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Daikanyama Brings Tokyo to Chestnut Hill

Judy Chow, owner/chef of Daikanyama in the Mall at Chestnut Hill talks about why her restaurant is a perfect fit for its location in Bloomingdale's and what makes her happy (hint: it's all about people).

Judy Chow, owner and chef at Daikanyama in Bloomingdale’s in the Mall at Chestnut Hill, had no trouble coming up with a name for her restaurants (her other location is in Lexington). She wanted a moniker that reflected the caliber of the towns where the restaurants were located but also reflected the elegant Japanese fare served within.

So she named them after the Daikanyama neighborhood of Tokyo.

“It’s like the Newbury Street of Tokyo,” Chow explains. “Very upscale, little shops and restaurants. It’s really nice, just like Chestnut Hill, like Newton.”

In spite of the difficult economy, Chow opened her first Daikanyama in Lexington in 2008. A year later, she had a conversation with her son about how she wanted to grow her business, and soon after he approached her with the idea of converting the large storeroom in Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill into a second location.

Chow was onboard right away.

“I wanted something different from other Asian restaurants in the area,” muses Chow. “I could have opened another restaurant, completely independent, like most of them are. But I really felt like Daikanyama and Bloomingdale’s were a good match, they fit well.”

After much renovation and the addition of a separate entrance, which allows the restaurant to have hours that are distinct from its host department store, Daikanyama Chestnut Hill opened in 2010.

Chow says her business is split about 50-50 between customers who come as a part of their shopping expedition and those who come simply to enjoy the beautiful atmosphere and sophisticated Japanese fare.

It is the small details that really set Daikanyama apart from other sushi places in the area. The chopsticks are imported from Japan, and not only bear a gold plate engraved with the name of the restaurant but are carefully wrapped in a small, black paper ring that does not cover their elegant simplicity.

But even the beauty of the utensils is overshadowed by the intricate and elaborate food.

Chow is also the chef of the restaurant, though she does employ sushi and sous chefs as well. Together, she and her team create dishes that are almost too lovely to be consumed – but Chow states that it is really the quality of the food at Daikanyama that keeps her customers coming back.

And it is for these regulars that Chow and her team create weekly specials. Every Thursday, they meet to figure out what will be on the specials menu – which in and of itself is quite unique.

The brainchild of Chow’s business partner (and former customer) David Chen, the specials menu is on a tablet that allows customers to see images of the culinary creations before committing to them for their meal. Chow acknowledges that this helps customers, who may have trouble with the unfamiliar names of dishes, step outside their comfort zone.

“Customers can come in and order off the (printed) menu, sure,” she states. “But for the regulars or others, it’s great to have the tablet menu. Every time you come in, you can try something different!”

Of course, customers can order off the “regular” menu that contains sushi with such whimsical names as Ladybug Maki (shrimp, crabstick and octopus topped with tomato, black tobikko and spicy mayo), Cherry Blossom (salmon, avocado and tempura crumbs, topped with tuna) and Traffic Light Maki (tuna, salmon, avocado, radish and tobikko).

There are also other traditional Japanese dishes like tempura, katsu (breaded and fried proteins, served with a sweet and spicy sauce) and teriyaki, as well as noodle dishes and a plethora of rice-based meals. Salads and appetizers are also extensive and diverse.

Chow recognizes that it is the food at Daikanyama that ultimately will draw in customers, and keep them coming back.

“Advertising, really, is not that important,” she explains. “It’s the quality that really will bring customers in. The customers say the food is great, they tell their friends, they come back – everyone is happy.”

In the next year, there will be many new restaurant choices in Chestnut Hill. Between the expansion and renovation of The Street, the opening of Chestnut Hill Square and even additions to the Mall at Chestnut Hill itself, the dining scene along this stretch of Route 9 is going to see some significant changes.

But one thing that is unlikely to see much change is the team that Chow has put together at Daikanyama. She says she has worked hard to bring in just the right group of people, and their relationship to her and to each other is as important to her as her customers are.

“This is also really important, this relationship,” Chow says with a wide smile. “They (her team) tell me what they want and what they like, just like the customers tell them what they want and what they like. They’re like family, and they make everything work here.”

Barb Cole January 24, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Unfortunately both times I've been, the service was poor and the food was mediocre. They must go through mayo like crazy judging by the amount included in and around everything on the plate. It completely overpowered any possibility of tasting anything else. The tempura was soggy. The steamed gyoza were good though.

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