Dining at Kabocha feels like sitting at the grown-up's table. The restaurant is serene and tastefully decorated, a quiet retreat from the 'L' tracks outside the drawn window shades. The service is subtle yet attentive, a seamless symphony of refilled glasses and cleared plates. And the food itself is decidedly adult, the work of a talented chef with an eye for design.
Although many upscale restaurants cater to gluten-free guests, I was immediately impressed that Kabocha offered a stand-alone gluten-free menu. Instead of engaging my server in a long discussion of what to avoid, I could review my options and order like everyone else, a distinction that seems small but feels significant.
I had eleven gluten-free dishes to choose from, without including sushi, and a desire to try all of them, from Japanese pickled vegetables to frozen lychee sorbet. On the server's recommendation, I started with Fried Shishito Peppers ($8), a more sophisticated spin on finger food. The blistered green skins were papery thin, with an oily sheen and a hint of spice. While miniature florets of caramelized cauliflower did require a fork, the best part was taking the pepper stems by hand and swirling the tips in a puddle of curried artichoke sauce, ignoring my napkin until the very last bite.
The Tuna & Hamachi Mosaic ($13) was devoid of heat but not flavor, a patchwork of thinly cut sashimi enlivened by pickled shallot curls, flecks of chive and ripe cherry tomato. The freshness of the fish shone through with minimal garnish, although the dish felt more eye-catching than filling.
While many sushi rolls are safe for gluten-free eaters, there's a long list of things to omit, including imitation crab, soy and ponzu sauce, and tempura crumbs, which means most specialty maki are the ones you can't enjoy.
At Kabocha, the sushi of the day was gluten-free and flavor-packed, a delicious reminder that it can be done. A hand roll with albacore conjured the sea, in the best way possible. It was unadulterated tuna, sprinkled with crushed macadamia nuts. A crab and cucumber roll loosely wrapped in soy paper tasted light and summery, topped with a smooth avocado cream. My favorite was an overstuffed roll filled with tuna, cucumber, avocado, and red pepper, under a mound of diced tuna threaded with spice. My only issue is that I didn't want to share.
Although Kabocha is tucked away from the foot traffic of Randolph, it's worthy of a slight detour from restaurant row. In fact, it's well-worth a cab ride from any part of the city. Gluten-free eaters can savor their own special menu, with carefully crafted options that highlight Chef Shin Thompson's cuisine. And everyone can appreciate the experience of dining like a grown-up.