Rock & Rolls: Sake and Sushi Hit The Fenway

Jennifer Che is the author of  Tiny Urban Kitchen, and the creator of this guest post.

On August 6, the long-anticipated Hojoko, from James Beard Award winner, Tim Cushman and his wife Nancy Cushman (also owners of O Ya and Roof at Park South), finally opened its doors. 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 young man plays Pac-Man and other 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) and the Wasabi Roulette (a roll with yellowtail, shiso and just one piece of "super wasabi"). There’s 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) (a Japanese "pancake" served with truffle kewpie mayo, smoky bacon and Hojoko "honkytonky" sauce), Potstickers ($8) and Steak Um's ($9), shaved American wagyu short ribs marinated with a sesame vinaigrette and served with green kimchi.

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 a 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 Hojoko's signature flavors, like shio koji on the chicken thigh, momiji-ponzu butter with the shrimp and black truffle salt on the chicken tails.

The Funky Chicken Ramen ($9) 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, considering how much work goes into each of the elements.

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. Try the Torched Uni ($14), which comes with an addictively savory and rich nori butter.

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 dinner due to the strong presence of pickled ginger in the burger. 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 to 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 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and the late-night menu available until 1:30 a.m. 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.

Jennifer Che is the author of  Tiny Urban Kitchen, an award-winning Boston-based food and travel blog that covers Boston-area restaurants (over 350 posts and counting!), cooking (300+ recipes), as well as worldwide travel (300+ posts from 15 different countries). Jennifer also works as a patent attorney in biotech and plays in her church band on weekends.


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