My 21st birthday present from my boyfriend was a tasting menu at o ya, widely regarded as Boston’s best sushi restaurant! Chef Tim Cushman makes magic in the kitchen while his wife Nancy provides award-winning customer service in the front of the house. The Leather District restaurant’s renowned hospitality, eclectic music, and creative cuisine keep raising the bar for our city’s food scene.
Saturday, October 19, 2013. My birthday is on the 20th. But I was born in London at 2am, so taking into account the time difference between London and Boston, I technically turned 21 on the 19th! TWO BIRTHDAYS! #DualCitizenshipFTW. Also, the 20th was a Sunday and o ya is closed on Sundays, but that’s besides the point.
o ya offers two tasting menus: the omakase, and the grand omakase.
Ultimately, we opted for the regular omakase because our waiter indicated that it would be easier for the kitchen to be flexible with our likes and dislikes. We circled a number of items on the menu that we hoped would make an appearance in the tasting menu, including clam chowder, kobe beef, shrimp tempura, and toro with truffle.
For my 21st birthday, you need to know what I had to drink, right? I was feeling wild so I took a break from my signature ice water—shaken, not stirred—and ordered green tea. I know, but don’t worry, I kept myself in check throughout the evening. What’s the point of turning 21 if I’m not going to indulge in a little caffeine now and then?
Kumamoto oyster with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette. Our first course was kumamoto oyster, popular on the West Coast and in Japan, with watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette. My past experiences with oysters have been hit-or-miss, but if I would trust any restaurant in the city to deliver a hit oyster, it would be o ya. Sure enough, the oyster was sweet and nutty, and the mignonette’s vinegar paired in a pleasingly pickle-ish manner with the cucumber.
Shima aji (white trevally) with coconut dressing and spicy green mango slaw. Tasting menus are typically structured with the courses ordered from lightest to heaviest, so it made sense to have this cheerful arrangement early in our meal. The slaw was crisp, the dressing creamy, and the white trevally succulent. For a moment, the tropical flavors almost made me forget the grumpy New England weather waiting outside.
Scottish salmon with spicy sesame ponzu, yuzu kosho, and scallion oil.
Hamachi with viet mignonette, thai basil, and crispy fried shallot.
Suzuki sea bass with spicy cucumber vinaigrette, avocado, micro greens, and cilantro.
Diver scallop with sage tempura, olive oil bubbles, and meyer lemon. The olive oil foam obscuring the bite-sized scallop complemented the shellfish, but it was the sage tempura that grabbed my attention: chewy and sweet and herby and umami-ful, all in one bite.
Bluefin toro tartare with alba white truffles, sea salt, and garlic. Because once in your life, you need to experience a $68 course the size of a silver dollar, served just as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” begins to bump and grind in the background. Perfection.
This was my favorite dish of the night. The cold, silky toro melted in my mouth, accentuated by a few salt crystals and the earthy aromas of garlic and truffle.
Scottish salmon belly with cilantro, ginger, and hot sesame oil drizzle. This was reminiscent of the olive-oil seared salmon we had enjoyed at Oishii, but at o ya, the ginger accent spiced up the palate while sesame oil gave a hint of nuttiness.
Arctic char, yuzu-cured and hickory-smoked, with cumin aioli and cilantro. Call me a sucker for theatrics: I love when waitstaff remove the top from a covered dish and tendrils of vapor spill out. I was also a fan of the cumin aioli stripe smeared underneath the buttery char.
Fried kumamoto oyster with yuzu kosho aioli and squid ink bubbles. I love squid ink anything, aioli anything, and fried anything. A+.
Homemade fingerling potato chip nigiri with umbria black truffle. I smelled the truffle even before I saw it. The simple flavor profile was executed deftly: two starches, moist rice paired with a sweet potato chip, accompanied by the woodsy truffle.
Kyoto-style black trumpet mushroom nigiri with garlic and soy.
Shrimp tempura with a bacon-truffle emulsion and scallion-ginger oil. When seafood tempura is executed well, like here, briny notes of ocean and the lightly unctuous satisfaction of a thin, crisp batter waltz up and down your taste buds and you almost fall off your seat. I was glad my boyfriend pushed to include this item in our tasting menu.
Clam chowder with tempura bits, potato, pork fat drizzle and “cracklin’s.” One sunny afternoon at Crane Beach when I was very young, I discovered a clam the size of my palm. My parents told me that there was a living creature inside the shell. I was elated to finally have a pet and named my new friend “Katie.” Imagine my distress when I learned that my dad had thrown Katie in the woods because she was leaking all over the kitchen counter.
Understandably, this childhood trauma prevented me from enjoying clam chowder for over a decade. But at 21 years old, o ya’s clam chowder spurred my progress. The silky broth was punctuated by tidbits of crispy bacon and potato pebbles. Everything about the dish felt miniature.
Grilled chanterelle and shiitake mushroom sashimi, with rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, and soy. I need to eat these healthy things now, considering how old I’m getting. I refused to touch mushrooms throughout my childhood, along with onions and peppers and basically all vegetables. But in my defense, nobody was serving me this.
The mushroom sashimi, one of o ya’s specialities, exemplified how of a tasting menu will push me to try something I probably wouldn’t choose from a prix-fixe menu. This mushroom sashimi was appalling simple, as so many strokes of ingenuity are. At some point I will try to recreate this dish at home.
Seared petit strip loin of kobe beef, 2 oz, with tiny smoked potato and grilled onion. We spent 15 minutes debating whether to include this dish in our tasting menu because the up charge for the course was, ahem, hefty.
I am going to forgo attempting to describe the “wow” that is this dish. If you ever get the chance to try the kobe at o ya, do it and don’t look back.
Sake ice cream, vanilla creme, financiers, hazelnut spread, citrus jelly, berry drops. Happy birthday to me! The kitchen swapped out the planned dessert because we had asked for no foie gras, and I’m glad they did because the sake ice cream and financiers were excellent.
Post-meal chocolates! The lighter chocolates had hazelnut with spice, and the darker chocolates had caramel with green tea. The latter was my favorite.
Most people celebrate their 21st birthday by utilizing their newest legal right, but I don’t drink alcohol. In the days approaching, I wondered if maybe I would feel like I missed out on the key experience of turning 21.
This matters because I missed out on a lot of common coming-of-age experiences. I wasn’t in my high school yearbook, I never attended prom, I didn’t apply to college at the same time as my friends, and I was never a college freshman.
But sitting at o ya’s bar, I realized that I care about all of this much less than I did three years ago. I probably won’t even think of it anymore in another three years. And I wouldn’t trade any of those common coming-of-age experiences for the adventures I had instead, including my tasting menu at o ya with green tea.
High school is fading quickly in my rearview mirror. I like what I’ve replaced it with.
INFORMATION as of March 2014
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