Boston’s Chinatown. That means that it’s most likely a reclaimed factory, complete with huge beams, brickwork, big windows and such. Everyone had some nicely made dark wood chopsticks and a fork and knife. Everyone also had a unique chopstick holder….wood, metal, shell, blue china plate…lots of materials. And all the plates the food was served on were different, meant to aesthetically compliment the dish. A lot of nice attention to the look and presentation of the food. Like most omakases I’ve enjoyed, the waiter explained each dish as it came out. Which was good, because otherwise, we’d have been lost in the eight million dishes. I carried my handy pocket digital recorder and made commentary on each dish.
It took little effort to decide what to have. I love saying the word "omakase" to a waiter at a Japanese restaurant. It means that it’s Chef’s Choice – hit us with your best shot. The only things we wanted to be sure we got were their clam chowder, which sounded amazing, and their foie gras sushi, which everyone raves about. After being assured we’d have those, the Other Half and the Otter also asked if they could offer a sake and wine pairing. Since the owner’s wife is the sommelier, we weren’t surprised that they said yes.
Some quick definitions before we go on, in case you’re easily confused by types of sushi. This, at least, is my understanding of these terms. Sushi refers to a mound of vinegared rice, generally topped with meats, fish, or vegetables. Sashimi refers to raw fish with or without the rice, which can be pretty amazing on its own. Nigiri refers to hand-crafted sushi…pretty much a little mound of sushi with a piece of something on top of it. All of O Ya’s appetizers are referred to as being nigiri or sashimi. I’ll try to be clear about those as we go.
Our first dish was a sashimi of Kumamoto oyster, served with a cucumber mignonette and watermelon pearls. It was very pretty, served in the shell with the other components over it. It was very nice, with a bit of sweetness from the watermelon and cucumber and a hint of soy. This was followed quickly by a sashimi of hamachi (yellowtail), a fish that I’ve gotten very fond of, thanks to Japanese cuisine (Don’t even get me started on the hamachi at Morimoto.) This was excellent, served with a spicy banana pepper mousse on top that gave it some bite. It was lightly blow-torch seared, which gave it a smoky flavor, and the mousse on top was very airy and pleasant. The overall flavor was great! The Otter said that this was another of the dishes people had been raving about online.
Our next dish was a nigiri of salmon, served with blow-torched tomato, an onion aioli, and smoke salt. Now, I’ve mentioned my lack of love for salmon before, but, like at Radius, this was a very nice piece of fish…not fishy at all. The tomato added a kind of smoky and fruity touch to it, and the onion just made it taste very fresh.
After this came a nigiri of "warm eel". This was served with a kabayaki (sweet soy sauce), Thai basil, and fresh hot pepper. The Other Half thought it was fantastic, and we agreed. It had just been cooked along the outside, giving it a bit of crispiness, and it was sweet and a bit spicy. I love Thai basil, so this helped me enjoy this dish, whereas I’m not generally much of a big eel fan.
The next dish was a bit of whimsy…a homemade potato chip nigiri. It had a nice crispy potato chip on it with some micro-greens, with an aioli of onion and black truffle. It was fun and had flavors of citrus and a tangy mayo, but the truffle sort of overwhelmed the rest of the flavors. We enjoyed it while watching them blowtorch other pieces of fish.
This was quickly followed by bluefin tuna, served nigiri-style with microgreens and citrus zest. There was also soy-braised garlic which gave it a wonderful flavor, and the rich almost purple color of the tuna was just lovely. That was my and the Otter’s favorite dish to that point, although the Other Half was still fond of the eel.
Because one Kumamoto oyster per dinner was simply not enough, we were now served a fried Kumamoto oyster. This had an aioli with yuzu, an Asian citrus, and a foam of squid ink bubbles. It was technically a nigiri, as it was served atop a little tower of rice. We all agreed that that was now the best thing we’d been served so far. The batter was light and crunchy…it had sweetness and citrus flavor from the yuzu…a really lovely dish, honestly.

We then moved on to a nigiri of wild bluefin toro (one of the nicest and fattiest cuts of tuna). This was blowtorched and served with a spicy mayo sauce and sesame seeds. The Other Half almost literally licked the plate.

Around this time, I pondered on the eclectic music. When we entered, it was French ballads. It then meandered through reggae and settled firmly on American 50s standards like Rock Around the Clock. Very amusing.

We were then served Scottish salmon sashimi. It was prepared with a spicy sauce of sesame and yuzu flavors, as well as scallion oil, cucumber, and microgreens. This was a beautiful, brilliantly colored piece of fish. It was tasty...but not a knockout.

