Arts restaurant review

A Blue Ribbon takeover

A first look at Blue Ribbon Sushi in Kenmore Square

9900 sushi
The menu has options for both tame and adventurous eaters.
Courtesy of Theodore Schoenfeld

Blue Ribbon Sushi
Japanese, $$$
500a Commonwealth Ave.
Boston, MA 02215
Monday–Thursday 12–10 p.m.
Friday 12–11 p.m.
Saturday 5–11 p.m.
Sunday 5–10 p.m.

In early 2021, three restaurants inside Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square shut their doors. The loss of popular raw bar Island Creek Oyster Bar, seafood-focused brasserie Eastern Standard, and snazzy cocktail bar The Hawthorne was mourned by many, and locals have since yearned for suitable replacements. The area looks different now. The Kenmore Square Redevelopment Project, the construction of the Whoop headquarters, and the opening of the MGM Music Hall have transformed Kenmore from a ballpark neighborhood to a classy commercial, retail, and entertainment hub. Leading the culinary charge with the opening of three new restaurants, all in the vacated Hotel Commonwealth spaces, is New York’s Blue Ribbon Group.

Owned by brothers and restaurateurs Eric and Bruce Bromberg, the group is well known for Blue Ribbon Sushi, a cozy sushi bar concept with locations in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, and, as of June 2022, Boston. Blue Ribbon Sushi Kenmore resides in the old Hawthorne location — in fact, the restaurant’s unassuming main entrance was formerly Hawthorne’s side door.

Self-described as the creators of “modern neighborhood restaurants,” Blue Ribbon has 20 establishments nationwide, 10 of which are located in New York. One of many applicants for the Hotel Commonwealth spaces, Blue Ribbon was chosen in part because of their ability to cater to a wide customer base while maintaining exceptional quality and creativity. The group’s current restaurant concepts are diverse: a gastro-bowling alley, a popular NYC fried chicken spot, and their original New York brasserie.

Although it’s been one of Boston’s hottest new restaurants since it opened this summer, Blue Ribbon Sushi’s exterior is modest. The entrance is unadorned and set back from the sidewalk. A staircase takes patrons to the below-ground dining room. Inside, businessmen in suits sit next to twenty-somethings in workout clothes. The decor is casually elegant; warm lighting complements sleek, dark wood and upholstery. Although the restaurant lies just two blocks from Fenway Park, it feels a world away from the bricks of boozy Lansdowne Street.

Like the New York location, the menu has options for both tame and adventurous eaters. The a-la-carte nigiri options are plentiful, with fish flown in daily from both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, but there are appetizers, salads, and yakitori skewers as well. Maki selections range from the indulgent Blue Ribbon roll, with lobster, shiso, and caviar, to a simple avocado and cucumber roll (which sports a $14 price tag!). Several steaks are also available, including an A5 Wagyu prepared Teppan style and offered in 2oz, 4oz, or 8oz portions.

Besides the regular menu, specials include ten different nigiri options as well as monkfish medallions prepared with lobster miso butter, turnips, and green beans. The food offerings are accompanied by an extensive selection of sake (including three — a junmai, a junmai ginjo, and a daiginjo — under Blue Ribbon’s label), Japanese whisky, and an ambitious wine list, especially for a sushi bar.

The sushi was prepared with intense attention to detail — the rice was the perfect temperature, the fish garnished with appropriate amounts of wasabi and, in the case of the anago (saltwater eel), eel sauce. Memorable pieces included pillowy kaibashira (sea scallop), chu-toro (fatty tuna) that dissolved on my tongue, and buttery, savory Hokkaido uni (sea urchin), my favorite piece of the meal. I finished with a large botan ebi (spot prawn) and tamago (sweet egg omelet), a perfect substitute for dessert.

Although the other spaces are under construction, Eric Bromberg has said that the group’s focus is making sure Blue Ribbon Sushi gets off the ground. It seems to be doing just that — according to manager Liz Luce, it’s been packed since its opening in June 2022. Meanwhile, we know what’s coming to the other Hotel Commonwealth spaces — one will be occupied by Pescador, a seafood-focused “coastal grill” set to open this month, while the other is rumored to become a brasserie concept like the New York location.

True to its brand, Blue Ribbon struck a perfect balance: the fish was excellent, the menu was creative (albeit a bit pricey), and the restaurant seemed as appropriate for a casual weekday lunch as it would have been for a celebratory dinner. Although locals will always mourn the losses of ICOB, Eastern Standard, and The Hawthorne, Blue Ribbon Sushi is the perfect first step to filling their vacancies.