PABU Boston, one of the most anticipated openings of the year and the New England debut from star chef Michael Mina, officially opened yesterday inside Downtown's 60-story Millennium Tower. The chic Japanese restaurant inhabits the second floor of the $700 million project, most of which is dedicated to over 440 luxury residences. Modeled after Mina's original PABU restaurant in San Francisco, has a clandestine quality, the space is sexy and its upscale izakaya approach — featuring plenty of small plates, an elaborate sushi menu and a massive sake selection — should garner plenty of attention. Here's what to know before you make your reservation.
3 Franklin St.; 857-327-7228
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PABU is a partnership.
Given his 27 restaurants spread across cities like Dubai, Miami and Las Vegas, it's understandable that Michael Mina is the marquee name grabbing headlines about PABU Boston. But he is partnered on the project, as with the San Francisco location, with co-owner and managing chef Ken Tominaga, whose Hana Japanese Restaurant has been a Northern California icon since 1990. "I wholeheartedly believe that if you're striving to do a traditional Japanese restaurant, you need a Japanese chef," says Mina.
Tokyo-raised Tominaga says that Mina brings operational expertise while he largely commandeers the menu. "The cooking technique and Japanese style is mine, but Michael knows how to plate it in a way that's sexy," chuckles Tominaga. Mina had an existing partnership with Millennium developers (they're pictured here with Millennium partner Richard Baumert), which helped lure PABU to the Downtown Crossing high-rise. Looking to the future, Tominaga says the duo would like to open "a couple more" PABU locations in other cities — though exactly where, he says, remains TBD.
The design was inspired by traditional Japanese craftsmanship.
LA-based design firm Bishop Pass, the same team behind the San Francisco location, created the look and feel of PABU Boston based on time-honored ideas of Japanese craftsmanship. The rounded walls and rope accents in the second-floor restaurant's elevator lobby evoke sake barrels. Dozens of lanterns in the main lounge express the art of paper making. And a wooden trellis of traditional Japanese architecture bridges the lounge to the main dining room, where hand painted walls featuring apple and cherry trees await.
There's room for everybody.
The restaurant seats 173 diners, including 20 in a private room. Right now the restaurant is open for dinner only Mondays through Saturdays; Sunday dinner service and lunch hours are expected roll out within a few months.
You'll start with a "Happy Spoon."
We asked Tominaga for a few must-try recs for PABU virgins. Bein, he says, with the signature Happy Spoon: a single-bite starter that combines an oyster with uni, ikura, tobiko and ponzu crème fraîche. Half of the izakaya's menu is dedicated to "cold small plates" (like the Happy Spoon) and "hot small plates," which include Tokyo fried chicken karaage with spicy mayo and chawanmushi, a savory egg custard with shrimp and scallops.
There are nods to New England.
"Chefs follow the product," says Mina. He says that Boston's access to local farms and fresh seafood was a big selling point in bringing PABU here, and the restaurant plans to integrate more East Coast catch. Maybe you'll find it on one of Tominaga's other must-try recs, the squid okonomiyake: a savory Japanese pancake topped with pork belly, a sunny-side egg and bonito, plus changing seasonal additions like fried oyster, soft shell crab and lobster with warm yuzu butter.
There's a robata program.
Like slow-grilled meats and fish? You're in luck. One section of the menu is devoted to over a dozen different skewers — from sake-cured chicken hearts to garlicky beef tongue and pork belly — slow roasted over Japanese white oak. Mina also says that Boston's beef program will be more robust than San Francisco's, using both Japanese Wagyu and cuts from East Coast farms for Asian-inflected steak dishes.
The kitchen is steered daily by a PABU vet.
Sometimes we scoff at out-of-town star chefs setting up shop in Boston, only to abandon us save periodic check-ins. But even when Mina and Tominaga take off for their West Coast base, PABU Boston should be in great hands. Helming daily operations is executive chef Ben Steigers, previously of PABU San Francisco. He's also worked at famed Noma in Copenhagen and Ryugin in Tokyo. Importantly, Tominaga says he still has plans to make regular appearances in Boston, which is now home to his first East Coast restaurant. "This project is very important to me," says Tominaga. "I have a lot of chef friends in New York who will be watching what I'm doing!"
You'll want to opt for the omakase.
The sushi bar, with its black lacquered countertop and gold leaf rear wall, turns out plenty of impressive eats. But PABU has earned quite a rep for its omakase, a multi-course feast of nigiri that ends with Shabu-Shabu. "Ken's is one of the greatest omakase experiences you'll ever have," praises Mina.
If you only have one roll, make it this one.
There's no shortage of options on the sushi menu, which covers everything from octopus and sea urchin nigiri to makimono of eel, salmon and soft shell crab. But if you only tried one, says chef Tominaga, make it his eponymous Ken's Roll: shrimp tempura with avocado, spicy tuna and furikake. (And yes, there's also roll name for Michael. His has bluefin fatty tuna, scallion, uni and ikura.)
It has one of the country's largest sake and Japanese whisky selections.
PABU Boston bills itself as having one of the largest sake selections on the East Coast, with over 75 varieties that are designed with multi-course pairings in mind. It also claims one of the country's largest collections of Japanese whisky, and offers a "Japanese Whisky Ceremony" whereby chosen ingredients, like citrus oils or Japanese spices, are smoked tableside to season a drinking glass and lend a unique, complementary essence once the selected whisky is poured inside. Cheers to that.