In 2008, the New York times named O Ya as the Best New Restaurant in the US. Later that year, Food & Wine named it as one of the 10 Best New Restaurants in the World. Since then, this little restaurant near South Station in Boston has been garnering accolades left and right. This year, Boston Magazine included it in the list of Where to Eat Now: 2010. What’s the hype all about? O Ya boasts of sky-high prices (I’d say around $250 per person) and the reservations are killer (call two, three weeks in advanced and you’re lucky if you get a seat), but is it really worth it?
Last week, I finally had the chance to find out. As we trekked to a dark alley in the leather district and I saw the nondescript door, I wondered if my high expectations would be met, crushed, or exceeded. For dinner at O Ya we tried the omakase, or chef’s tasting menu. Between courses, we sipped different kinds of sake. The service was impeccable and each dish was presented beautifully. And my verdict? O ya is worth it.
It is one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had. Not just “meal” – it is an experience. The ambiance and service is SUPERB. Sure, it has 5 star prices, but there is a hole-in-the-wall feeling and friendly, welcoming neighborhood joint-type service. We felt special and very well taken care of, thank to Tim, our wonderful server. And the food – oh, the food – was terrific. Each plate really looks like a work of art, each piece with nuanced flavors, each course seemingly trying to outdo the last.
Everything was served without any accompanying soy sauce/wasabi/pickled ginger (high end Japanese places do away with those, reasoning that each dish is already perfectly flavored). We had 16 course – each course being one piece of sushi/nigiri. We also had around four different kinds of sake, and my dining companions had beer too. We were told that we can make special requests for the omakase, if someone particularly likes/dislikes anything (a couple of my dining companions opted out of uni or sea urchin) or has any allergies (I said no oysters and please no fish sauce on anything).
I didn’t take pictures of each dish and admittedly I didn’t love every single one. There were a couple of pieces with a strong basil taste that tasted a little off for me, one with a sauce that made my tongue swell a teeny tiny bit (Tim said it was not fish sauce but another fermented sauce) – but nothing that a few swigs of sake couldn’t calm down.
And now for the glorious food. My top three favorites first:
Our table actually voted which dishes were truly remarkable and these were the other ones on my tally (yes, I took notes the whole night and tallied points from everyone):
Yes, it was a potato chip on top of rice. What? We like carbs.
With the torched tomato and aioli, Chris said this reminded him of a sandwich. I want to try whatever sandwich he is thinking of because this was delicious!
I don’t even like onions, but this dish made me rethink my stance.
And I don’t know what makes a wild Santa Barbara spot prawn so special (does it party hard in Santa Barbara?) but I do know that prawn, rice, garlic and butter makes for a very happy party in my mouth.
“At the risk of putting my credentials as a carnivore in doubt, I must say that the best dish on the menu — maybe the best dish of my entire journey — came from the menu’s vegetable category. Called “grilled sashimi of chanterelle and shiitake,” it seemed to me to settle any and all debate over umami, which has to exist if only to explain why these thinly sliced mushrooms, brushed with soy sauce and a rosemary garlic oil, have such a full, magnificent taste. Sesame gets some credit. In fact sesame gets a lot of credit, contributing to both a froth of porcini and milk that covers the so-called sashimi and to a brittle that’s sprinkled on the froth.”
I say, oh yeah.
We were at O Ya for about three hours, just chatting the night away and enjoying the well-paced courses. Dining at O Ya was an incredible experience. The food was so impressive, with layer upon layer of flavor. It is my best omakase experience (second is another small – but more affordable – restaurant in New York, called Sushi of Gari). No doubt, it is also one of the priciest meals, but for a special occasion where you’re willing to go all out and splurge, it is perfect.
What is the most expensive meal you’ve had or the most sought-after restaurant you’ve tried? Was it all worth it?