January 27, 2007

Searching for an old friend...

...we made a new one.

You could say John and I have an obsession with sushi. And you really wouldn't be exaggerating. It's probably the one pilgrimage we make MORE often than Nibblers.

John's fixation started before we met. Mine began early in our relationship with my first visit to Koji's. A four-table hole in the wall off the beaten path on the San Francisco peninsula, Koji's was a true neighborhood find -- and the perfect place to discover a new food addiction.

Over the years we've probably sampled hundreds of sushi bars and found a few favorites along the way. But because John was one of Koji's first customers and Koji was my first real sushi experience, we managed to make our way back to 37th Avenue no matter from wherever we were in the bay.

Since Koji closed his doors in 2004, a dedicated group of his customers have kept in touch and we've followed him around the bay to the very best of our ability. So before he celebrates his first anniversary with Hiro Steak and Sushi in Brentwood we decided to visit and check out his newest digs.

A little Internet research reveals that Hiro's is the brainchild of owner Mark Bradford and executive chef Hiro Ogawa, that it will take us a little longer than an hour to get there, that for a Japanese restaurant the wine list is impressive, and that the descriptions of the menu items have us salivating over the keyboard.

I find the ambiance at Hiro's fascinating. A lot of restaurants try to offer something for everyone -- and lose their own identity in the process. Part piano lounge, part sushi bar, part robata grill, part 5-star restaurant -- Hiros' manages to do it all, and do it well. From our seats at one end of the sushi bar, we're close enough to the lounge to observe the quiet and friendly efficiency of the bar staff and enjoy the young Michael Bolton lookalike and his unique style on the piano before turning our attention to the menu before us.

It's immediately clear that we've missed Koji -- but quickly becomes equally clear that he's made a mark on the menu. Hiro himself offers us an amuse of seared tuna in a creamy wasabi sauce before taking our order. We enjoy ocean-fresh nigiri, a crisp-tender tempura roll (with just a bit too much greenery for John), and a creamy California roll that evoked memories of late nights on 37th Avenue for both of us. One of the most interesting dishes we chose was the edamame -- prepared "three ways" -- some simply sprinkled with salt, some seasoned with garlic, and a third section in an sweet sesame dressing. Fascinating in it's complex simplicity, I'm convinced this preparation would convert many soy-phobes to the other side.

One of the things that turns a good sushi bar experience into a great one for us is our interaction with the sushi chef, our host for the evening. No matter how fresh the fish, the experience lacks luster if we can't find a connection with the chef. Hiro was the consummate host -- attentive and friendly without hovering or 'up-selling.' He let us set the pace, paid attention to our selections and our reaction to his creations, offering an occasional recommendation based on his observations. When John ordered uni to finish, we explained that while I appreciate good uni, I usually find a whole nigiri overwhelmingly rich. In response, Hiro offered me the smallest of spoonfuls to sample.

In the end, John mustered the courage to ask after Koji. Sadly, we managed to visit on the last Friday of Koji's vacation in Japan -- he's scheduled to return on Monday and Hiro promised to tell him we'd stopped in. So we'll need to make the drive out Vasco Road again in February to reconnect with an old friend and a new one.

Hiro's Steak & Sushi - 613 First St., Brentwood - 925.634.3129

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wheresmymind said...

Hundreds of sushi bars...that's impressive!

Linda said...

i love edamane!