June 30, 2004

Hiro Sushi

by psu

We were in Toronto for the weekend a couple of weeks ago. For those who don't know, Toronto is a great food town only 4 or 5 hours drive from Pittsburgh. In particular, we have found Chinese and Japanese food in Toronto that is as good or better than anything I've had in North America. One of these most excellent establishments is Hiro Sushi. I have never personally had better sushi than at Hiro Sushi.

To give you an idea what Hiro is like, I'll run down the events of our last dinner there. The place is a relatively compact space on King St. East in downtown Toronto. There are maybe a dozen tables and another eight or ten seats at the bar. Hiro-san and one or two assistants handle all the sushi for the place, and Hiro also runs out to the kitchen for the odd dish. We sit down at the bar and tell Hiro-san to just give us whatever is good. We will get an assortment of sushi, sashimi, hand rolls, and other rolls over the course of the night.

Soon after we sit down, Hiro pulls a small whole fish out of the cooler where he stores the fish at the bar. He cuts the fish 2 or 3 times with his enormous knife and quickly pulls two fillets off of the skeleton. This takes about ten seconds. He then makes two small cuts and pulls the skin off the fillets with two pulls. The skeleton is still in one piece. He bends it up and puts it in a large bowl with a skewer stuck through it to keep it vertical. Then the fillets are chopped into a small dice and mixed with fresh ginger, scallion and oil. This mixture is added to the bowl along with a soy sauce based dressing and slices of many other kinds of fish. Presto. Sashimi salad.

What gives you an indication that you are in a different kind of spot is the speed and fludiity with which Hiro-san slices the fish and makes the sushi pieces. Sushi is always the perfect size, with the perfect amount of rice formed into a perfect elongated ball. The rice is never pasty. The soy sauce is never stale. And, the sushi always has little touches on it (extra ginger here, a tiny bit of scallion there) that bring out the taste of the fish without hiding it under in a wad of wasabi or a river of soy. It's simply perfect.

Hiro gives us each two pieces of white tuna. This tastes like normal tuna sushi, but has a richer, fattier texture like toro.

Then he makes dishes for the house and the other patrons on the bar. The guy sitting next to us is the son of the owner of The Indian Rice Factory, a place that we've been meaning to go. He gets some special dishes over the course of the night.

Hiro is busy, and one of his assistants makes us California rolls. These are the only real disappointment of the evening. But, what can you do. What you notice about the assistant is that he never makes sushi, only rolls and hand rolls and other dishes. You also notice that he is not nearly as good with the knife as Hiro. It takes him almost a minute to fillet the whole same whole fish for the salad, and he can't keep the skeleton in one piece.

It turns out the whole fish that Hiro-san has been slicing are Spanish Mackerel. We each get two pieces off one of the fillets. They are topped with a bit of ginger and scallion. Sublime.

Next, squid. Tender but not chewy.

Next, two kinds of shrimp. One cooked and one sweet raw shrimp. Unlike most places, the cooked shrimp is actually decent.

Hiro-san pulls out an enormous side of tuna that has been marinated or roasted or something. It turns out that this is a huge piece of Bonito. He makes the Indian Rice factory guy a bonito salad in a black ceramic bowl that is the size of my head. Indian Rice factory guy grins.

Next, two kinds of tuna. Marinated toro (which is belly meat) and also marinated plain tuna. This is the best tuna I have ever had.

Now the assistant makes us each a spicy scallop hand roll. It is sweet and spicy at the same time. Yum.

While we munch the hand rolls, the waitress whispers something in Hiro-san's ear about a special order. He gets a pained look and starts pulling out pieces of fish to slice. Soon, he has slices of every sort of fish and roe in his case along with pickles and the cooked egg. He stuff all of this into a rice roll that turns into a log. He starts taking slices off of this log and puts two on a plate and then hands them out to the folks at the bar. It's like a freaky mutated futo-maki, but with everything imaginable in it. It's great. Mostly it tastes like roe and pickles.

Karen asks for fluke. Hiro has not given us any tonight, even though we've had it here before. It turns out not to be so great. Which is why he didn't give it to us.