The next dish was hamachi sashimi...I believe I've commented on my love of hamachi. This one had what they called a viet mignonette...a very nice chili-oil sauce with Asian flavors, I call it. It also had Thai basil (yum), and crispy-fried shallots (also yum.) This was a wonderful dish...great textures with the crispy shallots, and great pop and sizzle from the spiciness. The Otter called it, "like eating fireworks", but he had been drinking an awful lot of sake and wine by this time.

The wild bluefin otoro came out next...another wonderfully fatty piece of fish. Wasabi oil gave it a nice kick, and the green onions gave it a sharp, fresh flavor. With a piece of fish this fatty (pretty much a fish made of butter at this point), the fresh taste of the onions was wonderful for cutting through the heavily fatty flavor.

A wild bluefin tutna tataki came out next. Tataki is a kind of sushi that it pounded very thin. This was was served with pickled onions that had been blowtorched and truffle oil. It was a very nice piece of fish, but the Other Half felt that the truffle oil overwhelmed the dish. I felt that, in combination with the pickled onions, it just added to the savory nature of the dish.

Is it scary to think we still hadn't made it to the main dishes yet?

We next received one of our only disappointments of the evening. We received a bowl of clam chowder, which many people had raved about. It was served with pork cracklings, a pork fat drizzle, crunchy bits of tempura flakes. This was a nice take on a classic dish, but it was really nothing special, especially in comparison to the way people had been raving about it.

On the plus side, we were also served a grilled "sashimi" of chanterelle and shitake mushrooms. This is served with rosemary garlic oil, a froth of sesame, and a homemade soy sauce. Hoo boy! This was absolutely amazing. The mushrooms were grilled to perfection and incredibly meaty. I could've been convinced I was eating pork, honestly. With the Otter being a vegetarian, it was nice having one purely vegetarian dish that wowed beyond all expectation.

But then...the Otter slipped off the wagon (as he sometimes does). We were served a fabulous petit strip loin of seared Wagyu beef. This was served with a smoked potato that was so cute and little I didn't realize what it was at first, grilled onions, and freshly grated wasabi. This was one of those dishes you have...when I ate at Morimoto for the first time, I discovered that his cooking could actually make me feel emotional. No joke, friends...your humble bear narrator had to wipe away a tear for Morimoto's cooking. I was again, enraptured and feeling I was eating a moving poem.

Now, I've had American Kobe's some mighty fine beef, I must say. But now prepared to say that Wagyu beef beats it up and takes its lunch money. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender, smooth and fatty. It was well-seasoned and extraordinary. The Other Half and I were waxing rhapsodic to such a degree that the Otter couldn't help himself. He asked for a small bite, which he had to admit was wonderful. The onion was sweet and caramelized...the smoky flavor of the potato was a surprise and so lovely. It gave the Other Half what we call a Ratatouille moment, where the flavor brought back a fond memory of his childhood. Really quite wonderful.

And that wasn't even the high point of the meal! Next came the restaurant's signature dish – a sushi nigiri of foie gras. This delicate, seared bit of beauty was served with a balsamic chocolate kabayaki and raisin coconut pulp. On the side, there was a flute glass with a sip of aged sake. The Otter again fell off the wagon and tasted this.

Putting this in my mouth made we want to cry even more. It just melted away, leaving nothing but love behind. It was the Otter's first foie gras, and I'm afraid it spoiled foie gras for him. It had a slight sweetness because of some of the component, but it was mostly buttery and delicate. The sake with it could be described as "sake port"...sweet and mellow, and a perfect compliment to the dish. Drinking the sake while the flavor of the foie gras was still in my mouth brought out such exquisite new levels of flavor...I'm not exaggerating when I say that this may be the best single piece of food I have even eaten in my entire life. Coupled with the Wagyu beef, this dish put this restaurant up in my top three, along with Radius and Morimoto.

To finish our meals, we ordered three different desserts to share. Having a great love of salt caramel, I was delighted to see a raw chocolate gelato served with sea salt caramel mousse and toasted sesame. The Other Half ordered a warm chocolate pudding cake, served with shiso cherries and créme fraiche. The Otter ordered a tres leches soaked Boston cream pie. All three were really delightful desserts.

With no hesitation, I recommend this restaurant. If you're going to be in the Boston area, and you want to find a really nice place to dine, make a reservation and plunge right in. This place is a treasure, and I am sure it will be a "special occassion" restaurant for us for years to come.

Well, we're leaving tomorrow for Walt Disney of my favorite places to go for fun and great food. I have a renewed desire to get blogging, so expect mroe reports, soon.

- The Happy Bear

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The foie gras was, indeed, the single best thing I've ever eaten. I think I heard angels. But maybe that was Roy Orbison on the restaurant stereo...