• Monday, February 26, 2007

    O-Ya - Set to Impress

    The will soon enjoy fine food in a new dining venue. Poised to open within weeks (days?), is going to be a fine addition to the neighborhood, and to Boston as a whole.

    I had the opportunity to sit down with Tim and Nancy Cushman recently and learn more about what’s in store for us.

    You may have guessed from the shoji screen window treatments that the restaurant opening on East Street is Japanese. Correct. If you assumed it will be like other upscale sushi venues in Boston, you’d be mistaken. We are in for a real treat.

    I was immediately impressed by several things during my introduction. First is the husband and wife team behind O-Ya. Unlike some restauranteurs riding the wave of interest in gourmet food, these people are the real deal . They also have a love for, and dedication to, the neighborhood. Boston’s had its share of posers in the business. We’ve seen them come and go, even here in the LD. Anyone remember Epiphany?

    Devotion to authenticity
    Tim and Nancy have been preparing for this opening for years. Steadily gaining expertise, honing recipes, making plans. Their attention to detail and their commitment to offering a great dining experience with authentic Japanese ingredients are evident. In a field where people apprentice for years, Tim has earned the respect of masters whom sushi aficionados may recognize from their first-name fame, “Nobu”, “Hiro” – O-Ya, we’re talking real cred here.

    Traditionally, sushi chefs must earn the privilege of training by first mastering things like sweeping and cleaning. Then perhaps they are graduated to learning rice making. This might take a year in itself. A deep, comprehensive and disciplined commitment to any endeavor is a given in the Japanese culture. There are no short-cuts. That Tim worked so closely with such masters all over the world speaks volumes of his dedication and his skill.

    Improvisation on a theme
    Like the jazz musician he is (Cushman trained at Berklee) Tim has a respect for tradition and a love for innovation, too. But make no mistake, O-Ya is no fusion-type of restaurant. The food here will be authentic at its core, in its spirit, with some variations on the theme.

    Even the renovation of the firehouse is an example of the balance the Cushmans aim to strike between tradition and innovation. For example, the sushi bar will be a true dining bar, not a drinking bar at which one may order food. A diner at a traditional sushi bar is seated lower than the chef. The Cushmans have chosen to level the interaction, quite literally. By creating a slightly less formal positioning of diner to chef, they intentionally encourage a more relaxed interaction.

    Their love of their adopted neighborhood is evident and they’ve taken care to incorporate the unique nature of the old firehouse into their renovation of this space. Recovered wood from old New England barns is used. The fire hose drying rack still hangs on the wall. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to use a pole to get to the restrooms.) Their mantra to the G.C. was “nothing shiny”. It looks like they got it right.

    Ingredients they choose also convey their dedication to offering a superlative dining experience. Poulet rouge (a French heritage breed chicken), Kurobuta pork and Wagyu beef (American Kobe) will be on the menu. Locally sourced vegetables, house-made tofu -- this is a master at work.

    Nancy has attained sake sommelier training from the only gaijin (non – Japanese) man to be invited as an official taster to a prefectural sake tasting. He was also the only non-Japanese to receive the award of “Accomplished Sake Taster” by the Pure Sake Association. As O-Ya’s Sake Sommelier, Nancy is prepared to share her love of sake and her considerable knowledge of it with guests. She brings corporate marketing background and sensitivity to a more Japanese way of doing things to this endeavor. Word of mouth, building relationships, disciplined bottom-up work is apparent here.

    We are poised to enjoy a truly unique venue right in our own neighborhood and we’re lucky to have this addition. With the opening of O-Ya, the Leather District will enjoy masterful food: forward looking, but authentic at its core. We will also enjoy the rare opening of a window into the Japanese culture itself.

    Tim and Nancy – Gokurosama!

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