Where to: Hanami in Belmont’s Cushing Square.
Why: For Japanese small plates, ramen, and sushi, plus cocktails in an area known more for quick-service food, quaint shopping, and dental care.
The backstory: Owner Jack Sy grew up in Boston, watching Julia Child on PBS and eating Chinese-American food with his family: chicken fingers, pupu platters. He went on to Johnson & Wales University, intending to pursue a food career, until a banking job beckoned. But in 2015, he returned to his true passion — restaurants — and began serving the food of his childhood at Number 1 Taste, now with locations throughout Greater Boston.
Hanami is his first foray into Japanese cuisine; chef Yazhen Yan comes from Daikanyama in Chestnut Hill.
“I’m from Belmont, there was an open space, and I wanted a place for our community to gather and have a good time. Belmont needs that. There are a lot of my own personal views in the menu: places I’ve traveled and food I’ve enjoyed,” Sy says.
He hopes his son, a student at the Culinary Institute of America, will join the business and help open more restaurants. Just one little detail: First, he has to complete an externship with the renowned Daniel Boulud.
The food: The menu is sprawling and not strictly Japanese. Amid a selection of shumai, gyoza, and seafood tempura, you’ll spot Peruvian ceviche, Mexican corn rolled in cojita cheese, and foie gras and a petite filet with red wine reduction on toast points. Japanese double-fried chicken wings in a miso-honey glaze arrive in the nude, no glaze in sight; crab Rangoon fares better, plump and lightly fried. Prices are fair, though: Many small plates are in the $10 range.
There’s also yakitori, grilled skewered meat ranging from chicken hearts to pork belly to lamb ($3 and up), which get a boost from a side of spicy chili oil.
It’s apparent that Yan comes from the world of sushi: A simple yellowtail scallion roll is fresh and flavorful ($9), while a more elaborate Arlington roll with salmon belly, red caviar, and a crisscross of eel sauce and spicy mayo (choose your favorite town; Arlington is worth $20) is surprisingly non-gloopy. The only true disappointment? Spicy lobster soup, heavy on diced tofu but light on the promised lobster ($15).
What to drink: There’s a cute little lounge area in the front, plus a busy (for Belmont on a weeknight) bar scene fueled by wasabi margaritas and lychee martinis, plus a separate sake list ($15 and up).
The takeaway: On a stretch rife with dental offices, something more exciting to sink your teeth into: solid tapas and superior sushi.
89 Trapelo Road, Belmont, 617-693-8048, www.izakayahanami.com.