PABU Boston opened in November of 2016, after a much anticipated wait for the opening of the Millennium Towers in Downtown Boston. I had been looking forward to PABU opening for almost an entire year, having read about their San Francisco restaurant, and was so excited that Boston would be graced with another high-end Japanese restaurant co-owned by a Japanese chef.
My husband works in the Downtown area, so PABU has become his favorite go-to for after work drinks and a light snack. For his 30th birthday, my husband chose this restaurant, to which I happily obliged since I had been wanting to try it for a while.
The ambience of the restaurant is gorgeous. No questions asked. You walk into the Millennium Towers and straight into a dark elevator which leads you to the restaurant. Once you enter, it really feels as though you’re at a swanky bar in Tokyo. The decor is not kitschy *cough*Hojoko*cough* and I was pleased to see the walls were not adorned with Anime themed decorations and wallpaper. Based off of the atmosphere alone, PABU would be the type of place you would want to take someone on your third date, to show that you’re really serious about them. Lol.
The restaurant has a bar area and lounge seats as you exit the elevator, through the bar area is the main dining room where there are seats in the center of the dining room and the border of the dining room has open covered sectional seating that host about 4 tables or more in each section. We were seated next to a window in one of these sections.
After being seated, we quickly scoured the menu but my husband already knew he wanted to order the kaiseki with the sake pairing. I decided to also order the kaiseki but without the sake.
We started off with my husband’s favorite appetizer, fried chicken skins, and the lobster okonomiyaki.
The fried chicken skin was fine, good, ok. I would rather take the fried skin off of KFC and eat it, if that tells you anything.
The “lobster” okonomiyaki with pork belly, atlantic squid, sunny-side egg. Please tell me why this smaller-than-a-CD sized dish cost $18? Also, the “lobster” on top was more similar to crawfish. It was crumbled tiny pieces of lobster…hmm…ok. This should’ve been called “Pork Belly Okonomiyaki with a tiny bit of questionable lobster”. False advertisement! It tasted good, but it was okonimyaki, which has long been called ‘peasant food’ so there is no reason why they should be charging $18 for it. I love myself some okonomiyaki but I can make it at home (and make it better).
After our appetizers came our “kaiseki”:
1st Course: Happy Spoon Oyster with uni, ikura, tobiko, ponzu crème fraîche
I had read a lot of reviews concerning this dish and several people had said how absolutely DELICIOUS it was. I love ikura and I love oysters, but I was a little weary on the quality of the uni because I have had a lot of horrid uni in the US. I ate the spoon in one bite and quickly regretted my decision. The uni was SO disgusting. Not fresh at all, had that very intense ammonia flavor and it was extremely difficult trying to swallow it all without having to spit it out in my napkin. I couldn’t even taste the rest of the components because I was completely taken aback by the quality (or lack thereof) of the uni. Blegh. Bad start to a meal!
2nd Course: Raw scallop with shiso, yuzu kosho and ponzu & House-made tofu with matcha salt, wasabi, lemon soy
This dish was 2 in 1, with the scallop in one dish, covering the tofu below. This dish was great, the scallop was sweet and fresh and I loved the flavor combination of the shiso leaf, yuzu kosho and ponzu. Refreshing and satisfying. The tofu was also great- creamy and rich, though I didn’t really taste the matcha salt. I’m not sure how the tofu works with the scallop, but anyway all in all a pretty good “course”.
3rd Course: Miso Soup with shimeji mushrooms and asari clams
Ok, this is where I start getting pissed off. HOW does this constitute a “course” in an $85 tasting? It’s freaking miso soup!! Which is usually FREE at any other Japanese establishment when ordered with a meal. If the soup blew my socks off and was the BEST miso soup I’d ever had, I would forgive this faux pas but it was just plain miso soup. My mother (and I for that matter), make better miso soup at home. HMPH.
4th Course: Miso Black Cod with sweet onion tofu, roasted mushrooms, kabocha
This was one of the best dishes of the night. The only issue was that this piece of fish was TINY. Like seriously could finish it in probably 1.5-2 bites. The black cod was buttery and tender, with a very subtle miso flavor and the accompanying mushrooms were explosive in flavor. The sweetness of the kabocha puree perfectly complemented the savory umami rich black cod and mushrooms. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. I would definitely want this dish but only if it were 5 times larger.
5th Course: Tempura assortment- Cuttlefish, Smelt and Anago (I think..?)
The fact that I can’t even remember what the third tempura piece was speaks volumes about this dish. Sure, it tasted good, had good seasoning and was fried nicely, but not something so spectacular that it stood out. Are 3 measly pieces worthy of constituting a course in a 7 course meal? Absolutely not. Listen, I’m not asking for GIANT AMERICAN portions here, I’m just asking for reasonable sized dishes. Not, “Here’s a little amuse-bouche to whet your appetite” sized dishes. The accompanying tempura sauce was pretty good too but again, nothing spectacular. Standard.
6th Course: Hudson Valley Foie Gras with crisp rice, anago, eel sauce topped with candied kumquats
Anybody who knows me knows that I freaking LOVE foie gras. When done well and as long as it’s fresh, it is one of my favorite ingredients. I am almost always very happy with Hudson Valley foie gras and this was, to some extent, no exception. The foie itself was seared nicely and had absolutely no funk (thank GOD), but the anago sauce. Ooooh the anago sauce. It was cloyingly sweet. Like the kind of sweet (and also a bit sour?) that gives you a headache if you have too much of it. The crispy rice was DRENCHED in this sweet, cloying sauce and the anago really did not add much to the dish. I think the dish would’ve been better off without the anago and if it focused solely on the beauty of the foie itself. The candied kumquat was also..interesting. Had the sauce not been so overpoweringly sweet, I think the candied kumquat would have paired nicely with the foie gras, alas, it was just another sweet element on top of an already too-sweet dish. Such a bummer.
7th Course: Okinawan ‘Donut’ with matcha green tea, confectioners’ sugar, adzuki pudding
Umm. Please look at that “pudding” and tell me it doesn’t remind you of the poop emoji. Come on!! I’ve had sata andagi (Okinawan donuts) in Okinawa before and these did not compare. It was too greasy, crumbly, lacked flavor and the “pudding” was a weird consistency which was also tasteless. We ended up not even eating this. Blegh.
So that was it. 7 courses, $85, with an additional $40 for the “sake pairing”. My only problem was not with the dishes, it was also with the service. If a restaurant is promoting a “sake pairing” then it should be VERY IMPORTANT to train your staff on the sake flavor profiles. The staff should also be able to explain WHY the sake pairs with the dish and which dish the sake is actually being paired with. It was very annoying that the sake would be poured at the tail-end of a dish and we would be left wondering which dish it was actually supposed to be paired with. Adding to the confusion, the meal only comes with 5 or 6 sake tastings and it was never explained that one sake serving was supposed to be paired with TWO of the first courses. Unorganized and disappointing. Our server also used the same 2 word description for every sake that came out, one of the words being “fruity”. I overheard him explaining the sake to other tables as well, describing every single sake with the same “tasting notes”. It was blatantly obvious that he had either, 1) Not tasted the sake and therefore had no idea what it actually tasted like 2) Simply just didn’t remember what the sake tasted like and hadn’t studied the tasting notes or 3) Didn’t really care what the sake tasted like and just spewed out generic descriptions that seemed to make sense only to himself.
After a frustrating dinner came the bill which amounted to $350 for the two of us. Keep in mind we had only ordered 2 appetizers and I had 1 cocktail. The sake “pairing” was 5 or 6 sips of sake that were not properly described and out of the 7 courses, 2 were almost inedible and 1 was miso soup. Oooooh boy did I have a problem with shelling out that $350. I have no qualms about spending hundreds of dollars on a fantastic meal and excellent service but PABU just did not deliver. It was undeserving of the price tag. Would I come back again? Possibly… but I would never consider ordering the kaiseki or any “tasting menu” for that matter. I would also make sure to eat a full meal before or after, since this meal left us unsatiated.
PABU Boston – 2.8 out of 5 Stars
3 Franklin St
Boston, MA 02110
Ph: (617) 327-7228