MMHO: Hojoko

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We’re introducing a new feature on the website.  We’ll use the Monday Morning Hangover to  review places we’ve gone or things we’ve done when we’re NOT crawling.  Restaurants, bars, tastings, events, we’ll cover them here

Hojoko is the newly opened restaurant and bar in the Verb Hotel, formerly the Howard Johnson in the Fenway. From Tim and hojokoNancy Cushman, the husband and wife duo behind one of Boston’s priciest places, O Ya, Hojoko is a kitchy, funky place with tiki-inspired cocktails and twists on Japanese food.

The décor is in line with the rock and roll vibe of the hotel. From Hello Kitty frozen drink machine to the anime movies playing on a giant projector, to the table top old-school video game machine (which you can play gratis, no quarters needed), the vibe is relaxed, comfortable, and fun.

We visited a few times when they first opened for drinks at the bar. The drink list is varied and vast, with frozen concoctions, drinks from the tank, which can be served as a cocktail or a bowl, classics with an Asian fair, as well as a section called “bombs away”, which boast a sake bomb and other interesting takes on the “drop a shot in your drink” format. From the frozen section, we particularly liked the Japanese Caucasian, which is a play on a white Russian. Vodka, coffee brandy, cold brew coffee and condensed milk make a great drink with a pick me up. The Chiyoda G&T is another twist on a classic, with avocado oil, ponzu, and sesame punching up the flavor of the standard drink. The sake list is also quite long, but we haven’t delved into it.

After much anticipation to try the food, we finally made it for dinner on Friday night. The food follows a small plates format. The menu is sectioned off by type including rolls, teppanyaki, fried, cold, warm, robuta (grilled over charcoal), randos and sandos. There is a lot to choose from, and there are things for both adventurous and conservative eaters.

The first item we got was super gimmicky, but this is a gimmick that works and was both fun and delicious. It’s called “Wasabi pacmaniaRoulette”: a spicy Hamachi roll served with a small baby bottle containing Pina Colada. One of the unmarked pieces had a huge piece of wasabi inside, and the recipient of the extra spicy piece gets to drink the Pina Colada to cool off. It’s one of those dishes that have everyone at surrounding table asking what it was, and was just a fun way to start the meal.

The chicken meatball was a highlight for half of our group. It was served a on a skewer with a side dish containing an egg yolk. It was suggested by the server that we beat the egg yolk and dip the meatball in it. The two of us who love a runny egg yolk loved it. The meatball was flavorful and salty and the yolk was a perfect accompaniment to it, creating a creamy foil for the meat. The two of our group who don’t eat runny yolk thought it was just salty, but the yolk is really needed balance it out and make it a perfect bite.

The Steak-um was a group favorite, and really did evoke the childhood cafeteria staple, only elevated with wagyu short rib and served with a tangy kimchi. The crispy maitake tempura was an umami bomb, with rich mushroom flavor in every bite. The udon carbonara was an interesting take on the Italian classic, but more like a soup, with the amount of sauce to noodles. We also tried the crispy chicken tails after inquiring as to what they were, since we figured it must be a name for something else. It turns out, there is meat in a chicken tail, and you can eat it. These were tasty, salty, and tiny. Interesting to try, but they were so small, it seems like it wasn’t really worth the $7 price tag. We also tried the Brains on Crack, which are fried calves brains served with XO butter and bonito flakes. They were flavorful and well cooked.

For dessert, Hojoko only offers mini Ben and Jerry ice cream cups for dessert, so we opted instead for some of the frozen drinks. The “Ohhhh Mommy” Grasshopper tasted like a mint chocolate milkshake, and the pina colada was festively topped with a toasted marshmallow.

Service was friendly and helpful. Our server was very knowledgeable about the menu and offered good suggestions. Other servers who brought and cleared dishes were likewise friendly and nice. We received glasses of sake on the house at the end of the meal, which was an unexpected and nice touch.

They recommend about 3 plates per person, and the prices really run the gamut so you can get out rather inexpensively (or not), depending on what you’re after. With the exception of the aforementioned chicken tails, I think the prices were fair for the high quality of the meal. We tried about 12 dishes and I feel like we barely cracked the menu at all, so we look forward to returning and further exploring both the food and drink menus. Overall, this is a stellar addition to the Fenway neighborhood for both food and drinks, as well as a great atmosphere.

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