Perhaps the Country's Best Japanese Restaurant

In 2008, The New York Times’ restaurant critic, Frank Bruni, put O Ya at the top of his list of the “country’s best new restaurants.” The following year, Boston Magazine named it “Best of Boston 2009, General Excellence.” More accolades followed. Most importantly though, Jeff suggested that I go there, so I recently visited to see if O Ya could dispel my skepticism about Boston’s culinary scene.

O Ya is pleasant and unpretentious. The menu is divided into two sections. The front features nigiri and sashimi, while the back includes vegetables, meats, salads, soups, and several interestingly named categories: ‘truffles & eggs,’ ‘other stuff,’ and ‘something crunchy in it.’

We ordered omakase, which focused on the nigiri and sashimi. It began with oysters— one of two prominent appearances of this ingredient that seemed strategically timed. Though both dishes featured Kumamoto oysters, they could not have been more different. The first was a summery dish that opened up the palate with bright, delightful flavors: Fresh Kumamoto Oyster coupled with Watermelon pearls and Cucumber Mignonette.

At the meal’s midpoint, just as the memory of the fresh oyster began to fade, the evening’s best dish arrived, Fried Kumamoto Oyster with Yuzu Kosho Aioli and Squid Ink Bubbles. The fried oyster was light and fluffy, but possessed dark, savory flavors. Its squid ink bubbles paired elements of traditional Japanese cooking, avant-garde gastronomic technique, and good old New England-style seafood. The oyster was a masterpiece that melted away mellifluously. It was unlike any oyster I have ever tasted.

The Hamachi with Spicy Banana Pepper Mousse was also enjoyable. Using a sweet, strong ingredient like banana pepper could be audacious, but in this case it brought out the fish’s flavor. A Homemade La Ratte Potato Chip with Perigord Black Truffle was simultaneously a celebration of juvenile delight and seasonal ingredients, and an exultation of Japanese refined elegance. Execution of the Foie Gras with Balsamic Chocolate Kabayaki, Raisin Cocoa Pulp, and a Sip of Aged Sake was exquisite. The dark, thick sake was a sweet, wonderful note after the richness of the foie gras and the bitterness of the chocolate.

O Ya was spectacular. The food was brilliantly crafted and the ambience was wonderful. Service was impeccable and the timing of courses was spot-on. We did not feel rushed, but never waited long for the next dish. Staff members were friendly— our waitress was happy to answer all our questions. And at the end of our meal, we were greeted warmly by Nancy Cushman, the proprietor and sake sommelier, who told us that coincidentally, she had been perusing just hours before.

There is nothing else like O Ya in Boston and nothing quite the same in New York City. The closest comparison would be a combination of Masa and Soto, but drawing these comparisons does not do justice to its unique qualities. While no longer new, O Ya’s innovative cuisine ensures that the rest of the appellation above still rings true. It might just be the country’s best Japanese restaurant.

— Zach Aarons

9 East St (at East Pl)
Boston, MA 02111
$ $ $ $