On a recent night in Hingham, a suburb about an hour outside Boston, one 8-year-old diner slurped up some noodles at hot new opening Nomai when the owner stopped by. “I told him they were actually healthy, and asked him what he thought,” Brian Moy says of the noodles made with tofu and sauced with lobster, spicy tomato, garlic, and basil. “He gave me two thumbs up and went back to totally downing them.”
It’s all part of Moy’s mission to “surprise and educate” at Nomai, which he imagines as not only for families, but also the droves who moved to the seaside suburb of Hingham from the city during the pandemic. Moy’s new venture brings the cosmopolitan cool of his wildly popular, hip hop-soundtracked Shōjō in Boston to a spot that was formerly occupied by a Tuscan villa-themed bistro.
It’s a project fit for a local. Moy’s roots run deep in the area as a South Shore native raised in nearby Milton. He grew up in a culinary family and worked at his family’s Chinatown restaurants, including legendary dim sum palace China Pearl. He’s bringing that history tinto Nomai, where a commissioned piece from local artist Markus Sabastiano is an abstract depiction of the Moy family’s history, while the menu is another means to share that narrative.
Moy has worked with culinary director Jason Hua since they met at business school at Boston University 20 years ago. They bonded over a love of hospitality, food, and one dish in particular: Both of their families have a recipe for carrot noodles, and Grandma Hua’s version at Nomai is a vibrant, savory-sweet swirl studded with beef bourguignon. The two reconnected after Hua spent time at big-name kitchens such as Uni in Boston and The Dutch in New York City.
With such big names, the opening of Nomai is a momentous occasion for Hingham, which is known for its colonial history, picturesque harbor, and fishing opportunities. Here’s what to expect at Nomai, from it’s Asian-influenced new American menu to the space.
The shared plates at Nomai pop with colors, flavors, and textures that are meant to be universally appealing no matter what the age or palate, says Moy. Those include fresh tuna spring rolls that surprise with the toothsome bite of daikon radish in lieu of nori, savory Japanese crab risotto with black truffle, and lemongrass-tinged filet mignon. The menu is divided into raw bar, snacks, appetizers, vegetables, noodles and rice, fish, and meat.
Moy and his team have expanded their relationships with local farms and fishermen in a region with indelible ties to the Atlantic. The steamed sea bass with crispy rice and bok choy, along with the tuna roll, are here to stay, he says, and the raw bar program will continue to expand, “representing sushi in the form of crudos and small bites.”
As for dessert, a sesame ice cream sandwich was a bestseller in the first weeks of opening, but now Moy has brought seasoned Boston pastry chef Kate Holowchik onboard to take the program to the next level. Debut confections included a towering 42-layer black sesame crepe cake with raspberry-chocolate creme and a chocolate Hong Kong egg waffle with chocolate sauce poured tableside. Holowchik will also help roll out a bread program this spring.
At the U-shaped 20-seat bar, which evokes a backyard with its glowing string lights and lanterns, bar manager Justin Park brings the heat with creative cocktails that spotlight just a few of the myriad Japanese whiskys glittering on the shelves. The Nomai team envisions this as the space to be in the area for a nightcap.
Gone are the low ceilings and Old World lighting, and in their place is an eye-catching mural panel from street artist Shepard Fairey and 18-foot towering trees for which the restaurant is named.
“There’s a species of Japanese maples called shojo no mai, where the leaf resembles the same orange-red color as the shōjō monkey,” Moy says. “Back in 2012 when my team was building a brand, we thought this would make a cool name and concept for a restaurant one day.”
As of January, “one day” is here, and the metaphor is incorporated throughout Nomai. “We wanted to signify planting ourselves in the Hingham community,” the restaurateur continues, “it’s a really cool story about uniting and connecting our roots.”
Beyond the towering trees, the outside will come in via accordion glass windows wrapping around a heated and cooled patio that will debut later this spring. That space will add 50 seats to the 120 already inside.
“Right now we’re mimicking everybody else’s hours in the area, which is 9 at night or 10 on Friday and Saturday, but we’re not taking the approach that we’re ‘closing’ then,” Moy says. “We’re doing the last seating at 9 or 10, and want to start promoting that this is an after-dinner destination for a drink or dessert.”
Nomai is open Monday through Thursday from 4pm to 10 pm and until 11pm on Friday through Sunday.