Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hana Japan: Family-run restaurant in Newburyport

Tucked in the Port Plaza Shopping Center at 45 Storey Ave., Newburyport, MA, you might not expect much from a Japanese restaurant in a strip mall but unlike the majority of Japanese restaurants in the Greater Boston area, Hana Japan is family-owned and operated by the Takahashi family – Miyano-san and her children Kosuke and Shino. It has the feel of a small mom and pop restaurant in Japan.

Sushi bar @ Hana Japan

Tewassa had a lunch outing to Hana Japan in Newburyport on Saturday. It was my first time there for a regular meal. We have tabled at their annual Natsu Matsuri a few times. Hana Japan has also been one of the food vendors at the the Brookline Cherry Blossom Festival for the past two years and Miyano-san and her dance troupe, Takahashi Minyo Kai, have performed at the festival.

When you first enter there's a little gift shop to the right with an eclectic mix of new and vintage Japanese goods including toys and snacks, origami, handmade cards by a local artist, dishes, and other odds and ends (I saw a pair of handmade zori!). Behind that there is a sushi bar (seats 5 or 6 – forgot to count), and on the left side are tables (forgot to count chairs but I think it seats around 35).

The most interesting decoration is this incredibly ornate uchikake. It was modeled at last month's Natsu Matsuri in the Boston Kimono Club Kimono Show. I took some close-ups beginning here. You can see there's a big difference in the craftsmanship between something made by professional kimono artisans and the replica theatrical uchikake made by Takarazuka Stage Co. for the MFA's Looking East touring exhibit (close-ups begin here).

Boston Kimono Club Kimono Show @ Hana Japan Natsu Matsuri 8/16/15

Almost everyone ordered bento (there are many different options) but I decided to go with the Aspara Maki lunch special since I'd never seen anything like it at other local Japanese restaurants. It is Hana Japan's take on aspara maki (アスパラ巻き), a beef or bacon wrapped asparagus dish served at yakitori restaurants. Comes with rice, miso soup (which I skipped due to being allergic), a small salad, and some fruit for dessert. The beef was a little on the chewy side for me (I have TMJ) and some might find the teriyaki sauce too sweet but overall it was tasty and a nice change. I also had some house-made gyoza. Ahh, childhood memories. Most local Japanese restaurants serve commercially-made frozen gyoza because making fresh gyoza is too time-consuming. (Update 11/22/15: Oops, found out today from one of the Takahashis that the gyoza they serve are not house made. They did make their gyoza in-house briefly but switched to commercially made.) One of my friends got Katsu, which looked good. (I didn't want to delay everyone's lunch so I didn't take any other food photos, but you can see more on their Facebook page and on Yelp.)

A couple of things to note for those with dietary issues: one friend commented that the miso soup was on the salty side and they are quite generous with sauces (by Japanese standards). Ask for your sauce on the side if you need to watch your salt/sugar intake.

Aspara Maki lunch special - $13.50

During the Kimono Wednesdays protests I heard from friends and family that there are some places in the US (Hawaii and West Coast) that do kimono dress up and photography like they do in Japan but I wasn't aware of anywhere in our area that offered this. It turns out that Hana Japan offers a Kimono Experience – $50 just to dress up (you may take your own photos) or $150+ for professional photography with Shino.

If Hana Japan weren't so far away I would go more often, but it's a bit of a hike for me. If you're in the North Shore or southern New Hampshire it's worth stopping by but check their hours first. They are closed on Sundays, close between lunch and dinner, and are only open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday. Holiday closures are posted to their Facebook page. We were there ~1-3pm and were more than half the customers during that time. I'm not sure if they were less busy due to the holiday weekend or if Saturday lunch is usually quiet.

The restaurant is family-friendly. They have some toys and crayons and the gift shop is fun for kids to explore, but they should be supervised due to the breakables and delicate objects.

Additional photos here.