Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Off the Map: Best $30 Fungus We Ever Ate

Grilled Mushroom Stack -- o ya, Boston, MA
o ya

As alluded to previously, Vodka spent part of her younger years traveling to Boston because it is the home of her inexplicable childhood hero, Nancy Kerrigan (inexplicable because Vodka barely knows how to ice skate and Nancy Kerrigan seems to have about as much personality as a beige throw pillow).  Like all obsessions in Vodka's life (closest reference point: this blog), this one was taken to the extreme.  Case in point: Vodka, at age 12, could be found in the kitchen of Nancy Kerrigan's parents' home chatting with Nancy's mother.

For the record, this is not the kind of fandom behavior I would advocate.

Anyway, this explanation of Vodka's Boston-based background is not relevant in any way except a) the topic of Nancy Kerrigan became a great point of discussion between Vodka and her BFF, the trolley tour guide, on her solo trek around the city, and b) Vodka is clearly more than comfortable acting like a complete whack-job within the confines of Boston's city limits.
And Thanks, Tour Guide, For Taking Me to See the Church Where Nancy Got Married. Way to Enable the Crazy
As Celine Dion continues to belt out "All By Myself" deep within the recesses of Vodka's mind, she heads to o ya for her last solitary dining adventure of the trip.  She is seeking the grilled mushroom stack, as recommended by Frank Bruni on the SLICED episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.
Well, Not So Much a "Stack" as a "Platter"
Earlier in the day, Vodka had called and had the first of many inane conversations she would have with the very friendly staff of o ya:

"Hi.  Do you have a bar or are there only tables?"
"There's a chef's tasting bar.  Would you like to make a reservation?"
"What if I only want to eat one dish at 5:00pm?  Can I just come in then?"
"By yourself?"
"To eat one dish?"
"Which dish?"
"The grilled mushroom stack."
"Um... yes.  What's your name?"

And so, when Vodka arrives at o ya (located in a somewhat random area near South Station, the building looks so nondescript that you would think you were entering an abandoned warehouse were it not for the Japanese symbol on the front door handle), her reputation has obviously preceded her.
Hunker Down, Fish - There's a Weirdo About to Arrive
First of all, the restaurant is not yet open (though no staff meeting is in progress, so that's a plus), and Vodka is the only one present.  Approaching the hostess stand, I begin my spiel: "Hi, I called earlier.  I just want to eat the grilled mushroom -- "

"Oh, THAT's you."


In spite of this greeting, all three staff members at the hostess stand, along with my waiter, are extremely accommodating in the face of this odd request, albeit highly curious as to my motives.  One of the hostesses has the chef start cooking my grilled chanterelle and shiitake mushroom sashimi (with rosemary garlic oil, sesame froth, and soy) immediately, a process I can observe from my seat at the (again, completely abandoned) chef's tasting bar.
Thankfully, I'm Pretty Adept at Talking to Myself
In the least threatening way possible, one of the staff members gently questions what the heck my point is in being here, and when I explain the Best Thing I Ever Ate mission, they seem slightly relieved that they are dealing with only an OCD-like overeater and not a stalker of the country's finest mushrooms.  It soon becomes obvious that this staff member has informed the rest of the workers as to what I am up to, as they all begin wishing me luck on the remaining courses that evening (well, except for the chefs behind the tasting bar itself, who seem to find it odd that I am, for instance, taking photographs of a cat-shaped chopstick holder).
I Found My Cat's Christmas Present for Next Year
When the waiter arrives with my gorgeous plate of long-sought-after mushrooms, I interrupt his culinary explanation with, "I know this sounds psychotic, but can I just pay now?  I need to be in Cambridge in 20 minutes."  When I relate this interruption to my friend at dinner that evening, she explains why such displays of social oddity have not gotten me placed in a mental institution yet: rather than hiding behind the veneer of believing what I do is "normal" behavior, I "paint it red."  I call attention to it.  And let's be honest: this mutual philosophy is partly why Ginger and I are not only friends, but why have not yet been murdered for, say, trying to instruct deli workers how to make a sandwich, or for shielding our bread plates with the forcefulness of a knight.  We know what we're doing is partially insane -- best for us, and the rest of the world, to put it out in the open and just go with it.
And Tah Dah - You Do So and You're Served Mushrooms Before the Place is Officially Open
Anyway, back to the mushrooms: to sum them up, they are absolutely worth all of the nonsense surrounding them.  Sliced thin and sprinkled with foam (a substance which usually reminds Vodka of shampoo but here is quite perfect), they are the ideal combination of salty, garlicky, and vaguely sweet, and they have the slightest hint of a truffle flavor.  Crunchy on the outside with tenderness in the middle, the mushrooms themselves rival those in the polenta at Scarpetta.

The dish is a revelation.
Mushrooms Lathering Up Their Scalps
Dabbed on top of the mushrooms are a few springs of what I assume are green onion, though I at first believe a Christmas tree must have shed some needles on the plate.  Even though these onions are the only sprig of color, the mushroom stack is the most refined presentation I have seen so far in Boston, even compared to the eccentricity of the smoked hamachi.  Even more importantly, its taste lives up to its appearance, and the dish is by bar the best $30 fungus I have ever eaten.
Ginger: "So Let Me Get This Straight: The Best Thing You Ate in Boston Was a MUSHROOM?!"
As I dash out of the restaurant, the ever-polite and helpful staff ask if they can help me get a cab, a final gesture of service that gives o ya extra credit over their already 5 star status.  Vodka, though, insists she knows her way to the Red Line and skedaddles out of the place, content in the knowledge that she has upped her personal Inane Boston Behavior quota by another degree.
This Platter Was Licked Clean, By the Way
And to close this tale of absurdity, Vodka would like to employ one of her favorite quotes of all time, one she has kept as a personal mantra since just around the time of the Nancy Kerrigan fandom and which sums up perfectly the manner in which Ginger and I go about our lives, and this blog:

"When in doubt, make a fool of yourself.  There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth.  So what the hell - leap."  -Cynthia Heimel

o ya's Grilled Mushroom Stack: 5 stars*

*Certifiable Best Thing We Ever Ate

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