When I want to know where to eat in Sydney, which operas are the hot ticket at the Met or who's got that boutique Russian River pinot noir in stock, I call Harvey. The epitome of the urbane San Franciscan, my friend is a maven--a person who knows stuff--and great company, too.
On his last trip to town, Harvey suggested dinner at Hiro's, a little sushi bar I'd never heard of at the unglamorous junction of Highway 217 and Interstate 5 in Lake Oswego. Out of all of Portland's restaurants to choose from--well, I wondered if he were losing his edge.
No worries. Hiro's may be a relatively unsung restaurant in a mini-mall off Bangy Road, but it turns out to serve creative, spanking-fresh Japanese food in a homey atmosphere of devoted regulars.
Proprietor Hiro Ikegaya is a dignified host, but no chatterbox. If you ask for recommendations at the sushi bar, it's more likely his right-hand man, Eliseo Guzman, will tell you what's fresh and what's special tonight. Don't let Guzman's Hispanic heritage fool you. He's got the touch for sushi, and he shouts out hello and goodbye in Japanese with the best of the Ginzu boys.
Much of the delectable fish Hiro's serves is imported from Japan. Ikegaya says he's the only Portland restaurant getting deliveries from a top Los Angeles importer whose big trucks, speeding toward Seattle, briefly pull off the interstate to drop off his order. As a result, you'll encounter seasonal seafood you may not have tried before, like monkfish liver or buri, which is wild yellowtail.
Traditional preparations are well executed, but the real lures at Hiro's are the special dishes, thoughtfully composed variations on Japanese and Western classics.
Don't miss the salad with crackling, smoky, salty strips of salmon skin ($9.75). Seared buri carpaccio ($12.85) comes with a complex salsa of tomato, onion, soy, rice vinegar, ginger and chile oil. Then there's Hiro's version of the ubiquitous softshell crab roll ($9.85), which packages crispy fried crab in a white radish wrap with velvety avocado and crunchy smelt eggs, then sets it on a zesty sauce with red jalapeño, rice vinegar and garlic.
We weren't nuts about the monkfish liver pâté ($8.95)--the sauce was awfully sweet--but the tuna tartare ($9.95), with fresh parsley and pine nuts, tasted like something a brilliant Italian chef, given some gorgeous tuna, might dream up. Ditto for a new dish the chef told us about, salmon cured with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and basil, which wasn't yet ready for tasting. "We create in our own style," Ikegaya says. "We spend a lot of time working on our dishes and original sauces, and our customers like them."
While the chef's dishes taste like he has invested time working out the flavors, the restaurant's decor looks like it hasn't received a style update in years. Ikegaya arrived in Los Angeles from Japan in 1974 and started a restaurant in L.A. in 1979. Coming north, he opened Hiro's in late 1989, and little seems to have changed since then--not the bland Art Deco posters on the walls, nor the chairs, which over the years have lost any whisper of cushion they once might have had.
The whole place is full of seemingly incongruous details that, upon closer examination, have logical explanations: The '60s rock soundtrack harks back to the Ventures, Ikegaya's favorite band; a framed 1990 clipping from The Oregonian's sports page quotes Jerome Kersey saying Hiro's is his favorite restaurant. And why, with only two white wines on the menu, is one the delicious but relatively obscure Sineann Oregon Pinot Gris? Because winemaker Peter Rosback is a regular.
Like most first-class Japanese restaurants, Hiro's isn't cheap. Figure at least $75 for two with sake and a tip. One of my favorite dishes is a deal, though: meaty broiled yellowtail collar for $8.25. It's tough to eat with chopsticks but worth the mess to wrestle the savory chunks of rich fish off the bone. Or you could always ask for a fork. By the way, the Sineann Pinot Gris ($5 glass, $28 bottle) really suits the food.
All of this reveals just why a maven is a maven. Thanks, Harvey.
6334 SW Meadows Road, Lake Oswego, 684-7521. Lunch: 11:30 am-1:50 pm Monday-Friday; Dinner: 6 pm-9 pm, Monday-Saturday. $$-$$$ Moderate to expensive. Credit cards accepted.
Picks: Salmon-skin salad, seared buri carpaccio with salsa, tuna tartare, broiled yellowtail collar.