No. 9 Park
For an important dinner, discerning Bostonians turn to No. 9 Park, a sophisticated eatery set in an elegant town house in Beacon Hill. Just down the street from the State House, the dining room hosts politicians and businessmen plus a regular crowd of foodies who flock to feast on executive chef Barbara Lynch’s menu. Lynch, a local food impresario who also owns B&G Oysters, features local ingredients, from costal clams and Maine crabs in the New England gazpacho to artisanal butter from a tiny dairy farm in Vermont. Travelers short on time or money shouldn’t skip the restaurant entirely. The bustling bar area has tables, and a few appetizers will go well with the bartender’s top-notch cocktails. Although this area can be packed in the after-work hours, it’s well worth waiting to get in.
Lobster rolls aside, Boston isn’t known for its fine food. The city has its share of great restaurants, but the chefs are known more for producing good standards rather than pushing the boundaries of creative cooking. O Ya is an exception. Opened in March 2007, this contemporary Japanese eatery combines inventive cooking with a groovy, speakeasy atmosphere–a blend so seductive that New York Times food critic Frank Bruni recently named it the best new restaurant in the country.
But finding this culinary heaven is difficult. Located on a desolate street near Boston’s train station, the entrance is tucked away on a gritty, cobblestone alley. Swing the unmarked wooden door open, though, and the scene beckons. The building, a century-old firehouse, has a Japanese tavern meets SoHo loft feel, with soaring ceilings and shoji screens. When I took my seat at the bar, the two sushi chefs were calmly slinging blowtorches and knives and Patsy Cline was playing in the background.
As fantastic as the atmosphere is, the food is the true star. Each day, chef Tim Cushman tweaks his menu of seventy-plus dishes to reflect what’s fresh and seasonal. Inventive combinations such as a hamachi sashimi with a spicy banana pepper mousse perfectly balance the freshness of the fish (most is flown in daily from Japan) with a kicky, unexpected condiment. The salmon belly, seared with a drizzle of hot sesame oil, has a buttery texture rarely found in American sushi joints. The most fantastic combo, however, is a fried kumamoto oyster with a yuzu kosho aioli settled on a small bed of rice and topped with briny squid ink bubbles–one of the more fantastic bites of food I’ve had in my life. Luckily, the dishes are small, so diners can relish the raw offerings and still have room left to try clever cooked dishes like foie gras gyozo, sake braised short ribs and shiso tempura with grilled lobster and charred tomatoes.
Nancy Cushman, co-owner and sake sommelier, reigns over her own list of twenty-some sakes and can suggest pairings with any of the offerings from her husband’s kitchen. (A well-edited wine and beer menu is also available.) Servers are friendly and well informed, happy to help a novice navigate the overwhelming amount of choices. Given the small number of tables and towering ceilings, the dining room doesn’t feel crowded even when full. And somehow, getting a reservation isn’t impossible. That, however, is sure to change. As word gets out, this hidden gem will surely become a first stop on any visiting foodie’s list. Plan accordingly and arrive with an advance reservation, an empty stomach and good directions. And that’s the same advice that I give to friends visiting my favorite restaurant in Tokyo.
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