Most restaurants I write about are easy to describe in a few words, like “old-style Italian charm,” or “rustic farm-to-table comfort food.” O’Boy, on the other hand, had my mind spinning. With an experimental cuisine, an approachable menu, and a simple space, it was – well, like nailing culinary foam to the wall.
The self-described “Asian-Inspired Modern Dining” restaurant opened in May. Chef/owner Jae Choi, originally from Korea, studied culinary arts and nutrition at Johnson & Wales. After working in Michelin-starred restaurants in New York City, he returned to Providence to open his own restaurant. O’Boy is the exemplar of why Providence thrives as a food city: the combination of renowned culinary school and relatively affordable restaurant space.
O’Boy’s dishes have the finesse of fine dining, but the restaurant was more accessible than I expected: Many larger dishes are priced at less than $20, and the space is comfortable and casual, a large room split between bar and dining tables. The staff were welcoming and enthusiastic.
The cocktail menu combines traditional western cocktails (like the Jack and Coke or Mint Julep) with ingredients like lychee, yuzu, and plum liqueur. I loved my Yuzu Refresher, with yuzu sake, gin, lime, ginger, and soda. Coincidentally, my husband ordered a Hitachino Yuzu Lager from the equally intriguing beer list. We were off to a good start.
With an adaptive dining menu featuring various plate sizes, you could order a traditional dinner or have a tasting extravaganza. Dining with another couple, we decided to order a few “shareables” and small plates, then each ordered a larger dish of our own.
The Beef Tartare came out first, and we were surprised – instead of the usual hockey puck-shaped pile of beef, the dish featured a plate-sized rice puff decorated with pieces of raw beef and mango. On the side, a raw quail egg yolk floated in a tiny cup of soy sauce, ready to mix and drizzle.
The O’Boy Bacon, which bore little explanation on the menu, made a dramatic entrance. A dozen thick slices of pork belly sizzled on a hot slab of Himalayan salt, accompanied by two sauces. Lettuce leaf wraps helped keep the grease and sauce off our fingers. This was a little pricey, but fun to share.
Slow Roasted Carrots and Mushroom Fiesta were two enjoyable vegetarian share-plates. I especially liked the mixture of truffle oil and whiskey shoyu on the delicately sautéed wild mushrooms.
My favorite entree was the All New O'Steak. Carefully cooked sous-vide (vacuum sealed in a temperature-controlled water bath), the sirloin was perfectly to-temperature. It was topped with a “sauce dumpling” – a thin-skinned dumpling meant to be sliced open, so its sauce can dress the steak.
The Tornado O'mu-rice was another table favorite, a delicate omelette swirled around an umami rice pilaf. Freud described the unheimlich, or uncanny, as the feeling that something is strangely familiar. That’s how I felt about this dish – it embodied the warmth of a dish my grandmother might have cooked, but in a different context.
Do not skip dessert at O’Boy! The desserts are carefully conceived and plated. We enjoyed the Black Sesame Tiramisu, Not the Average Cheesecake, and Cereal Milk Bingsu (bingsu is usually shaved ice, but this was a room-temperature interpretation).
O’Boy’s inventive menu may not be the best match for conservative diners and picky eaters, but if you’re curious or ready for a culinary adventure, I recommend a visit.
333 Westminster Street