In Zen Buddhism it’s called “ma”: the importance of empty space. The pauses in a speech serve to emphasize its words; the blank space on a canvas brings life to its painted portions. Similarly, in a dark and minimalist room at O Ya, on a neutral-toned plate of much larger size, a rosy sliver of hamachi seems to burst into life, each progressively smaller layer of colorful garnish warranting full attention.
These too-pretty-to-eat plates are the embodiment of “ma” . . . almost. Physically or flavorfully, there’s no emptiness to be found in a mouth filled with one of O Ya’s morsels. Without a single maki on the menu, courses are parsed in one or two bites, each one unraveling layers of texture and flavor. It won’t be of the spicy-mayo-meets-tempura-flake variety, but you’ll discover original combinations deserving of just as much fame: Watermelon pearls and cucumber mignonette bring a Kumamoto oyster to a new level of refreshing, while a fingerling potato chip nigiri topped with a slice of black truffle rescinds any formerly held prejudice toward starch-on-starch combos.
Even those not savvy to O Ya’s James Beard-crowned, New York Times-Restaurant-of-the-Year-winning reputation will quickly pick up on it. Whether watching fastidious chefs shave slices off a giant white truffle behind the sprawling sushi bar or diving into gyoza that just couldn’t stand to be generic (hence an abundance of foie gras), there’s no denying that this is the classiest place around—sushi or not. Indeed, two ounces of seared Kobe strip loin—with a subtle marbling like you’ve never seen, melting away like butter—easily put the fanciest filets in town to shame.
A slow progression of bite-sized courses at the restaurant with the sixth-most-expensive tasting menu in America is a far cry from the noisy small plates that crowd tables elsewhere. And it should be. Because “ma.” The presence of a void between objects allows them to exist in harmony. Expect a long evening, where slow sips of sake fill the space between dreamlike single bites. By the end of it all, you’ll have reached a new level of Zen.
Menu prices aren’t listed online, perhaps because nobody dines here to save money. But a 20-course tasting menu will set you back $285, plus another $150 for drink pairings. O Ya’s most classic dishes are all available a la carte, too.
A few sakes by the glass are served (in real wine glasses!), and servers are happy to recommend. Wine lovers venturing into sake territory should go with the Shichi Hon Yari Junmai, earthy on the nose but fresh and fruity on the palate.
Tell your NYC friends: O Ya’s success here encouraged Tim and Nancy Cushman to open a second successful outpost in Manhattan in 2015. Since then they’ve kept growing, with a third O Ya location in Mexico City, izakaya-inspired Hojoko in Fenway, and two new casual spots in Boston’s Time Out Market: Gogo Ya and Ms. Clucks Deluxe Chicken & Dumplings.
In Japanese, “oya” means something like “my!” or “oh!” Every bite of dinner here thus becomes a titular moment.
Tastes of O Ya
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