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Impeccable — not adventurous — sushi
By ROBERT NADEAU  |  December 26, 2007

ON A ROLL: The Dice-K roll (front) isn’t bad, but the Phoenix roll is a real ace.

Haru | 617.536.0770 | 55 Huntington Avenue, Boston | Open Sun and Mon, 11:30 am–11 pm; and Tues–Sat, 11:30 am–Midnight | AE, DC, DI, MC, VI | Full bar | No valet parking | Street-level access
Since this spot was last seen as a Dick’s Last Resort, and Dick found a better spot at Quincy Market, you have to wonder who would resort to fixing up its vacated digs, oddly located under and outside the Shops at Prudential Center. The answer turns out to be the Benihana company, still slicing away at about 80 teppanyaki palaces on five continents. They’re also the owners of two sushi chains, including eight locations of Haru, which originated as an upscale sushi joint in New York. Now that we Bostonians have O Ya and the South End’s Oishii, Haru is not a New York–upscale sushi place to us. It’s a large, beautiful restaurant with very good service from which one can order impeccable if somewhat expensive sushi, and choose from a very good list of cold sakes. But it isn’t particularly adventurous.

The room has the same exposed black ceiling as when this was Dick’s Last Resort, but now there are hanging white panels, so the feel is Japanese postmodern rather than industrial. And the sound is bearable rather than, well, what you’d expect to hear coming from this space’s previous tenant. White scrims let in an abstraction of the street scene. Inside, cherry-wood tables float on a striped sea-green rug, echoed on the green-striped square chargers. The sound is techno.

Familiar appetizers are redone nicely. The “spinach sesame” ($5) is mixed with a thick sesame sauce that tastes like the usual dish, only better. Shrimp-and-vegetable tempura ($9.50) is dry-fried and served crisp and hot. Grilled garlic shrimp ($12) was my favorite: six large shrimp with real barbecue flavor and a heap of thick cellophane noodles to diffuse it. The disappointment was black cod miso ($13). Black cod is sablefish, one of the richest of all filets. Our small chunk wasn’t perfectly fresh, and it didn’t have enough miso flavoring to cut the richness.

Much of the menu is novel rolled sushi. No sushi bar can open in Boston without a Dice-K roll ($18) on the menu. But no one has actually determined what kind of sushi, if any, the Red Sox pitcher prefers, so most of the versions named for him have a red element. Haru’s Dice-K roll starts with red-and-white spiced tuna and plays off avocado richness and a coat of mango. Why the edible gold leaf on top? I guess it just symbolizes the big contract, because it has no flavor. Slices are topped with red and green (monster, perhaps?) tobiko caviar — that would seem to be the Sox reference. It’s not a bad maki: call it 15-12 with an ERA of 4.40.

The all-important Phoenix roll ($16) is where Haru really shows proper respect. Your favorite weekly fishwrap starts with rice around spicy salmon, along with a couple of long tempura shrimp, cucumber, and lettuce. That’s a lot of flavor, whether you’re having lunch, dinner, or just ordering stuff at night. (Get it?) The lobster roll ($18) is a good maki, too, but a lost opportunity for wit. I would have had the chefs make something that visually resembled lobster salad on a hot-dog roll. This is wide enough, but has just lobster, lettuce, avocado, spicy mayonnaise, and cucumber in an inside-out roll. So it tastes like sushi, not like a lobster roll of the local kind. (Also, when promoting “Boston lettuce” on the menu, that’s Bibb lettuce. Grand Rapids lettuce is a leaf lettuce, but it’s not Boston lettuce, okay?)

Entrées are a better value, judging by the chicken teriyaki ($16). You get a good sliced-up chicken breast, a bowl of real Japanese-type short-grain rice, a slice of sweet potato with raisin sauce, steamed broccoli, and truly memorable eggplant cut into flower shapes and deliciously fried with a soy-garlic dressing. A sashimi entrée ($24) was attractively priced but lacked shiso leaves and the usual knock-out item. Well, maybe the knock-out was the sawara (mackerel), which was uncooked, very fresh, and good. Mackerel is usually served as a cooked sushi or sashimi, so those two slices were pretty special, but the tuna, whitefish, yellowtail, and salmon were merely fine, and the surimi (phony crab) is no premium, even when not mentioned on the menu.

Haru has a decent list of California and international wines, and a better-than-decent list of premium cold sake. On a winter night, we opted for hot sake ($7) and were well satisfied with a warm little crock and hand-glazed thimbles. Green tea is complimentary and served in individual iron pots (tetsubin), and made weak enough to be really delicious.

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Related: Turning Japanese, Dice-k Dictionary, 2007 restaurant awards, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Beverages, Food and Cooking,  More more >
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