As an outsider setting up shop in Boston, Michael Mina knew it might be tough to gain a foothold in the market. And so while the San Francisco-based chef prepared to open a Boston outpost of PABU in Millennium Tower, he sought out a couple of old friends: Ken Oringer and Ming Tsai, who worked at Silks in San Francisco in the ’90s while Oringer’s then-girlfriend worked at Mina’s AQUA nearby.
“I think Ken and Ming coming from San Francisco was kind of a big eye-opener.… I picked their brain a lot,” Mina says. “When we built PABU, we said there’s a few cities where this feels right in, and Boston is one of those spots. Product plays a big role in that, and being near the coast I think really helped.”
When PABU Boston opens on Nov. 1, the kitchen will be helmed by executive chef Ben Steigers, who worked in PABU San Francisco, one of Mina’s nearly 30 restaurants worldwide. PABU’s offerings will run the gamut from Mina’s modern Japanese style to chef/partner Ken Tominaga’s more traditional Japanese cuisine. There are izakaya-style small plates as well as a steak program that includes Japanese and American meat alongside Japanese-driven side dishes. A robata grill will turn out skewers of meat such as chicken hearts, Wagyu, pork belly and other rotating options. Then there’s the sushi program. Tominaga schooled Steigers on how to run a proper sushi bar during their time together in San Francisco, and Tominaga’s voice still echoes in his mind.
“One thing Ken’s famously quoted for is: ‘It’s pretty good, but it’s not Japanese,’ ” Steigers says. “He wants you to be able to look at the dish and say: ‘OK, I can see Japan there.’ Especially with the sushi, where we’re trying to move away from using crazy sauces, mayos and things like that.”
On the beverage side, sake will be the king of the bar, with sake master sommelier Stuart Morris helping to craft a list of by-the-glass varieties as well as bottles ranging from 330 milliliters to 1.5 liters, including some sakes from Japanese breweries sold exclusively to Mina’s restaurants. The physical bar stretches nearly the length of the lounge, with Hollywood-style booths opposite it and lanterns hanging from the ceiling and walls. A more formal dining room holds 64 as well as a 15-seat sushi bar, while a private dining area has room for 20.
Mina expects to begin lunch service after Thanksgiving, and a “happy hour” from 3 pm till 6 pm will launch a week after opening. He’s hoping that being in one of the city’s most buzzed-about new buildings will help lure some customers as well.
“There’s positives to being in a building like this, but it’s also about making sure we break down the barriers a little bit and are able to let people see it for different reasons,” Mina says. “You hope that you’re creating something and building relationships with your guests, so they want to come back.”
PABU Boston Millennium Tower, 1 Franklin St., Boston (857-327-7228) pabuizakaya.com