Hello, Boston: You Appear To Be Slaying the Game
Case in point: Hojoko.
September 22, 2015 ● 4 min read
Every damn person I know living in the sweet, sweet metropolis that is Boston loves Hojoko.
You’d have to be an idiot who categorically hates fun to not get why. The geniuses behind acclaimed high-end sushi joint o ya opened the little punk rock izakaya in the shiny new Verb Hotel in August, and managed to strike some weird yakitori-craving nerve in the burgeoning restaurant community. Industry heavyweights come to sit at the bar and unwind. Rock stars staying at the hotel autograph the bar. A friend describes it as o ya’s hipper, chiller sibling, and then texts me a photo of a cocktail in a giant blue ceramic parrot cup to illustrate. There's Pac-Man, for god's sake!
Advanced Sake Professional and Brand Liason Alyssa Mikiko DiPasquale is the one you talk to about all the madness. She laughs freely and often, a high and lilting giggle so powerful that a poof of glitter explodes from my phone while we speak. It is pure magic. She’s the ultimate party host, the sake-soaked Pied Piper of the everyman, and it’s working: while she’s typically known around town for her meticulously-curated lists featuring small rural brewers in Japan, now she will probably be known as the one who introduced you to panda-adorned sake cups and changed your life forever.
“It’s a raging party every night,” she tells me simply. Even on Wednesdays, when kids are cannonballing into the hotel pool alongside the bar, and an outdoor yoga class takes over the patio. It’s an oasis of Los Angeles in New England, only less scene-y. (Sorry L.A.) “It’s a very technical program that doesn’t take itself too seriously.”
The key to that program was the hiring of two of Boston’s “most underrated” bar people to run wild as co-managers: Daren Swisher (pictured above) and Joe Cammarata, hailing from jm Curley and backbar, respectively.
Here are the important facts. There are FOUR frozen drink machines churning away on a nightly basis. (The piña colada? It’s got Fluff mixed in! It’s topped with a toasted marshmallow! This is the adulthood we were all promised.) If you can take your eyes off the slushy goodness, there are also six cocktail bubblers—your “From the Tank” option on the menu—that ensure flawless execution at a breakneck pace. Speaking of flawless, head chef Hart Lowry is an o ya alum, in case you were wondering how humble tavern food manages to blow your damn mind. Yakitori, yes. Sushi? YES. Potstickers stuffed with shrimp and pork and covered with foie gras umeboshi sauce and yuzu kosho powder? YAAASS.
And then there’s the sake. Hojoko offers sake in kegs (!), individually-sealed six-ounce cups, and magnums. At every level, DiPasquale is concerned with presenting the freshest expression of the stuff possible, because for most people, this may well be their first sake experience, period. There are over 20 different cups on the menu, and they can’t keep them in stock. Hojoko is single-handedly emptying out distributor warehouses faster than they can replenish. Boston is a sake-town, dudes. “I’m wicked proud of it,” she says.
The idea was always to provide what she’s calling sake for the people. “We were always like, we need cups, we need cups, and I was like, Wait a minute. What if we do only cups? If we only have 300 ml bottles or 720 ml bottles on a menu, people are going to go with what they’re comfortable with. You’ve gotta push people out of their comfort zones.”
If this were in any other city, if our feeds weren't constantly flooded with blurry, ecstatic sake-bomb shots from industry friends and normals alike, perhaps we wouldn't be looking twice. But devil-may-care Hojoko is indicative of the sheer energy and talent the Boston scene has at the moment. The list of must-try restaurants is now as overwhelming as any equivalent list in San Francisco, in New York, in Charleston, in Portland.
“We’re there," DiPasquale says. "Boston is cool.”
Boston is cool.
To prove it, here's a *modest* 24-hour crawl through the city and its surrounding environs, laid out by DiPasquale. It barely scratches the surface, she assures us, so maybe plan on stuffing your face over the course of a few days. There are like, four lunches and three dinners in here. Pace yourself. Boston goes hard—that's what cool kids do.
La Brasa. For coffee, my fave is the Burnt Caramel Latte and then tacos for first breakfast, because duh. If we’re going to be there for their incredible coffee program then we should probably get the incredible tacos too.
Bagelsaurus. For second breakfast—the classic jumbo breakfast sandwich on a cheddar-garlic bagel. Which will be the breakfast sandwich that changes your life.
Select Oyster Bar. [Chef Michael Serpa] does incredible slow-cooked scrambled eggs with caviar on top. All of his crudos are amazing, too. Everything I’ve ordered here is great. Not only that, but the secret to this place is their wine program. Their wine list is awesome and he picks everything himself. Yeah. Serpa’s the man.
Giulia. For pasta. And more wine. I generally don't even ask for a menu here, but if we're in the middle of an eating marathon, I'd stick to the handmade pasta agenda.
Shepard. Because it’s so freakin’ good. Bluefish pate and Soup de Poisson. They put a fish head in the soup de poisson that was roasted over a live fire. Check out how Susan designed the kitchen, it's just as beautiful as the dining room.
Sarma. The trick to Sarma is remembering that a very necessary tray of fried chicken is coming your way, and you can't pass on the frozen yogurt with halva caramel for dessert. (NOTE: this is eating caramel twice in one day #ftw)
Backbar. If we’re going to go all the way out to Sarma, we’d have to get a DTO at backbar... or maybe anything they want to make us.
No 9 Park. To make sure you know you're in Boston—a glass of champagne and classic dishes with a view of Boston Common at the Barbara Lynch flagship. Nothing more Boston than that.
Row 34. A seafood charcuterie board and a dozen Island Creek oysters. Or two dozen…
Gold Bar. And then Menton’s new cocktail bar for the classiest cocktail and fine dining snacks in town from Chef Scott Jones.
Taberna de Haro. Roast chicken and Amontillado Sherry on the patio.
Hojoko. For the whole menu! Do sake bombs. Personal fave? Coconut Campari in a Mexican Fanta.
Bust out your holiday pants, people. It's Boston time.