This article was original published in TheFenway.com as an article titled "Rock & Rolls: Sake and Sushi hit the Fenway". This blog version takes the original article and expands upon it, both in terms of my own thoughts as well as additional photos of dishes!
Fenway just got a lot more exciting.
On August 6th, the long anticipated Hojoko, from James Beard Award winning Tim Cushman and his wife Nancy Cushman (also owners of O Ya and Roof at Park South), finally opened its doors inside the Verb Hotel. Hojoko is an izakaya, traditionally a Japanese drinking establishment that serves food to accompany the drinks. Of course, knowing Chef Cushman's talents in the kitchen and Nancy Cushman's expertise on sake, it's no surprise that Hojoko excels at both food and drink equally well. The executive chef at Hojoko is Hart Lowry, who comes over from O Ya.
Unlike the Cushmans' high-end and pricey O Ya, Hojoko is very casual. The atmosphere is loud, with rock music blaring in the background and lively conversations. A guy (hi Bryan!) plays Pac-Man on the arcade while a couple checks out funny helmets.
Guests enjoy scenes from My Neighbor Totoro while munching on maki rolls and drinking sake out of glass jars.
There's a lot of laughter.
And the food!
Even if you don't drink, it's absolutely worth visiting Hojoko for the food alone. The menu consists of small plates, with most items priced under $10. The recommendation is to order about three plates per person if you're planning on having a full meal.
The Rolls section offers creative maki rolls in half or whole roll portions. Prices range from $5 to $12 for a half roll, $12 to $25 for a whole roll. There are unusual offerings like Housemade Foie Gras "Spam" (served with robata grilled pineapple, yuzu kosho) or the Wasabi Roulette (a roll with yellowtail, shiso, and just one piece of "super wasabi"). There is also a selection of seasonal fish served as traditional sushi or sashimi, offered in sets or boats for larger parties.
Definitely try the Lobster Maki (half roll pictured above, $12) which comes smothered in a decadent uni (sea urchin) cream sauce and a citrus zest. It's fantastic.
The Teppanyaki section includes various items cooked on a flat iron griddle, such as Hojoko's version of Okonomiyaki ($8), Potstickers ($8), and Steak Um's ($9), shaved American wagyu short ribs marinated with a sesame vinaigrette and served with green kimchi.
Hojoko's Okonomiyaki ($8), a Japanese pancake, is served with truffle kewpie mayo, smoky bacon, and Hojoko "honkytonky" sauce. It blends classic okonomiyaki flavors (sweet soy sauce, Japanese mayo, bonito, etc.) with the intense smokiness of bacon (Bryan says he prefers it to the original). Cooked on the griddle, this miniature version comes out gorgeously crispy, hot, and all-around very satisfying.
The Robata section features various types of meat grilled over Japanese binchotan charcoal.
Robatayaki is a Japanese style of grilling from Hokkaido that involves slow, methodical, and precise cooking over super high heat. The key is binchotan charcoal, which barely burns a flame but produces a ton of heat, adding to the unique flavor and texture of the meats that are grilled. At Hojoko, these grilled pieces of seafood or meat are further decorated with signature flavors, like shio koji in the chicken thigh, momiji-ponzu butter with the shrimp, and black truffle salt on the chicken tails.
The Hamachi Collar on the robata grill is outstanding. The paper-thin skin is charred to just the right level so that it is crispy but not burnt. The meat itself is incredibly tender and the overall flavors work quite nicely.
There's one ramen on the menu, a Funky Chicken Ramen ($9) which includes the richest chicken broth you will find in Boston, chewy, toothsome noodles, and a skewer of that unique robata-grilled chicken. It's classic in many ways, but executed at a much higher level. It's a steal at $9 considering how much work goes into each of those elements.
Bryan declared this his new favorite ramen in Boston (at least for now) and I must agree. It's excellent.
Do note that it is still a "small plate" portion, so don't expect one bowl to be enough food for a whole meal.
There are separate Cool and Warm sections of the menu, which include everything from salads, pickles, and poke on the Cool side to soups, rice bowls, and cooked noodles on the Warm side. The Torched Uni ($14) was one of my favorites and comes with an addictively savory and rich nori butter.
I had to order the Tuna Poke, a dish I enjoyed immensely during our vacation to the Big Island in Hawaii. This poke was fine, though compared to the other dishes, it did not impress me as much. All I could think was that I liked it better in Hawaii.
A separate Fried section includes classics like agedashi tofu, chicken wings, and fries as well more unusual offerings like karepan (curry chicken and vegetable-filled bun) and fried salmon fins. We tried the buttermilk brined Chicken Wings ($9), which come with your choice of three sauces (in the style of Korean fried chicken): garlic soy sauce, habanero honey fish sauce, and gojuchung.
The habanero honey fish sauce was awesome. The fish sauce provides the foundational umami punch and the honey provides a sweetness to balances it out. There's most definitely a strong spicy kick (don't order these if you're sensitive to heat!). The wings are extremely messy to eat, but it's worth it!
Finally, for those who wish for a slightly larger entree, there's a classic Hojoko Cheeseburger ($14), made with chuck and wagyu short ribs, as well as a Spicy Tuna Burger ($17), which is reminiscent of a sashimi meal due to the strong presence of pickled ginger in the burger. The burger is only barely seared, which means the inside is nice and rare. If you don't love pickled ginger (like me), you may not want to order this one.
There’s one hot dog on the menu, called Doggzilla ($12), which is a bacon-wrapped hot dog stuffed with pickled jalapeno, American cheese, kabayaki, and bonito.
Music is very important for Tim Cushman, who graduated from Berklee College of Music. Tim and Nancy play in a band together (pictured above!) and they definitely want to incorporate live rock acts into the restaurant at a later time. Currently, the restaurant is only open for dinner and late night, with dinner from 5PM -11PM and the late-night menu until 1:30AM. The plan is to eventually add breakfast and lunch.
This is an incredible addition to the Fenway area. The fun vibe, really good food, and reasonable prices make Hojoko one of those places that we all wish were in our own neighborhoods.
Disclaimer - I visited this restaurant in connection with an article I wrote for TheFenway.com. I did not pay for this meal. All opinions are my own.