Sunday, August 21, 2005

Hiro Sushi

Hiro Sushi
171 King St. East
Toronto, Ontario, M5A 1J4

This is going to be a long one. Please bear with me.

My hubby and I went to Hiro Sushi for dinner on August 13, 2005. We have heard good things about this restaurant (from friends and Toronto Life) and decided to check it out.

Before we went, we thought it would be a high-style restaurant. To my surprise, the atmosphere is actually quite "homy". Other than the chef's prep counter, what really caught my eyes is an old photo of two snuggling bunnies (the picture is so HUGE that the bunnies in the picture are at least ten times larger than their actual sizes). And the chef is probably a big fan of Marilyn Monroe; there are several posters of hers on the way to the washrooms downstairs. Some customers were in casual attire; they sat at the sushi bar and chatted with the sushi chef.

We were warned about the potential communication difficulty (with the staff) and the food portion. There is absolute no problem for us in terms of their food portion; we've seen worse. The REAL CHALLENGE is to order our food. Don't get me wrong, their staff is nice, definitely no "attitude". I just feel deeply regretted that all the money I spent on my Japanese classes was down in the drain; I wish I could order in Japanese.

We were guided to the Sushi bar. After we sat down, the waitress gave us the drink menu. There are about 6 sake items on the menu, including the usual Gekkeikan or Hakutsuru brands. I ordered a bottle of "Okunomatsu Ginjo" (200 mL bottle, $14) since LCBO doesn't seem to carry it.

Since we made up our mind to try the Chef's special (Omakase), we didn't spend much time reading the menu. After we placed our order, (here comes the fun part) a cook walked out from the kitchen asking us "what kind of omakase" we had in mind. Huh? Isn't that Chef's choice? After his explanation, we realized that we could choose to have the sushi-only omakase or the full combo, which includes appetizers and soup prepared in the kitchen. They are normally served before the sushi course. J ordered the full combo and I chose the sushi-only omakase.

Then he brought up the next question but we didn't quite catch it. something about "at the same time". I thought he was asking us if our meals should be served at the same time since the full combo would start with the appetizers and the soup. So I replied, "Yes, please." 'cause I didn't want to sit there and watch J eat. After he left, J asked me, "What was his question?" "Eh...see if we want to start at the same time?" My jaw almost dropped when the assistant placed the plate full of sushi in front of me within the first 15 minutes after we entered the restaurant.
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH~~ Is that all I'll have for the night? I was hoping that, by ordering omakase, I would have chance to get one or two pieces at once from the chef and let him gauge our eating. So we could have super-fresh sushi in every bite. But in reality I was facing a tough choice: should I eat fast and enjoy the freshness but see that $40 gone within one blink? or should I savor it but the freshness of the remaining pieces will decrease with time? The situation I was in pretty much explains the fact that...I completely misunderstood his question.

Despite this incident, the food is actually amazingly good. The sake came with a beautiful sake decanter. I remember I saw it in "Made to Order" (TV program) once. Not sure if I can get it from J-town but I should be able to order it online. The sake was well-chilled and had such fruity aroma, hard to believe that sake is actually made of rice.

The first appetizer was served on top of a big chunk of ice lined with one shiso leaf. The octopus along with other ingredients were thinly sliced and piled on that "platform". There is nothing fancy about their plating. But serving food on a big chunk of ice (about 2.5" in diameter, 1.5" tall) in the middle of the summer makes me feel that they sincerely want you to feel cool and comfortable and enjoy their food.

The second appetizer was made of some fish liver (monkfish?). I saw similar dish on Iron Chef before. It is considered a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. Let's call it "the Japanese' fois gras". There is nothing fancy about the dish but the flavoring was just so right.

The soup course had one salmon fish ball floating in the clear broth (or water, we couldn't taste anything from it). The texture of the fish ball was nice. There was such gentle yet complex taste in the fish ball; it slowly released in your mouth. You could easily miss it if you just scoop the ball in your mouth and swallow it.

There is another reason that I slightly panic when I saw all the pieces were on one plate - Where should I start? I used to be a fan of "Shota no Sushi" (Japanese manga/anime series) and I learned a lot from it. The sequence of eating your sushi is a BIG DEAL. If you happen to have something with richer flavor before a light piece, you won't appreciate the latter as much as consuming them in a proper order. Some chefs might even take it personal because they spend so much effort "plotting the drama" (from getting the freshest ingredients to designing an impeccable sequence to present their work) and you DARE to ruin it. If my memory serves me right, I should start from the upper left corner. But why was salmon the first piece? isn't it supposed to be considered very rich? I soon shook those ideas out of my head. They are probably very used to "foreigners" who don't know how to eat sushi. I might as well chill and be myself.

Most of the pieces were nigiri (hand-held sushi) except 6 pieces of California roll maki made by the assistant. Each piece was so picturesque, as if straight from Sushi Chef School text books. Ok, I made it up. But judging by naked eyes, fish slice is about 1/4" thick, 7/8"x 3" (roughly T0.5cm x W2.2cm x L7.6cm) and the rice underneath is about 3/4" tall 5/8"x1.5" (roughly H2cm x W1.6cm x L4cm).

Chef Yoshida's approach is very traditional, but he does things PROPERLY. There was no stand-alone wasabi paste on the sushi plate and soy-sauce was the only condiment available on the table. I am sure you can ask for more wasabi but this shows how confident the chef is about the freshness of the ingredients. When I first put the sushi in my mouth, I could taste slight saltiness from the fish. Then I could clearly feel that the fish being torn and surrounded by the rice, the aroma became more intense then all of sudden, the fish just "melted away". There is only one word to describe it: heavenly! And the chef was able to cast the same spell again and again until I cleaned my plate.

I strongly believe that many people who don't like raw fish sushi is because they haven't tried a GOOD one yet. Good sushi should not taste "fishy", not to mention other unpleasant characteristics such as slimy and soggy. Based on this dining experience, Hiro Sushi is quite conservative. No fusion or new ingredient combinations. But it keeps the fundamentals of a good sushi restaurant: great ingredients, solid techniques and the respect of a chef's professionalism. If there is a chance, I'll definitely go back.

No comments: