Walking through the dimly lit, snow-covered streets of Boston’s Chinatown, it can be a struggle to find a good place to eat. With so many Chinese and Japanese restaurants available, it sometimes feels like they all blend together. How can one decide? Recently, a new restaurant opened up that aims to introduce a new cuisine to Boston: Kaisen Don.
At Tora Japanese Restaurant, owners Patrick Zhong and Kenix Wan are bringing a classic Japanese dish to the city of Boston. Kaisen Don, a raw fish bowl typically served over rice, shares many similarities with sushi but provides a freshness completely its own. Tora Japanese Restaurant appeals to people of all backgrounds. Pop music quietly plays in the background as families and businessmen relish in the cultural experience it provides.
Originally from Hong Kong, Zhong and Wan have been working for years to bring Kaisen Don to Boston. They first toured around Japan, sampling many different dishes and learning cooking techniques at the same time. They used this knowledge and applied their own culinary creativity to craft original recipes for sauces and dishes. This would lead to them eventually open their own restaurant this past November.
Regarding the name, “Tora” translates to “tiger” in Japanese.
“‘Tora’ is lucky for me,” said Zhong.
Upon entering the restaurant, the first thing one notices is how spacious it is. Its sleek, wooden tables have considerable room between them, allowing for parties to have intimate conversations and feel at home. There is also a large open floor plan that is hard to find in a typical Boston eatery.
The owners opted to decorate Tora in a minimalist style with simple grey, white, and black colors. White brick walls line the restaurant. At the entrance is a large black chalkboard listing the evening specials in a white font along with an illustration of the main attraction: Kaisen Don.
Patrons also have to option to sit at the sushi bar and get a front-row seat to the cooking process. Fresh cuts of fish adorn the counter like trophies. Behind it, Zhong and Wan have brought in a local chef to prepare the food. The two have made sure to teach their employees many of the techniques used in traditional Japanese cooking.
After an order is placed, the chef delicately cuts fillets of fish like clockwork. The level of speed and precision in the food preparation is impressive. In a matter of a few minutes, a dish is ready to serve.
The true secret to Tora’s success, however, lies in its ingredients.
“How my wife and I want to treat food, we want to provide the best quality food. That’s how we do it,” Zhong said.
From the fish to the wasabi, every ingredient is carefully hand-selected for each dish. The fish is ordered every other day from Japan and then prepared in the kitchen, giving the dishes a high level of freshness. Some of the most popular options include the bluefin tuna, the salmon, and the mackerel.
Unlike the typical sushi chain, Tora also makes its wasabi in-house using a traditional Japanese recipe. It gives the paste a unique texture and freshness that blows store-brand wasabi out of the water.
According to Zhong, even the utensils and the bowls have been imported from Japan.
Tora’s Kaisen Don is served on a large wooden tray hand-crafted from Japan. It includes the raw fish bowl along with hot miso soup and bright purple Japanese pickles. Before eating, Zhong explained that the proper way to eat Kaisen Don is with the wasabi and soy sauce mixed into the bowl.
The bowl itself is carefully filled with each cut of fish, shrimp, sea urchin, and squid in a way that offers a satisfying presentation. Visually, the dish is stunning. Vibrant colors from the salmon and sea urchin are contrasted with the fine cuts of mackerel and bluefin tuna.
As for taste, every element adds something unique that when combined together creates an unprecedented flavor combination. Strong fish flavors pair well with sushi rice to form savory bites. The highlight of the Kaisen Don was the mackerel: It had a richness and freshness that was unparalleled.
In almost every area of this restaurant, Tora has attempted to recreate the experience of dining in Japan. All of these little details pay off for the restaurant, as the meals taste both fresh and authentic.
“We are focused on good-quality food, ingredients, and that would be all. That’s our main goal,” Zhong said.
For all those wary of trying Kaisen Don, Zhong assures patrons that most people initially don’t understand the cuisine but ease into enjoying it. As for future goals, Zhong has a vision to open at least two more restaurants in the Boston area under the Tora brand.
Featured Image by Shan Rizwan / Heights Staff