Photo credit: Brook Griffin
I thought I had Privus figured out based on what owner Jarlath Quinn had done with his popular bar, The Kells, located right next door. After watching parties leave that watering hole mid-evening in search of Chinese food, Quinn hired a Chinese chef so that the bar’s patrons could have their lobster in black-bean sauce along with another round of Guinness. Then, when I heard Quinn had hired a chef from Ginza for his new nightspot Privus, I thought, “Okay, parties were leaving for sushi and he figured the same trick would work twice.”
617.787.7483 |165 Brighton Avenue, Allston | Open daily, 5 pm–1:30 am | AE, MC, VI
Full bar | No valet parking
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, Privus is a lounge, and it does have quasi-martinis with funny names, and sometimes it has music, but basically this is a serious Japanese-Korean restaurant. The bar is in the shape of a boat. The private booths have ocean-wave-like barriers to make them extra private. The whole place is done up in very techno Japanese black, white, and brown. And chef Jin Kim is the real deal, with the budget for airmail seafood and even imported Japanese mayonnaise.
As the waitress recited the specials of the day — seafood with Japanese names and English translations, available either as sashimi or sushi — it occurred to me to try them all by ordering the “Chef Jin’s special selection” (market price; recently $50). The chef started me off with a cup of miso soup ($2 à la carte). This is thinner, less salty, and more broth-like than other white miso soups, and that’s terrific in my book.
For real connoisseurs, it’s all about sashimi (raw seafood without the rice). Bearing that in mind, Jin took all the special seafood items and put them on a spectacular plate of sashimi. A large Pacific pen shell held thin slices of tairagai (the scallop-like pen shell) interleaved with thin slices of lemon.
Alternating distinctive and light flavors, the next item counterclockwise was four California sea-urchin roe on a leaf of shiso in a tall glass. These were the most deeply flavored uni I’ve ever tasted. Next was yellowtail, a mild white fish. It was light enough to use the accompanying wasabi-ginger-soy dipping materials. O-toro, the richly marbled bluefin tuna belly, was almost as rich in body and flavor as the sea urchin. Next to that were very thin slices of horse mackerel, some decorated with black caviar. Finally, there was Hawaiian wahoo, slices of a fish that seems to lack flake or grain, like tofu but with a lot of taste even when raw.
Returning to Privus with help, I worked down the menu without losing interest. A truly remarkable appetizer is “crispy salmon salad” ($10). A salad of crab, avocado, shredded cucumber, and salmon roe is wrapped in thin-sliced salmon, which is “torched” for a grilled flavor. The crispness is enhanced with tempura crumbs. Spicy Japanese mayonnaise pulls it all together, though the salmon roe is the key condiment. It all works like a dish that’s been served for hundreds of years. Special mixed sashimi ceviche ($10) is based on mixing sashimi chunks of tuna and strips of yellowtail (and some cooked octopus and one shrimp) with grape tomatoes and shredded vegetables, dressed with a Korean-style sweet-hot sauce.