Before 311 Omakase made its quiet debut in the South End in the summer of 2023, many diners in Boston may not have been familiar with Edomae-style sushi — a tradition stemming from old-school punctiliousness. As the style predates the invention of refrigeration, raw fish needs to be meticulously cared for before serving, which speaks to the unseen labor tucked underneath a meticulously cured piece of fatty toro.
“Definitely no over-the-top presentation,” says Carrie Ko, wife of chef Weifa Chen and co-owner of the restaurant. In a city blossoming with varied omakase styles, Chen brings a mix of creativity and craft, which strikes a fine balance of maximalist appetizers and traditional sushi that conjures nostalgia. “You won’t see fancy toppings or garnishes in Edomae-style sushi,” Chen points out as he carefully folds a layer of thinly sliced silky fluke under ma-kombu, a high-grade dried seaweed used for making dashi soup. “I want to put more emphasis on the ingredients.”
Chen’s hunt for ingredients started with sourcing. During the two-year preparation before he opened the restaurant, he painstakingly sampled and compared notes on sea urchin both domestic and imported. He eventually settled on kita murasaki, or Hokkaido purple sea urchin, which commands the highest price point in the category. This type of sea urchin has long, purple spikes, and inhabits the chilly waters off of Japan’s Hokkaido island. Its edible gonads inside the shell, the uni, is sweet and creamy with just a touch of briny umami. “The richness, creaminess, and sweetness are on another level,” Ko says.
Chen first moved to Boston from Fujian Province in southern China more than a decade ago to join his sister, who’s also in the restaurant business. While working at his brother-in-law’s restaurant as a sushi chef, he fell in love with Japanese cuisine.
As Chen became more fascinated with the craft, he started studying by reading extensively after shifts. “You’d find him sharpening his knife at three in the morning,” Ko says, nodding to the stack of Japanese knives centrally displayed in the dining room.
Soon he realized more hands-on guidance was needed; at the time, Boston didn’t have an established omakase scene. Determined to learn more, he packed his bags for New York City and eventually worked under Masayoshi “Masa” Takayama of the only Michelin-three-star omakase in the U.S., where a meal can run as much as $1,000 per person before wine pairing.
“The most valuable lesson I learned there is how they treat their ingredients, from fish to scallions,” Chen says. “Everything was taken care of with such precision that nothing goes to waste.”
The Masa methodology and his passion for omakase informed Chen on how he runs his operations, as he comes in early to prep and doesn’t leave until late. “He would happily sleep here if there’s a mattress,” Ko says.
A glance at the menu reveals Chen’s ambition: In addition to his adherence to tradition, it’s brimming with playfulness and personal touches. For instance, his signature dish, marinated ikura (salmon roe) with amberjack and white yuzu jelly, is encased in an airy monaka shell, a Japanese rice cracker popularly seen in desserts.
You may also find miso soup as a palate cleanser, which interludes the temaki (hand roll) and the tamago (Japanese omelet), which comes with a scorch of the torch. And, there’s the carefully prepared sea bream with generous shavings of Italian black truffle, where the lightly sweet and tender white fish forms a bond with rich, precious fungi from the forest.
Then there’s the Kegani, a hairy crab from Hokkaido. These crustaceans are native to the Pacific Ocean; when mature, they bulk up in fine meat that is delicate but also briny and sweet. Preparing these crabs requires meticulous skill and understanding of their morphology to extract the meat.
After a few months of operations, Ko, also an industry veteran, is relieved that “things have become more smooth” and the culinary power couple “have cultivated many friendships.” As Boston liquor licenses, even partial ones, are hard to obtain, Ko said her priority was to get a permit that’d allow guests to bring their own beverages.
This cozy 10-seat spot is reservation-only and offers two sittings per night. It’s been popular since its launch in early August despite the hefty $230 price tag (excluding fees, gratuities, and soft drinks), and is already booked out into December. “We’re only three months in but we’re already seeing regulars coming back,” Ko says.
311 Omakase is located at 605 Tremont Street. Reservations are available here. The restaurant is open from Wednesday through Monday for two bookings at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. each night.