Where to Whaling in Oklahoma, a Japanese restaurant in the South End, located in the space that was long pajama-brunch staple Tremont 647. The name refers to a law that theoretically forbids catching whales in the landlocked state.
What for An exploration of Japanese flavors from accomplished chefs Tim Maslow (Ribelle, Strip-T’s) and Matt Hummel (Brassica Kitchen, Tiger Mama).
The scene You know you’ve arrived when you see the Japanese carp banner flying outside, over the patio. Whaling in Oklahoma has a split personality: One side of the restaurant is serene and pretty, filled with light wood, earth tones and aquas, and lush murals of flora and fauna. The other looks like a chill hunting lodge, darker, with louder music, deer heads mounted on the walls. (I may also have spotted the old Ribelle neon sign, now dimmed.) “Piano Man” plays as customers drink highballs and eat shishito peppers. At the bar, strangers are trading tastes of their food: “I may have double-dipped,” a woman warns as she passes over a handmade ceramic plate (Maslow is a potter). An open kitchen in the back is lined with blue fish-scale tiles, offering front-row seats to the cooking show.
What you’re eating The raw, the pickled, the fried, and the charcoal-grilled. There are snacks such as steamed buns with pork belly and sweet-and-salty ears of corn. Many dishes here are kissed with smoke, from chicken to salt-grilled amberjack to a salad of Romano beans with tofu, nori, and aged rice vinegar. There’s eggplant tempura; rice with shiitake, tofu, and miso onions; sea urchin with shiso and fried mochi; raw bluefin tuna with rice crackers, Dijon mustard, and walnut oil. Sweets range from peaches with toasted soy powder to “runny cheese on cheesecake.”
Care for a drink? There’s a generous selection of sake, beers such as Sapporo and Allagash White on tap, and a romantic, Old World-y wine list. House cocktails include the Umeshu Spritz (made with plum wine), the Neon Forest (which includes both Midori and Calpico), and the Yushun Day (a bourbon drink salty with miso and sweet with honey), as well as a trio of highballs.
Overheard Talk of highballs, hometowns, and Plimoth Plantation. “The beans speak to me,” one fellow tells his companions, then turns to the server: “Can we get every snack but the pickle plate?” “Everyone wears garb,” a man explains to his friend. “I don’t want to go if it’s exploitative!,” she says. “You’re from Kingston?,” a bartender asks a customer. “I’m from Wrentham.” A guy spills a drink, and everyone at the bar chimes in with stories of their own embarrassing spills. “We’ve all been there!” the bartender says, and makes him another drink.
647 Tremont St., South End, Boston, 617-266-4600, www.whalinginoklahoma.com