Where to Pabu, a Japanese restaurant located on the second floor of luxury condo building Millennium Tower.
What for Sushi, small plates, and butter-basted steaks at a concept from two acclaimed chefs: Michelin-starred James Beard award winner Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga. It is an offshoot of their San Francisco restaurant of the same name. (A third Pabu, in the Four Seasons in Baltimore, opened in 2012 and closed two years later.)
The scene Steely Dan is playing in the elevator on the way up. Orchids greet you as you enter the restaurant. A bar and lounge area is shrouded in darkness, which gives way to the golden glow of the dining area. Traditional Japanese design elements are translated into tasteful restaurant decor. A wooden structure akin to a temple gate frames booths where groups of 20-somethings chopstick up slivers of sashimi and drink sake; at the end of the room is a sushi bar backed by a gold wall painted with cranes, in the style of a Japanese screen. Huge windows offer a view of Downtown Crossing (I can see you, guy prancing around at the BSC across the way); flocks of flickering candles light the way to the restrooms. The bar is busy, populated by men in button-downs and sweater-clad couples sipping craft cocktails.
What you’re eating Executive chef Ben Steigers hails from San Francisco’s Pabu. He offers up small plates like the one-bite “happy spoon” oyster, topped with sea urchin, roe, and more; house-made tofu; chicken karaage, fried with ginger-soy marinade; mushroom tempura; and lobster okonomiyaki, a Japanese snack that falls somewhere between omelet and pancake. There’s a selection of robatayaki, grilled skewers of chicken parts, pork belly, and more. The sushi bar sources fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market as well as New England. And then Pabu turns into a high-end steakhouse, incorporating Japanese flavors on the meat and in the sides (bonito in the potato puree, shiso with the crunchy lotus root).
Care for a drink? If you’re interested in Japanese whiskey or sake, come here: Both are a focus. Cocktails are thoughtful and creative, from the Eighth Virtue (junmai sake with vodka, pineapple gum, lemon, and cardamom) to the 2 Dots & a Dashi (Japanese whiskey with dashi and bitters). There’s also wine and mostly Japanese beer.
Overheard A bartender presents a gourd-shaped shaker to a diner at the bar: “Are you familiar? This is togarashi for the skewers, but I like it on everything,” he confides. “Ooh, the chopsticks are extra-pretty,” a woman coos, and her date smiles indulgently: “You’re always so excited!” A server touts the sea urchin to a skeptic: “Or, as chef calls it, ocean custard.” The mood is relaxed. What’s missing? The man in the snappy gray suit knows: “Do you notice no one here is talking politics?” “Is the building full?” someone wonders. “I heard it was pretty close.” “It all depends on the euro,” someone opines. A couple departs, bidding farewell to some newfound friends: “Good to see you! See you in Chelsea!”
Millennium Tower, 3 Franklin St., Floor 2, Downtown Crossing, Boston, 857-327-7228, www.michaelmina.net