YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR: At O Ya, the prices are high and the food measures up.
This is the New York–iest restaurant we’ve ever had in Boston, and it’s not for the faint of wallet. It’s smaller, more creative, and more truly postmodern than Oishii Boston, but on that level. In fact, you may want to pop in for a small plate of sashimi and a glass of wine or sake just to check out the design, which has the industrial-chic flair of an old firehouse, stripped down to beams and walls. There’s enough steel and concrete to make a music video, but an array of pebbles, orchids, and ikebana keep up the Asian theme. The only problem is finding the door. It’s around the corner, in an alley.
Once inside, we started with wild ivory king salmon ($18) and Santa Barbara sea urchin ($23) sashimi. The first was one of the better sashimi I’ve tasted. As a cooked fish, ivory salmon is lean. But served raw, it’s even richer in texture than some tuna. The sea-urchin-roe sashimi, a bland seafood to begin with, was plumped up with sea-urchin mousse, which is also pretty bland and hard to pick up, even with a fork. Adding flavor were bits of fried shiso leaves (a strong citric herb) and fresh tarragon. Still, this is a tiny plate for the price. Even sea-urchin fans will want to wait for the cheaper and fresher Maine product to return.
Another fine option is chilled daikon “dumplings” ($11): three micro tacos made from folded radish slices, each containing miso “cheese,” meaty-tasting wakame seaweed, a shred of homemade kimchee, and a spicy mayonnaise. The tastes complement each other surprisingly well, and its long rectangular glass platter is strewn with edible flowers and micro greens.
My favorite plate of the evening was grilled sashimi of chanterelles and shiitake mushrooms with sesame froth ($15). The chanterelles — delicate wild mushrooms that are often overwhelmed in restaurant dishes — were plump and delicious in this treatment. Likewise, the shiitake were not too chewy, and were served with sesame brittle and cracked black pepper, which added explosions of flavor along with the frothed soy-sesame sauce.
As to the sushi selection, the “Peruvian-style chotoro tuna tataki” ($12) spun a little ceviche music (cilantro pesto, minced chilies) in with the wasabi and homemade soy sauce. It was served over excellent tuna that was seared at the edges, as well as a smidgen of perfectly cooked sushi rice. Many of the sashimi plates are also available as sushi, albeit with completely different accents.
Much of the menu features heirloom products like Poulet Rouge chicken, Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, and Wagyu (Kobe-style) beef. Thus, you can order O Ya’s “house salad” ($9) and end up with a Vietnamese version of this dish: a small mound of shredded vegetables, with pea greens and Asian mint on top. It boasts a decidedly meaty and sesame flavor, and is accented by spiced walnuts. This is not your grandfather’s house salad.
Neither is something like Okinawan-style braised pork ($18), an appetizer portion of well-flavored heritage pork chunks. They’re served in an exquisite soy-based sauce with perhaps a dozen fresh rice beans. Grandpa would eat every bite, but he might need about four plates for dinner.