Hiro runs out into the kitchen and brings back a small pot. He turns to the Indian Rice Factory guy and says, "Look, I have made curry". He ladles out a brown curry dish from the pot. Apparently it was some sort of seafood stew. Indian Rice factory guy grins.

Next, eel sushi. This is pretty standard stuff, but as usual, he does it better.

We also ask for toro, and we get some. It is good toro.

Hiro does another everything roll. He slices it up and there is a huge end piece left over. He hands it to the Indian Rice Factory guy.

Next, we get little sushi pieces covered with a vegetable that is similar to asparagus spears or chinese broccoli or something. It's been marinated and has a very fresh spring-like flavor.

Karen is now full. I ask for salmon. I get a smoked salmon and a fresh salmon. It's like the best lox you've ever had, except sweeter and more tender, and each piece on top of one of those perfect little nuggets of rice. Incredible.

I've probably missed some things that actually came by our plates. But I think this is a pretty good summary.

We were there for two and a half hours. We walked out stuffed. Hiro-san charged us a relatively paltry amount of $45US each.

If you don't want to get in your car and drive there right now, you are just a fool.

Posted by psu at June 30, 2004 08:50 PM | Bookmark This

Ok! I don’t know what’s the hype about this Hiro Sushi place. Here is the summary of experiences:
· Premium prices but food court styled decoration (table are so crowded, not even table cloth)
· The clients are mostly non-Japanese and armed with “corporate plastic”, if you owner wants to give the customer an authentic Japanese meal experience, do you really have to hire staffs that speak poor English to make it sounds more authentic?
· The only “unique” item is the marinated Salmon
· Services are very slow. My girlfriend and I were jokingly saying the staffs must have to cook since they disappear into the kitchen for so long.
· I tried the “omakasi” twice and found they are not worth it. I was not sitting at the sushi bar so I cannot say if people at the sushi bar get better treatment. I ordered the one with both kitchen and sushi bar “omakasi”. The hot food came out first. Then the sushi came in a big plate. I thought the whole point is for the chef to give you the sushi in a particular sequence due to the taste. But the whole thing comes in a plate. I felt kind of being cheated that the chef does not care about customers that are not sited at the sushi bar. I might as well order “assorted sushi” rather then the expensive “omakasi”. I guess if you are ordering “omakasi”, you have to sit at the sushi bar.
In conclusion, the place is overrated and there are better authentic Japanese restaurant with Japanese staffs that speak better English (still have accent, but at least you can communicate with them without any problem), friendlier service. Those customers that wrote rave review about Hiro sushi can go to this restaurant since they like it so much. For me, I will not go there again. At least not sit down but get a take out of the marinated salmon.

Posted by Tommy at April 22, 2005 12:46 AM

I don't agree with this guy Tommy. Hiro is the best omakase restaurant I've been to-- better than Kaji. I suppose Tommy doesn't know too much about omakase because it's not about unique, it's about sitting at the bar and about fresh sushi (he even spelled the word wrong!)

I've been to Hiro Sushi about 10 times now and Hirosan never disappointed me. It's the simplicity, quality of food, and good service by Hirosan that makes this place such a distinctive restaurant.

Posted by Quin at March 19, 2006 07:49 PM

I and a friend of mine went to Hiro Sushi for dinner this past Saturday night. The whole dining experience was terrible. The place looked shabby. Service was extremely slow. And the omakase sashimi worth $27 was a rip off (very little food). Sure the food was good, but not worth the price and certainly not the poor service. The sushi chef at the counter kept adjusting the dial of the sound system with his bare fingers then go on to make sushi. How unsanitary! Our bill also came out wrong (tried to charge us $3 extra for a small bowl of rice that was already included in the order - the rice was not even properly cooked). the waitress insisted there was no error in the bill and I had her take a look again at the menu and she had to correct it. Then we had to wait again for the new bill and our change. Exasperated as we were in a hurry, we walked out to leave and that was when the waitress ran out to give us our change. Diners get better value and a lot more service at Nami's. I will never go back to Hiro's again nor recommend it to anybody. The place is simply built on hype. And I know what I'm talking about, having lived and worked in Japan for 6 years. That place is an example of 'The Emperor's New Clothes'.

Posted by Eric at September 11, 2006 10:20 AM

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