Hidden within a quiet alley in Boston’s Leather District is a restaurant experience inside a cozy brick and beam environment with dim lights echoing eclectic music while your senses feast on intricate creations at a placed called O Ya .
I’d heard numerous rave reviews (nytimes , yelp) about O Ya since it’s opening 3 years ago, and with delight experienced what just might have been one of my favorite sushi meals in Boston. The combination of a warming environment, attentive personal service, a carefully crafted menu, and an execution to freshness and details made out for an fantastic experience… damn it was good!
Read the rest of the review after the jump which has several photos and reactions to each dish, including the full O Ya menu.
Upon entrance, one is transformed into a darkened peaceful space welcomed by very delightful host. The space peeks into the main dining area, with counter seats on the left facing several sushi chefs with an array of fresh vibrant ingredients with tools behind them next to the brick beamed windows with calming lit lamps. To the right are a dozen small tables across the long wooden wall cascading light and a few tall flowers in vases.
It seems to fit about 40 people which keeps the intimacy of the service and makes the experience appreciative. At the end of the hall is a bright white kitchen churning out a variety of delicate dishes and a glimpse at the grill fizzling each time food gets placed on it. The sound of a flaming hand torch searing fish sends a delightful aroma across the room. Music swiftly plays through the high ceiling space blending in with echoes of guests, which makes for a nice casual experience.
The space is filled with warming earth tones and sprinkles of flowers echoing the bright sensational colors of fresh fish on display. Plates, sake cups, and most of the utensils have the charming hand made feel to them.
As much as I can talk about the environment, one element that always makes for a great experience is great service and a staff knowledgeable in ingredients, drinks, their restaurant, other restaurants, and have personality. They will even tell you what is actually not as good and what to get that day based on your appetite. O Ya’s staff was very attentive, checking in on almost every dish, giving a few surprise samples of food and drinks, and several staff members greeted us from the host (tim), owner(tim), owners wife (nancy), the several sushi chefs out front, and even a chef from the grill (mike) came out to say hi with some pointers on the menu. We chatted food, restaurants in and out of Boston, travel, and whatever came up. The size of the space allowed for this attention, and with this attention, made the food and experience just as delicious.
Food (8/10. I’d give more, but I need to try everything)
Without a doubt O Ya has a combination of taste new to most palettes. The menu is both simple and complex with several twist to the traditional Japanese menu. There are not any rolls, but several individual pieces of of well-crafted pieces with dashes of unique elements to make tasteful bites that make you moan “woa” eyes closed. A pinch of truffle oil, a basil leaf hidden beneath the fish, wasabi oil, sesame froth, sea urchin jus, kuidashi gelee, aged sake, atop some of the best grade sushi I’ve ever had. I did not try everything but for a first visit I had a variety of dishes. Larger plates are available but I prefer mini bites of adventure served one after another versus getting everything at once… I personally don’t admire sushi boats which distract me from the sushi. I’ll go into details about each dish below, but I’ll also quickly mention price.
On Yelp, everyone says go to Chinatown next door and spend $20 on food, then go to O Ya. I found this amusing as $20 in Chinatown is quite a bit of food. To eat a filling dinner at O Ya plan to spend $75-150 a head. You can spends less, but this depends on what you order… and there is plenty of room for spending more since there is a 8 oz Aragawa Strip Loin for $190. The spacing between serving helps a bit since you don’t gulp down everything at once. I highly prefer this method as I experience each bite independently and really appreciate the intricate ingredient blends. This also helps fill you up better at a healthy pace.
Myself being a foodie and experience designer, I think the price is good. You get high grade sushi, with a synthesis in flavors you can’t find anywhere else, the service and environment are great, and the food is unforgettable. The price does empty your wallet a bit, but in question is would I trade in 2 great meals for this one… and the answer just might be yes…just not every week. Come here on a special occasions, a celebration, when your friend from out of town is visiting, a great date, a friend from japan, or just if your a foodie and love great food. Even if I return to another place that cost $60, I’m going to remember what I could have experienced for $30 more.
an 8/10. This is being critical, as I’d usually give O ya a 12/10, but I need to go back, try everything else, and make sure the experience is consistent.
Okie, enough about the experience, let’s look at the goodies below.
