Just a few short years ago, you’d be justified in viewing any Boston restaurant that sported nightclub-like decor with suspicion. Such trappings didn’t bode well for quality eats and drinks. In 2015, Yvonne’s in Downtown Crossing smashed that mold, proving that first-rate food and serious cocktails could be slung in a room that was shiny, dramatic and sexy as all get-out. The Yvonne’s team recently opened Ruka in the nearby Godfrey Hotel, and it boasts a similarly breathtaking space, one that mixes Peruvian, Japanese and Chinese elements. The 177-seat room is dominated by huge concrete columns with elaborate dragon and Incan motifs, a wall-sized Peruvian street-art mural, enormous chandeliers, multi-colored rope tapestries and a golden Incan sun-god sculpture hanging from the ceiling and polished live-edge wooden tabletops.
The design reflects executive chef Preston Miller’s food, a mix of Peruvian, Japanese, Nikkei and Chifa cuisines. Those last two are traditions dating to the 19th century, when Japanese and Chinese immigrants to Peru began adapting their cuisines to local ingredients. Principal sushi chef Bing Liu kicks off the menu with colorful, beautifully plated makimono. Terra Incognito ($18) tops rectangles of pressed rice with wild mushrooms, grilled leeks and mushroom foam, a superbly meaty-tasting vegetarian roll. Crispy rock shrimp ($18) fills soy paper with rice and tops each piece with a crunchy-coated shrimp, slices of Asian pear, chunks of avocado and squiggles of sunny, slightly fiery aji amarillo mayo. Acevichado ($17) is similarly pretty, wrapping rice pads and leche de tigre-marinated fish in papery slices of pickled cucumber topped with sweet potato puree and purple potato chips, but the wrapper doesn’t hold tight: They’re a messy challenge to eat.
Tiraditos, which combine sashimi-like knife work with a light-touch rendition of Peruvian marinating, include crunchy salmon tacos ($18) that pile salmon ceviche, roasted tomatillo salsa and pickled radish into fried shiso leaves flanked by chunks of avocado: another jaw-stretching mouthful with surprisingly muted flavors. Tairagi sashimi ($22), a simpler, more classic sashimi treatment featuring unusual, delectable curls of penshell clam meat, is gorgeous and impeccable.
Chilled dishes include the currently ubiquitous tuna poke ($17), cubes of tuna and cucumber nicely underdressed with miso-coconut, a pool of black vinegar underneath, crisp quinoa crackers on top. Oysters chalaca ($11) offer three plump raw East Coast specimens dotted with salsa criolla and aji crema on a flower-petal-strewn plate, though raw onion slices throw off the delicate balance of flavors. Cucumber salad ($11) dressed in shio koji needs more coral-colored smoked trout roe and bits of crunchy tofu to rescue it from blandness.
Anticuchos, skewers from an appliance that simultaneously grills and wood-smokes, are more uniformly fine, as in an octopus anticucho ($12) that benefits from slow braising, a tangy tamarind coating and briny accents of bonito mayo and sea beans, plus puffed rice for crunch. Chicken thigh anticucho ($10) boasts similar fine smoke and char, its crisp skin punched up by garlic-black bean sauce.
A hot dish of green noodles ($19) sauces curly udon in a vivid puree of miso-dashi butter, basil and spinach, flecks them with smoked cobia and tops them with undulating bonito flakes: a complex stunner. But no section seems to go without one dud. Here, it’s the sweet potato dumplings ($17), pasty, sweet, gnocchi-like spheres not much helped by a faint pan-charring, though swirling soft-poached egg in mild barley dashi broth is pleasant enough. Simple-sounding chicken fried rice ($15) turns out to be more exciting. Elevated by excellent char siu chicken and squares of crisp chicken skin in a garlicky sauce with some coarsely scrambled egg, it’s a fine savory dish to fill in the corners.
Pastry chef Liz O’Connell’s desserts are frequently picture-pretty, as in suspiro limeño ($10), cubes of soda-sweet cake flanked by a dulce de leche mousse and dotted with kisses of baked pink merengue, and the Peruvian chocolate crémeux ($10), a creamy chocolate pudding paired with black mint ice cream and cubes of cornmeal sponge cake. There’s also a terrific, nostalgic Peruvian gloss on the humble moon pie ($7): pisco-sour-scented marshmallow sandwiched between alfajor wafers and enrobed with chocolate ganache.
Beverage director Will Thompson has built another winning cocktail program; be sure to spend some time with his hilarious, elaborate cocktail menu, full of entertaining backstories on his drinks’ inspirations. We really enjoyed the austere Doris Gibson ($13) of gin, pisco and sherry, garnished with a hefty, delicious pickled purple onion. The Morning Star ($18) whimsically presents its boozy juice-bar blend of Japanese whisky, sherry, beet, carrot and sidra in a flower pot with actual flowers. There are short, reasonably priced lists of beers (eight options, $6-$9), wines by the glass (ten, $10-$15) and sakes by the glass (two, $7-$9). The wine bottle list—12 sparklers ($60-$450), 34 whites ($45-$216) and 34 reds ($45-$250)—offers plenty of decently priced wines and a few luxe options for occasion celebrators and business entertainers. That sensibility extends to 18 sakes by the bottle ($30-$900). Service is uniformly friendly and slick, though patrons and servers alike must contend with noise levels that challenge easy conversation.
In all, despite a few uneven spots on the menu, Ruka pops another jewel into Downtown Crossing’s increasingly gaudy crown of pricey, high-style restaurants that cater to food-obsessed nightlife crawlers as well as newer luxury-condo residents and tech businesspeople. Just be prepared to take a dent in your wallet. Nowadays, you can actually get good food and drinks in a glamorous, nightclubby package, but it comes at a non-trivial price.
-Terra Incognito makimono
-Crispy rock shrimp makimono
-Chicken fried rice
Ruka 505 Washington St., Boston (617-266-0102) rukarestobar.com
Hours: Dinner, 5-11 pm daily, late-night menu till midnight, bar till 1 am; lunch, Mon.-Fri., 11:30 am-2 pm
Parking: Valet, metered street spaces, nearby private lots and garages
Liquor: Full bar