Thursday, 24 April 2008
Cheese and Biscuits on tour - O Ya, Boston, MA
In some ways I'm glad it's been a few days now since my visit to O Ya, because it's taken me this long to really decide how I feel about the place. For the unitiated, this unlikely spot near South Station in Boston has been recently voted Best New Restaurant by the New York Times, and like any good foodie I was desperate to get in on the act before, as usually happens with these things, it gets all popular and you can't get a reservation unless you're a celebrity or a billionaire. One of the potential pitfalls of visiting a new restaurant is that the service can sometimes be a bit green behind the gills, and one can only hope the kitchen's fresh enthusiasm is enough to win you over. However I'm sorry to say that although the food at O Ya was generally pretty good, often excellent, the service was the worst I've had to endure almost anywhere in the world - never mind the usually stellar levels I'd come to expect in the US. And it's this massive gulf between service and food that has made an assessment of the whole experience so difficult.
Problems began as soon as we were seated, where we were forced to wait around ten minutes before our menus appeared, then another dreadfully long wait before the orders were taken. Our waiter had a habit of disappearing for fifteen minutes at a time without warning, and although I appreciate the flow of dishes was reliant upon the kitchen (some arrived two at a time, then nothing for ages) it doesn't explain why two members of front of house were there to greet people walking in off the street but there was nobody to get me a glass of tap water. It was all very frustrating.
I'm not going to attempt to describe every dish I ate at O Ya because like similar Japanese restaurants the dishes were many and mind-bogglingly varied. But highlights included an astonishing bitesize portion of Uni (sea urchin), bright orange and tasting of the ocean, and a spectacular plate of chanterelle and shiitake mushrooms nestling in a sesame seed froth.
Where some dishes tripped up was when they'd tried to make sushi out of luxury European ingredients - a nice idea on paper perhaps, but these things very rarely work. The homemade potato chip with perigord black truffle would have been lovely, for example, had it not been perched on top of sushi rice which made for an unpleasant muddle of textures - a bit like eating a potato chip sandwich. Also there's very little you can do to fois gras to make me not want to eat it, but O Ya managed it by putting a chunk of lovely seared and honeyed fois on top of some sushi rice, which in the mouth dissolved into something resembling savoury rice pudding. Pretty nasty - and a real waste of premium ingredients.
In all we had around ten or so dishes each over the course of a few hours, and as you can imagine this number of individually crafted mouthfuls didn't come cheap. The damage came to almost $160 each, an eye-watering amount for us Brits, never mind those on a dollar wage. Plus we'd trimmed down the usual 20% tip so it could have been even more. However although I've been moaning about the service and the odd duff plate of food I can just about see what has been getting the critics so excited about O Ya. It's top-end Japanese cuisine, labour-intensive and precise, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it if the service had been anything other than dire. As it stands, I would say wait a few more months before O Ya gets its house in order - it's potentially a thrilling evening out. Just avoid the fois gras sushi.