First the menus if ya’ll want to dig into them.
First Dish: Whew! This really set the tone of the restaurant. You take an entire bite, the foam squid ink surrounds your palette, then you bite down into the warming tasty oyster, followed by the tempura like crunch… then the soothing simple rice…and your smiling. This is when you look at your neighbor and give the nod of satisfaction.
Kasu Jiru Salmon Miso Soup: daikon, carrot, gobo, konnyaku
dish 2: Miso soup… very home like. Served in a whimsical bowl, with large chunks of vegetables, pieces of salmon, and a stewing thickness unlike most miso’s I’ve had before. If anything, this made me calm as if sitting in front of a campfire.
dish 3: Oh my!!!! One bite into the brittle, cold, fresh hand made black squid ink soba along with the melting sea urchin, paired with a sliver of seared squid and a sauce like no other! WoW. I was in heaven. So simple, so tasty…. a taste I’ve never experienced. The bar just got raised beyond expectations.
dish 4: When I go to a sushi restaurant the sea urchin generally tells you the quality of the place. The last dish already raised the bar, but this simple combination of Hamachi belly, sea urchin, and a zesty mint leaf really left my mouth ooooing and ahhhing. Fantastic!!
dish 5: I love eel, and this warming piece was nicely prepared. I’ll admit I’ve had better Unagi near Kyoto which also had some kind of numbing powder, but this brought that memory back. The basil leaf under the eel was a nice surprise… it gave it a bit of a leafy crunch, releasing a splash of basil into your mouth with the eel..making you go Ooooo.
dish 6: I’m a salmon lover… generally I like my salmon raw, but I was glad to find the outside lightly cooked, while the inside was still raw. I somewhat wished they torched this instead.. but the mix with the pickled onions and sauce really gave this a pleasant taste.
dish 7: this was an extra dish given to us to try out. I’ve never really had salmon belly, but it’s incredibly tender and soft. I’d like to try just the belly by itself, but the cilantro went nice with the ginger (I love ginger), and the sesame oil drizzle was unique, but I could do without it. I like spice, but this one did not feel as integrated, though the fish was jaw dropping good.
dish 8: as I said before, the uni defines the quality of the restaurant, and O Ya’s uni seriously just melts and massages into your mouth. Amazzzing. I can eat this all day.
dish 9: I’ve had Otoro before and really don’t recall it being anything like this, but that’s probably because the grade I had before was not as fresh as this. The meat is so tender that your chopsticks have a hard time picking this up, almost like a a soft fresh piece of tofu. The taste. Oh my! You’ll just have to come here to try it out. Be prepared to close your eyes and make odd noises in a crowded restaurant. I’m nodding my head just writing about this.
dish 10: I love lobster. I’ve never had lobster at a sushi restaurant. This was pretty good, but the highlight for me was the shiso tempura leaf which went well with the seared lobster piece. A rather large bite…but we’re in Boston.
dish 11: Grilled Saba! If you want a fishy taste, this was a smack in your face hello mackerel. A hefty tender piece of meat full of fishy taste. This is not a dish for a beginner, and a definite know what your about to eat. I enjoyed it, though I think I’ll stick to the raw stuff. Maybe I’ll get a hamachi Kama (jaw) next time…a must for anyone. Not sure if thy have this there.
Dish 12: U… U….. A big capital U for UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!! This was yet another sample given to try out. I was eating with a vegetarian friend so I wasn’t able to try this initially, but they brought this out by surprise, and luckily I got to feast on this heavenly dish twice! OOOOoooo…yea…..head nodding, mouth smiling, eyes gleaming….. oOooh yeah!!! The aged sake served in a thin champagne glass was new to me… a heavier smokey taste, complementing this well. A must have if you like foie gras.
Grilled Sashimi of Chanterelle & Shittake Mushrooms: rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, homemade soy.
Dish 13: The staff felt bad that they surprised us with a foie gras dish (I was happy), but returned with this delightful extra. We never actually said one of us were vegetarian but just said we liked fish, so it was not their fault. These grilled mushrooms are incredible. The froth concealed what tasted like sprinkles of sugar atop the tender warm mushrooms which left little crunchy pops as I bit down. A real winner for a none fish dish leaving a meaty texture ! I’ll have to get this again.