This morning on AM 640, the toronto.com reviewer praised Izakaya as authentic non-sushi Japanese and even rated it 3.5 out of 5 stars. As Chowhounds, we shouldn't waste our time on "average" food, but hold out for extraordinary. Hiro Sushi on King St. E. is the answer if you are craving excellent non-sushi (and sushi) Japanese food in the downtown core.
Although the server was a little uninformed in general, we happily devoured the many fantastic dishes that eventually arrived at our table. We decided not to go with omakase as the server's description was uninspiring. However, the two pages of handwritten cooked-item menus along with the a la carte sushi menu provided enough choices for us to create our own tasting experience.
We ordered the house sake, and I was impressed with the built-in ice reserve in the cold sake jug. Monte was thrilled with his choice of hot sake cup which featured a pair of racoon eyes. (Yes, small details still amuse us.) The subtly-flavoured sweet corn soup with white kyoto miso ($6) also contained a tiny juicy piece of shrimp and green pepper. Although the miso flavour wasn't evident, it was still a decent soup. We both thoroughly enjoyed the excellent oven steamed egg custard (2 small cubes) mixed with foiegras, lilly roots, carrots and seaweed ($7). The simmered pork belly and boiled winter melon ($7) could have benefited from a little more cooking to make the two thick slices of pork melt-in-your-mouth instead of slightly tough. The mild broth was enjoyable but overall this dish might come across as too bland depending on your expectations. By far, the highlight of the evening was the smoked spanish mackerel, quick cooked with sesame oil, ponzu sauce and ginger ($12). The thin slices of silvery fish were positively addictive. Snow crab salad with scallop and strawberry dressing ($12) was a very literal rendition of the description - salad greens topped with two thin pencils of crab and two slices of raw scallop, with real chunks of strawberry. The salad could benefit from a tossed approach to mix flavours.
On to the sushi...
After we ordered, the server returned to inform us that they were out of bonito and sweet shrimp, so we opted for delicious butterfish sushi as well as yellowtail ($5.50) to go with the ume shiso maki($4.50), tuna belly, scallop ($4.50), and tuna hand roll($4.50). Hiro's sushi is a sure remedy for all that boring cookie-cutter sushi available everywhere else. Where else can you find such exotic, melt-in-your-mouth fish and unique, authentic ingredients like pickled plum with shiso leaf? Nowhere downtown, that I'm aware of yet. The jug of excellent fishy homemade soy sauce made us forget to ask for the missing ginger and wasabi that normally accompany sushi. However, some of the sushi was already liberally laced with wasabi, which overpowered the fish and detracted from my experience. Next time, I'll be sure to ask for wasabi only on the side.
My parents played it safe with the pork belly, followed by bowls of rice topped with unagi (and assorted green veggies for Mom). They were suitably impressed with their made-to-order choices, even though it greatly disappointed the two chowhounds dining with them!
Overall, Hiro Sushi was an experience reminiscent of my 2002 visit to Hashimoto Kaiseki, and I look forward to returning soon.