O Ya, a Japanese fusion restaurant located in the Leather District of Boston, has been showered with accolades since its opening. In March 2008, a critic from the New York Times rated it as the #1 new restaurant in the United States; in January 2009, Boston Magazine rated it as Boston’s #1 restaurant. In simple terms, O Ya is a highly decorated restaurant.
With that said, and Japanese food being my favorite type of cuisine, I walked into the restaurant with high expectations. To be fair and more detailed, I will review O Ya on three dimensions: food, service, and atmosphere.
If you are a sushi purist like me, you have to remind yourself that O Ya is Japanese fusion. There are no simple nigiris. There are no simple slices of sashimi. And there are definitely no makis. The dining format and dishes resemble a tapas experience in that each plate is a small portion of unique tastes and ingredients. The menu is divided into nigiri, sashimi, and other categories such as vegetables, truffles, and beef.
Since my date and I ordered multiple dishes, I will summarize my key impressions on the food:
- Fish in the nigiri and sashimi dishes were very fresh and high quality, however, the complementing ingredients (such as the soy braised garlic in the Wild Bluefin Maguro Tuna Nigiri or the spicy banana peppers in the Hamachi Nigiri) would often overpower the beauty of the fish, making it a backseat highlight.
- For a fusion restaurant, there was definitely fusion in ingredients and tastes used. At times, though, there were ingredients in the dish that did not seem to add any flavor or texture i.e. the micro greens, only to be lost in the bite.
- Plating was elegant as expected from a fine dining establishment. I enjoyed the pickles as an extra touch to the eel tempura as a way to cleanse the palate.
My favorites of the night were the Eclectic Eel (with tamago, foie gras, and kyoto sansho) and the Afumagatto (raw coconut almond gelato and warm espresso bubbles).
I apologize for the horrible resolution - it was taken on an iPhone.
When we walked into the restaurant, the hostess took our coats and instantly knew my name and reservation time. Our waitress was keen on our needs, and she came around to check on us regularly. Our dishes were served in a timely manner, one course after another in a logical order, and at the right temperature, especially the dessert considering its nature.
Service was near perfect except for one glaring imperfection: our waitress pronounced “ma.gu.ro” as “ma.guro” like an American. I was secretly taken aback because I never expect a waiter to mispronounce something essential on a menu at a high-end restaurant. In all candor, that one mistake ruined my impression of the whole wait staff minus the sushi chefs who were speaking ridiculously fast to each other in Japanese. With tuna being featured front-and-center in so many dishes, I could not understand how our waitress did not know how to say it correctly. It bothered me so much that I left an anonymous note for the executive chef.
Reservations for O Ya are only for seating at the sushi bar, which make them hard to obtain either by phone or OpenTable. I made reservations a week in advance, only to get a reservation for 8:45pm. It was understandable once I saw the place because the restaurant only has a few tables next to the sushi bar. Besides the limited seating, though, I love the location of the restaurant. At night, it is hidden behind a huge wooden door on a dark street corner leading into an alley. The restaurant sign does not obnoxiously shout its presence, but rather, pops out like a little pin bubble on Google Maps. Once behind the wooden door, you enter a zen experience of stone and wood decor with dim, ambient lighting. Sitting at the sushi bar was very enjoyable because I was able to watch the sushi chefs work and smell the aromatic sauces that they were preparing. The close bar seating also allowed low and intimate conversations amongst diners. The ambience and restaurant layout are definitely a highly-recommend for a date spot or even a personal business outing.
THE OVERALL EXPERIENCE
The bill was not bad for two people at a “fancy restaurant,” but I am not sure it was quite quid pro quo. Perhaps we were paying for the creativity behind the dishes, which did not always accentuate the best tasting ingredient, or perhaps the service that was less than perfect? Whatever it was, I do not think I will return to O Ya for a sushi craving, but I am definitely glad that I dined at such a “prestigious” restaurant and only to realize that the local Japanese restaurant may do Japanese food more justice. Yet, I will reiterate, it is definitely an experience every Bostonian should try.