It’s rare that a restaurant comes close to making its customers cry on a regular basis, and rarer still that they will eagerly pay $15 per morsel of food for the experience. Yet this happens regularly at Hojoko, a trendy Japanese restaurant nestled in an even trendier Boston hotel called The Verb, just a hop, skip, and a jump down the street from Fenway.
Hojoko’s interior is comfortably eclectic, with rock-and-roll paraphernalia, Pacman consoles, and TVs displaying both the Celtics game and “Bob’s Burgers.” The waitstaff wore t-shirts emblazoned with band logos, and the chefs chatted amiably over the bar in the back.
Our charmingly energetic waitress Ashley made a comforting amount of fuss over my fish allergy before explaining that Hojoko is a “small plates” kind of establishment. Her suggestion that we order seven plates for our group of three seemed disingenuous. With the food options ranging from $8 for a salad and extending up into the twenties for a roll of sushi, her instruction struck me as an invitation to overorder.
To Ashley’s credit, my evaluation was incorrect. “Small plates,” or tapas, as they are often labeled, seem to be more of an excuse to double prices while halving portions than a fun alternative way to enjoy a meal. Nevertheless, the food is undeniably interesting and sometimes even quite tasty.
Our sushi salad, titled “Weed” on the menu, arrived first. An eye-catching blend of colors, it was about what you would expect: good, but loaded with sea and sodium. We made our way through the miniscule plate in short order, but just as we had begun searching for something else to work on, our Wasabi Roulette arrived.
Six pieces of sushi circled a baby bottle full of pina colada, one of them stuffed with a frightening amount of wasabi. With grim eyes, we popped the first pieces into our mouths, only to breathe easy a moment later as we confirmed that none of our first selections contained the bomb. Tensions rose as we moved on to our second pieces, and a strangled “mmhmmfh” of panic indicated who had the misfortune of losing our game of roulette. My companion’s eyes streamed furiously as she bent over double, covering her mouth with her hands and struggling to catch her breath. The baby bottle helped stem the burning but did little to restore her dignity.
Our plates continued arriving just as the previous ones were cleaned off—which is to say, soon after acquiring them. The fried calf brains were curious. Our waitress told us to savor their texture, which was more reminiscent of mozzarella sticks than meat. Okonomiyaki, a pancake-like creation stuffed with bacon and drizzled with barbeque flavor, was deliciously savory but oddly out of tune with the rest of our food, and the six little strips of roasted duck breast with scallions on the side were a citrusy delight. Still hungry, we added the karaage chicken to our order, a traditional Japanese pub food that was reminiscent of the Popeyes near Kenmore Station.
Dessert is an off-menu affair, composed of cups of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. “You can get the same thing for a quarter of the price across the street,” Ashley added in a low voice. We chose to follow her advice and left to fill our cavernous bellies with cheaper fare.