The bar was Les Zygomates and it was a quiet change of pace from the noise and bustle of Union Street. We settled into high top seating in the bar right in front of a wall of wine bottles and, for the first time, felt like we had invaded sacred space. I suppose the restaurant and bar was located far enough off the tourist vortex that our obvious aura of being outsiders was met with some skepticism. We were probably a little loud for their refined sensibilities but, like most establishments, money talks and we were able to win them over by ordering drinks and a dozen cracked crab claws. And a lobster roll. Since the ladies were not keen on the sushi adventure that awaited us around the block, they declared this would be their dinner. Not wanting to interfere with my sushi prep, I limited myself to one bite of lobster roll and one crab claw to go along with my final bitters and soda of the day. The lobster roll was very good, not overly sauced, and the crab claw was good enough to want two but I held firm in my process. I believed in my process. My process was working. Shannon and Hope got swept up in the moment, probably excited that, for once, Kyle and I were not eating their food, and ordered a second dozen cracked crab claws to mock us. With an hour to fill before our final meal of the day, our bodies and souls began leaking enthusiasm and a weariness descended. Kyle, not wanting us to lose momentum, excused himself and returned in fifteen minutes with a round of Five Hour Energy drinks for the table. A toast, a chug and we were ready to continue our Friday night food tour, juiced up on natural adrenaline and unnatural levels of B12.
We walked two blocks to the entrance of O Ya, an award winning sushi restaurant located in a former firehouse. We had been planning this meal for weeks, making this the zenith of the culinary part of our weekend. The interior was small, the left side of the restaurant taken up with a bar surrounding the three sushi chefs and the other half with tables. I imagine capacity would be 35 people. We chose to sit at the bar, Kyle and I sitting on each end of the corner, our wives accompanying us on each side. We also chose to engage in the Omakase chef’s tasting menu that included 20 courses with alcohol pairings. Kyle and I were swimming in a heady mix of anticipation and giddy intensity, unsure what we were getting ourselves into but confident it would be a worthwhile adventure. The ladies may not have shared our enthusiasm but they were happy to be along for the edible ride. What followed was remarkable, something I have never experienced before and probably will not get the opportunity again. We sat for three hours, patiently watching the chefs create each course and savoring every morsel. The three sushi chefs stood quietly, waiting for an order and then would effortlessly begin the prep of unusual combinations of Japanese sashimi with a New England edge. No movement was wasted, their seemingly effortless precision was entertaining as well as inspiring. Most courses were a single bite with a myriad of complex flavors and the trick was to try and eat slow, extending the moment. We savored fried Kumamoto oysters with yuzu kosho aioli and squid ink bubbles as well as an onsen egg with white sturgeon caviar, gold leaf, green onion and dashi sauce. Alas, there was no lobster roll to pass around, only warm lobster ponzu buerre fondue with winter truffle and bonito. Fortunately, each sake and wine pairing was spread out across several courses causing only a minor pile up of glasses at the bar. Every course was memorable and Kyle and I savored every one. The combination of exotic flavors, smooth sips of saki and wine and our genuine excitement of being immersed in the experience created an unusual buzz. It was a once in a lifetime evening and we made sure we relished every minute.
My fears about my lack of stamina finally came into play at course sixteen. At 100% physically, I would have had no issues maintaining throughout all twenty courses but I was less than that. I needed a break and Kyle did his duty by eating my portion along with his. I jumped back in the boat at course nineteen when the Waygu beef medallions were served. I did not think it was possible for beef to melt on my tongue but course nineteen proved me wrong. I shared one of the precious slivers with Hope, her only dip into my evening.
As we ate, our respect for the chefs and their expertise grew. Possibly, we held them in too high esteem, especially after one of Kyle’s Waygu beef medallions fell off his fork and landed on the floor. As I watched the scene unfold and then saw Kyle bend over, pick up the sliver and set it inside his napkin, I leaned over to Hope and said, “I bet he ends up eating that before the night is over.” She initially disagreed but, after considering it for a moment, reluctantly agreed. Within five minutes we watched him slide his finger into the napkin and quickly toss the medallion into his mouth. I said, “I knew you would do that!” and he defended himself by saying that piece of meat was probably worth $25 and he couldn’t let it be wasted. Before I could answer, our waiter brought the next course and I got distracted.
Course twenty was a small dessert and then we were done. Living through a slow stroll through an Asian gastronomic landscape took a lot out of me so I was ready to find a cab and return to the Hotel Commonwealth. I found out the next day that, after we arrived at the hotel, Shannon and Kyle decided to visit the Island Creek Oyster Bar next door and eat a dozen (or two) oysters before shutting things down for the night. I tip my hat to their impressive constitutions and stomachs. I slept while they ate, all my dreams in Japanese with everyone sporting large anime eyes and no one’s words synched with the movement of their mouths. And I was not afraid.