February's Can't-Miss Dish

Sushi Hand Rolls at Birds of Paradise
Credit: Chris McIntosh
By Ellen Bhang · 02/01/2023

Looking for a no-fail, mouthwatering, gonna-tell-your-friends-about-it plate? Each month, Boston Globe columnist Ellen Bhang highlights the dish you need to try right now—and something to sip alongside it. 


Sushi Hand Roll at Birds of Paradise


On the plate: Karamayo Sake Sushi Hand Roll  

Where to find it: If you are seized by a desire to flee New England and decamp to somewhere tropical, the team at Birds of Paradise—Boston’s newest cocktail bar—understands you perfectly. They’ve created a cosmopolitan-feeling venue that’s a world away from your average tiki bar.

Located at Brighton’s Charles River Speedway marketplace, Birds of Paradise is the latest from award-winning-bartender-turned-restaurateur Ran Duan. Proprietor of The Baldwin Bar at Sichuan Garden, Blossom Bar, and Ivory Pearl, Duan is a master at creating a vibe, and the Brighton bar, open since December, is his vibiest yet. Mid-century-modern light fixtures cast a soft glow on lacquered wood paneling and a handsome marble-top bar. Rustic stone walls, preserved from the bar’s buildout, make you think you’ve stumbled into an underground speakeasy. But look closer at the decor and you’ll see this spot is channeling the golden age of air travel, when intercontinental flights transformed the friendly skies into cocktail parties for the jet set. Black leather valises sporting vintage airline stickers and a roster of drinks named for dream itineraries—like Kingston to Milan, and Lima to Dubai—reinforce that globetrotting theme.

What you’re eating alongside these high-flying libations is equally exquisite.

Notes on the nosh: Sushi hand rolls are the focus of the compact food menu at Birds of Paradise. Temaki is typically wrapped into a cone of nori seaweed, but chef Robbin Qi’s presentation allows you to admire premium fillings like Maine sea urchin and lightly seared Hokkaido scallops. “It’s prettier,” he says, “and the open-face taco style keeps the nori crispy.” (Qi, who trained as a gemologist before switching careers to sushi, knows a thing or two about creating jewel-box-like presentations.)

Each of the six hand rolls start with premium short-grain rice, steamed then seasoned with aged vinegar made from brewed rice, centered on a trimmed sheet of nori. Try the Karamayo Sake, which blankets that sushi rice with diced raw salmon and caviar-like tobiko, dressed with Kewpie, an egg-yolk-rich mayonnaise, plus sriracha and chili sambal. Filament-like ribbons of dried red chilis adorn the top, along with teensy rice crackers—each no larger than the head of a pin—that add delectable crunch to every bite.

Sip alongside: Such an outstanding hand roll deserves an equally transportive cocktail. Will Isaza, who holds a management role for Duan’s group of bars, says that an early version of the silky, colada-style beverage called Rio to Tokyo was originally created for an omakase pop-up at Ivory Pearl. The current iteration at Birds of Paradise combines cachaça, a Brazilian sugar cane spirit, with fresh pineapple juice, white miso, and a house-made coconut cordial cut with wasabi. Nutty-tasting amontillado sherry draws all components together, while minty shiso resets the palate so you crave another sip. The beverage comes in a tall black mug, decorated with a geometric design made of powdered green tea. While that matcha is stenciled onto just one side of the vessel, Isaza says it’s common for guests, in the course of animated conversation, to get some on their hands. “You’re more than welcome to lick your fingers,” he says. “There’s no judgment on our end.”

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