Matsunori Handroll Bar Gives Boston a Hands-on Taste of Sushi
Plus, plenty of A5 wagyu.
Put down your chopsticks: There’s a new sushi restaurant in town, and it’s all about the handroll. “No fancy cutlery needed, no chopsticks learning curve; just grab by hand, dip, and enjoy,” says Matsunori Handroll Bar co-owner Kevin Liu, noting that he and partners Raymond Lee and chef Rick Lee are hoping to serve Boston “affordable, good quality sushi” that’s simple to enjoy and accessible to everyone. That, and lots of A5 wagyu.
“We want to introduce Japanese flavors in a new, innovative way,” says Liu, “basically bringing some new flavors to a centuries-old style of food.” At Matsunori Handroll Bar, officially opening January 29 in Boston’s Audubon Circle neighborhood, that might take the form of umami-packed miso cod, for example. The tender cut of fish is torched, creating caramelization along the edges, and topped with one sweet dollop of pumpkin puree and another of whole mustard seeds, perched atop sushi rice and a large square of nori (seaweed). Don’t forget to dip it in the soy sauce, which is made in-house and packs a more complex punch than the usual mass-produced type. Or it might be spicy tuna, embellished with crispy fried sweet potato, a stand-in for—and improvement on—tempura flakes, or light and crunchy shrimp tempura topped with sweet mango salsa.
For the uninitiated, handrolls (or temaki) are a more casual style of sushi where the nori that wraps up the fish and rice might be in a cone, or a long, uncut roll, or even a taco-like shape. Matsunori’s opening menu mostly features the latter two styles, plus some served on flat squares of nori—like the miso cod and wagyu shown in these photos—that you can pick up and fold like a taco yourself.
You might spot handrolls on the menu here and there at Boston-area restaurants, but no one else is serving them as the “central attraction,” says Liu—and when they are available, they’re often more expensive, and the ingredients aren’t necessarily as good. Liu is confident that the Matsunori team is hitting that sweet spot where affordability meets quality by sourcing locally. “The freshest, most authentic fish can either be air-dropped from Tokyo overnight for an exorbitant amount of money,” says Liu, “or we can take advantage of Boston being an amazing port city. We plan on buying medium- to high-grade fish locally, with the chef creating the taste, texture, and freshness all from his technique. We will try our best to make simple ingredients taste as good as the fanciest.”
But the team does get a little fancy, complementing its seafood with a spotlight on wagyu, the prized Japanese cattle that yields tender, highly marbled beef. Liu has a direct line to excellent wagyu: He owns a ranch. He’s partnered in a number of restaurants around the country with high school friends David Zhao and Haibin Yang (Chubby Cattle in Vegas, Dallas, Denver, and Philly; Wagyu House in LA; and more). “We import a lot of wagyu to supply our locations,” says Liu, so the group recently purchased a cattle ranch in Miyazaki, Japan, to raise their own. “We have the cheapest import pricing of authentic A5 [the top grade] Miyazaki certified beef,” says Liu, “which I will then share with Matsunori Handroll Bar at cost.” At a recent dinner during Matsunori’s soft opening period, Liu proudly showed us the wagyu certificate of authenticity as we were about to eat handrolls made from the beef, garnished simply with truffle salt. The detailed document even named the cow; it was “Manami.”
If Matsunori Handroll Bar sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been popping up since mid-2021, mostly at sibling spot Fiya Chicken, the popular Korean fried chicken restaurant in Allston. (In addition to Fiya Chicken, Liu is also a partner at local bubble tea shop LimeRed Teahouse.) Liu and the team did omakase-style tastings of a variety of rolls, appetizers, and desserts over the course of the last year and a half to get feedback and refine the menu accordingly. Liu also spent part of 2021 living in Tokyo to research and prepare to bring Matsunori to life.
Once the restaurant is fully up and running, handrolls will be complemented by dishes such as chawanmushi, a silky, savory egg custard. The team plans to apply for a beer and wine license, says Liu, hopefully to serve beer, sake, and sake-based cocktails. And stay tuned for various collaborative dishes and pop-up partnership surprises in the future, adds Liu, noting friendships with local business owners who specialize in omakase. “We may even bring some wagyu recipes from Niku X to Matsunori as a limited pop-up during an upcoming cupid holiday,” he hints; the Los Angeles restaurant, one of his other businesses, focuses on yakiniku, Japanese grilled meats.
“We are just trying to have fun with the concept, with the goal of palate introduction and expansion,” says Liu, “being simple and unique and really just having fun with it.” And the restaurant is meant to appeal to newbies and sushi lovers alike. “We offer a bunch of cooked fish options for beginner sushi eaters,” says Liu, “all the way to affordable A5 Miyazaki wagyu, uni, and ikura with our own twist for the veterans.”
To start, Matsunori Handroll Bar will be open for dinner six days a week (closed Monday), with lunch service starting later. Takeout and delivery are in the works, too, once the team finalizes packaging design and figures out a way to keep the nori crispy. Follow Matsunori on Instagram for opening updates, reservation information, and more.
900 Beacon St., Boston, instagram.com/matsunori.handrollbar.