We tried the "Basho flavored sashimi sampler" ($18), even though it did not include the fascinating hamachi pastrami ($14.75). It did have three fantastic slices of kanpachi (amberjack) carpaccio ($14.75 à la carte) with a shiso marinade that really sang and a mixture of micro greens and seaweeds; a couple of beautifully striped slices of salmon with salmon eggs, jalapeno slices, and a garlicky aioli; and two slices of deep red tuna with a citric dressing. All of this is somewhat contrary to the artificial naturalism ideology of sashimi, so it is exciting rather than calming to eat.
There is a vast selection of modern, highly flavored sushi rolls, including the Fenway (green ingredients outside). This column always monitors the quality of the phoenix roll ($15.95) and this was a dandy, constructed as an inside-out roll around a crab stick, wrapped in seared salmon, spicy mayonnaise, and lots of flying fish roe for crunch. With eight slices, you can share it.
Basho does offer a few real entrées. Judging from our ginger pork tenderloin ($19), these amount to a reasonable serving of protein, a large heap of excellent Japanese white rice, a very ingenious onion slaw/salad, and a garnish of three lotus root chips.
We really got a lot more of the flavor of the kurobuta pork in a dish of soup noodles ($10) intended as ramen, but were allowed to substitute udon. The pork slices here were broiled for caramel flavor, then cooked well into a complex broth with mushrooms, scallions, and carrot stars.
There is a wine list of spicy-flowery bottles that have a chance with salty food, bottled beers, and a short list of choice sakes in the major styles. The house green tea ($1.50) is quite to my taste, which falls between the astringency of cheap green teas and the spinachy intensity of the most expensive ones.
Desserts are another course where Basho's skilled fusion really stands out. One night's special on cream chawan-mushi ($6) was a very rich custard with a fine dice of Asian pear and few berries. That one belongs on the regular menu, with chocolate lava cake ($7.95) that outdoes any French brasserie and an impeccable little key-lime tart ($6) with a few blueberries. Banana tempura ($7) adds toasted nuts to outdo all previous fried banana desserts, a hint of chocolate, a few slices of mandarin, and a scoop of top-quality vanilla ice cream tied into a decorative leaf.
Despite its dubious location — for half the year you can't park anywhere near there half the time, thanks to Red Sox games — Basho already has a young, discerning crowd. The food is great, but it does add up. Despite a vast duplex room, the dining area is screened off and uses a kind of bamboo fence/sculpture to give a good illusion of privacy. The ambient sound is slow, mild techno that might be stripped out of Sade records.
Service has a good balance of informality and efficiency. It's certainly not traditional Japanese restaurant food or culture, but it meshes in a way that seems timelessly right for now.
Robert Nadeau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.