Even the $149.99 Aragawa-style loin steak and frites — the most expensive steak in Boston, as well the item that jumps off this menu — is not a huge portion: perhaps four-inches square and two-inches thick. Worse, it wasn’t exceptionally tender. The flavor is to aged steakhouse steak as sake is to dry sherry. That is to say, the Kobe-style beef (Aragawa is a famous expensive steak restaurant in Tokyo) has a pure, lean, clean, and mild beefy flavor. White (true) wasabi, which is milder than the green horseradish-enhanced wasabi, was the only condiment. The frites served with it were long, large slices of skin-on potato; they were nicely fried, but over-seasoned with sea salt. The Phoenix spent this money so you don’t have to; if you are that hungry, have several dishes, perhaps including one of the smaller beef plates.
Even the fried soft-shell crab ($16) isn’t your grandfather’s soft-shell crab. It’s half a crab, fried to a perfect crisp, positioned on the edge of the plate so that the legs point up, and served on a puddle of spicy mayonnaise, which is an impeccable condiment for any fried food.
O Ya has a list of 17 sakes, but don’t expect any of them to be served warm — quality sake never is. One of the owners here is a trained sake sommelier, and can match particular sakes to your food. Here, though, I matched a range of dishes with an Asahi dry beer ($7), which is perhaps the perfect foil for Japanese flavors. The Zind Humbrecht 2005 gewürztraminer ($14/$55) was also quite successful: richer and with a smoother finish than the usual style of Alsatian gewürtz. For a red wine, the 2005 Vina Chocolan carmenere ($9/$34) was all deep, dark fruit, in a lighter style that brings out some spice.
Dessert lovers will be pleased to discover that the selection here is as unusual and enticing as that of the sashimi. My favorite was a mixed berry crunch ($12), with ripe mixed berries in a lukewarm creamy sauce. The dish it was served in was quite hot, so this was probably an error. Still, the flavors were excellent. Tres leches Boston cream pie ($12) was equally delicious, with a core of dense, sweet, white material similar to that of a Central American tres leches cake. The base seemed to be crumbled chocolate cake, and the topping was top-quality Venezuelan chocolate shards; every bit of it was delectable. A warm chocolate-pudding cake ($10) tasted like a smaller version of the standard-bistro variety. It was accompanied by a dollop of real crème fraîche, which is milder than sour cream but somehow deeper in flavor, as well as shiso-candied cherries that are vaguely reminiscent of umeboshi (shiso-pickled Japanese plums), but sweeter and less weird.
Somehow, service at O Ya manages to be delightfully casual, despite the many unusual features of the restaurant. The room was fairly empty early on a weeknight, but when it finds its fans, I suspect they will be young, wealthy, multicultural, and loud.
O Ya | 9 East Street, Boston | Open Tues–Thurs, 5–10 pm; and Fri & Sat, 5–11 pm | AE, MC, VI | Beer, wine, and sake
No valet parking | Ramped access; bathroom down full flight of stairs | 617.654.9900
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Robert Nadeau: RobtNadeau@aol.com