Bringing city flair to Hingham, NOMAI impresses diners with an inviting atmosphere and innovative menu of Asian-inspired New American dishes.
By Maria Allen
Photography by Derrick Zellmann
Sipping on tiny cups of sake beneath the sunset-red canopy of a convincingly lifelike Japanese maple tree, guests dining at NOMAI in Hingham can’t help but feel transported.
The latest eatery to be launched by the team at Boston’s Shōjō Group, the restaurant showcases owner Brian Moy’s passion for creating unforgettable dining experiences.
Moy grew up surrounded by the restaurant industry. He watched his father work his way up from being a busboy to becoming the owner of China Pearl, a mainstay of Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood (with a second location in Quincy). Moy remembers spending countless hours as a kid hanging out at his family’s bustling restaurant and nearby barbecue-bakery, collecting soda cans for recycling and washing dishes as soon as he was old enough to lend a hand. He continued to work at restaurants while studying business management at Boston University. After graduating, Moy found himself drawn back to the family business—albeit with a few new ideas up his sleeve.
While Moy continued to help manage his family’s business, he dreamed of opening a new restaurant that would break down cultural barriers and shake up Boston’s dining scene. He eventually did just that, striking out on his own in 2012 to launch Shōjō, a lively Asian gastropub known for its graffiti-style decor and kung-fu movies playing behind the bar. In 2017 he opened a second restaurant called Ruckus, which specializes in house-made noodle dishes.
When Moy first considered opening a new restaurant on the South Shore, he knew he would be taking a calculated risk. It was early 2020 and restaurants across Boston were temporarily closed due to COVID restrictions. The city felt like a ghost town. But rather than wait idly for the world to get back to normal, the Canton resident decided to take a leap of faith and set his sights on building a one-of-a-kind restaurant in the suburbs.
PUTTING DOWN THE ROOTS
NOMAI officially opened its doors in January of 2022. Located in a prime spot at Hingham’s Derby Street Shops, the restaurant is unlike any other eatery on the South Shore. Its ornate design was inspired by the look and feel of a traditional Japanese home and garden, with a soaring wood “roof” over the dining room, delicate string lights hung above a large U-shaped bar, and three artificial Nomai Japanese maple trees that appear to magically grow from the tile floor.
“We aim to provide an excellent dining experience,” says Moy, who took extra care to ensure that every detail of the restaurant’s menu and interior design was on point. The trees, for example, were a key element of the restaurant’s design concept, intended to create an immersive dining experience. When Moy realized that it would be nearly impossible to maintain live trees indoors, he enlisted a company that crafts sets for Disney productions to build beautiful replicas.
“Every branch had to be assembled and put in place by hand,” says Moy.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
The food and drink served at NOMAI is as distinctive as the restaurant’s decor. The menu changes seasonally features creative New American cuisine that is made using fresh ingredients and recipes heavily influenced by Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Malaysian flavors.
“I love being able to introduce guests to Asian ingredients in a non-traditional way,” says Moy, who points out that much of the menu is designed for sharing to encourage guests to sample different items. One of his favorite dishes on the menu is the wok charred cauliflower, which showcases Malaysian Penang spice and is served with sesame yogurt, herb salad and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
The menu’s “snacks” section features flavor-packed items like “orange chicken” chicken wings (a twist on the classic Chinese-American favorite) and homemade tofu with black truffle, a dish inspired by Moy’s father’s recipe for silken tofu that is available in fall and winter. NOMAI also offers a raw bar menu with items like chilled oysters and gulf shrimp as well as tuna spring rolls (a creative take on fresh summer rolls) that are delicately wrapped in sheets of daikon (a mild root vegetable) and dressed with rosemary apricot sauce. “We use radish sprouts in the spring rolls, which have a deeper flavor and also look pretty,” says Moy.
Culinary director Jason Hua, whom Moy first met while the two were at college together, helped create the menu at NOMAI and also contributed a family recipe for Grandma Hua’s carrot noodles in a savory-sweet beef bourguignon sauce. Guests can also dig into one of several other rice and noodle entrees, such as crab fried rice served with prik nam pla sauce (a Thai sauce that is slightly sweet, sour and savory, with a touch of heat). Signature entrees include fresh seafood dishes like seared sea scallops with bacon jam, Shishido pepper, yam and kumquat, and a steamed sea bass prepared with miso, nameko mushrooms, bok choy and served with crispy rice.
NOMAI also boasts an excellent dessert menu as well as an extensive list of wines, spirits, craft beers and creative cocktails. Favorite drinks include the Winter Strawberry in Japan, the Gogo 75, and the Umami Old Fashioned. Guests can also sample from a selection of high-grade sake or Japanese whisky (including an exclusive Yamazaki whisky).
The overall vibe at NOMAI is one of casually elegant city style, which is enhanced by Moy’s choice of unique and vibrant artwork, from a wall-sized painting by street artist Shepard Fairey in the dining room to displays of colorful figurines by graffiti artist Brian Donnelly, also known as KAWS.
“I wanted to design the restaurant to be the sort of place I would want to hang out with my friends,” explains Moy, who is married and has two young children.
The restaurant also features a spacious temperature-controlled outdoor patio as well as a private event space where sake pairing dinners, Japanese whiskey dinners and other special chef events are hosted.
More than anything, he hopes the atmosphere at NOMAI serves as a place where Hingham residents and guests from across the South Shore can come together to share in delicious food and drink, and enjoy conversation and good times. We’ll raise a glass to that.