Boston Dreams of Sushi

Ryo Takahashi, Contributor

Seeking refuge from the autumnal breeze, I was walking in Boston’s Leather District and, at first, had inadvertently walked past my destination. O Ya, one of Boston’s upscale sushi restaurants, was right on the corner of East Street with a small wooden door that made way into a narrow entrance, as if one were entering a dimly lit speakeasy.

A waitress attended to my coat and led me to the main dining hall, which was a disorienting step into what looked like an upscale izakaya in Tokyo, complete with wooden beams, shoji screens, and Japanese sushi chefs deeply focused on preparing the food. I had heard great things about O Ya and was eager to experience what many consider one of Boston’s finest sushi restaurants for myself.

As a first-timer to the restaurant, I chose to go with the chef’s Omakase (chef’s selection) course, which promised a culinary experience spanning 17 dishes. My waiter was attentive and courteous, not too stiff but also not too casual, making me feel both attended to and comfortable in my surroundings.

And so it began. The first dish on the menu was the Kumamoto oyster with watermelon pearl. The light note of the oyster made the dish feel as if it were an hors d’œuvre, a gentle easing into a long savory journey. Indeed, this was confirmed when out came the second dish, an expertly prepared Hamachi Black Pepper. Being Japanese, I can attest that it had just the right amount of shari (rice) and su (vinegar). Expertly broiled, the Hamachi also had a subtle hint of sweetness.

After the hamachi came the Ora king salmon sushi. True to the reputation of Ora, the salmon was so fatty that it dissolved in my mouth. A delightful surprise was the dash of moromi (sake mash) that accentuated the buttery taste of the hamachi. By this time the sushi was moving along to progressively stronger tastes, as a good sushi course should do. Indeed, the next dish was a rainbow trout, seasoned with Thai basil, kabayaki, and Kyoto sansho (Japanese pepper). The otherwise light note of the trout was accentuated by the freshness of the basil and the spice of the sansho.

The next dish was one that I would not have been able to predict, and which differentiates O Ya from a traditional sushi restaurant. I was surprised to learn from my waiter that the dish was a homemade fingerling potato chip sushi with black truffle from Burgundy. It was delightfully crunchy and defiantly anti-tradition. The crunchy sound that the potato-chip infused sushi made in my mouth seemed as if it was boldly declaring its newfound presence into the sushi scene.

Next came wild spot prawn, with tamarind, habanero, and finger lime, which was very fresh and suggestive of a Latin-infused concoction of zest and spice. This was quickly followed by the fried island Greek oyster with squid ink bubbles and yuzu peppers; as the bubbles slowly dissolved in my mouth I could then taste the oyster and tinge of yuzu. After that came the bluefin maguro (tuna), a staple of sushi courses, but with a twist—it came with parsley and toasted walnuts. The last sushi was Kyoto-style maitake mushrooms, which was a perfect conclusion for the sushi sequence as it embodied umami in its freshness and simple preparation.

The sushi was followed by sashimi dishes, including kona kampachi (amberjack), Ora king salmon, Suzuki sea bass, and maguro tosazu. I was particularly impressed with the maguro, which had pinches of katsuobushi (dried fish flakes), chive, lime, spruce shoot, and shiso. Its texture bore the resemblance of chutoro and the taste was brought out by the deft addition of the katsuobushi.

Last came the cooked foods. First was the amaebi (spot prawns) beurre fondue and truffles. The mariage of truffles and katsuobushi was a superlative fusion of Japanese and Western tastes. This was followed by grilled hana shiitake (Japanese mushroom) and finally Japanese wagyu (beef). The beef was appropriately marbleized, and the accompanying potato confit filled my senses with the gingerly prepared wagyu.

The final course on the menu was O Ya’s signature dish, the foie gras sushi. I will not spoil how it tasted, but I will say this — the old adage of saving the best for last certainly holds. What O Ya accomplished in each of its dishes was an extraordinary rendition of a Japanese dining experience away from home. The masterful preparation of each dish and playful use of ingredients will surprise and delight even the most particular diners. Tokyo dreamed of sushi, and Boston has responded.

Ryo Takahashi (MBA ’20) originally from Japan, is a management consultant and writer. Prior to Harvard Business School, he worked as a Project Manager at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and was a Senior Associate at McKinsey & Company. Prior to these roles he worked at The Economist and The Japan Times. His writing has appeared in TIME Magazine, The Economist, The Japan Times, and the World Economic Forum, among other outlets. He received his B.A. in Economics (with Distinction) from The University of Tokyo and was also a Rotary Scholar to the London School of Economics (LSE), where he studied Mathematics.