Jen’s lengua post brought back a lingering memory from Cafe Hiro in Cypress. There, chef Hiro Ohiwa churns out some delectably inventive Franco-Italian-Japanese fare, including this savory beaut: Beef Tongue Stew. It’s a sophisticated take on a rustic offering — a thick, luscious slab of tongue in a shimmering pool of red wine reduction. The meat is so buttery tender you won’t even need a knife. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
Chef Hiro Ohiwa's loyal clientele may have come to his Cypress restaurant, Café Hiro, to sample the Japanese food, but they're not dining on sushi, tempura or bentos. Ohiwa's eclectic menu is a tribute to the invasion of "foreign" tastes that have made their way into modern Japanese cooking. The French-influenced sauces, Italian pastas and curries now so much a part of eating in Japan are Ohiwa's forte.
The Japanese native, schooled in the U.S. throughout his teen years, studied as a chef both in Japan and France, where he also spent several years working in one- and two- star kitchens. And while his European-style offerings aren't French per se, there's evidence of finely honed technique in every one.
The minute you step inside the restaurant, leaving an undistinguished mall behind, you sense you're in for an exceptional experience. Every inch of the two-story room is covered with whimsical art. Painted-on vines climb along the walls and ceiling; faux Mediterranean-style window boxes hold painted flowers. A stylized sun sprawling over one butter-colored wall carries out the sort of southern European theme that wouldn't be unusual in a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant in the hipper quarters of Tokyo.
The daily specials board lists many of the best dishes, and these entrees (which come with both soup and salad) provide the best bang for the buck. Imagine: a sea urchin risotto topped with large sautéed shrimp or roasted miso-marinated salmon, preceded by a satin-smooth Japanese pumpkin soup and an organic baby lettuce salad -- all for $12 or $13.
The soups, by the way, change daily, and they sing with the flavors of fresh seasonal ingredients.
A "Big Splurge" at Café Hiro is a $30, six-course tasting menu with soup, two appetizers, pasta or risotto, an entree and dessert. Each category offers several choices served in portions that seem luxurious but don't overwhelm.
Many an appetizer here is good enough to go up against those at high-end Asian-fusion restaurants, though they're a tad more Asian in style. The spaghettini topped with firm, supremely fresh lobes of sea urchin with a splash of ponzu was eagerly enjoyed by everyone at my table. Ohiwa's avocado-laced tuna tartare with wasabi cream is to be picked up with wonton "chips"; his fried calamari, with its wispy potato starch coating, is lightly sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. On special one day, diver scallops -- crisp outside but quivering rare within -- topped a "risotto" of fresh edamame.
Café Hiro offers two dishes of Wagyu, the American-bred Kobe-style beef. There's an appetizer of filet grilled tataki-style, ultra-rare inside, arranged in a tepee shape on a hillock of baby greens. "Osso buco" is an unctuous braised beef rib shrouded in concentrated meat juices.
Red pepper-infused fish roe (mentaiko) sparks a creamy spaghetti sauce -- one of the best pastas on a lengthy list that includes quirky Japanese combinations such as mustard greens (takana), bacon and bonito shavings. The familiar Italian sauces -- meat sauce, arrabbiata and carbonara -- are also on offer.
Curry sauce has captured the Japanese imagination and can appear on anything from seafood to croquettes. Instant curry sauce, as popular in homes in Japan as Hamburger Helper here, can be bland and sludgy, but Ohiwa's curries, all made from scratch (and without the usual addition of beef suet), are simply adroitly spiced sauces. He makes nine curries, including free-range chicken, "hamburg" steak and my favorite, a "wild" mushroom curry of shiitake and shimeji. The waiter will inquire as to your desired spice level.
Café Hiro's wine list offers a good many acceptable bottles for under $20 along with beer, several mid-range sakes and a more prestigious Gingo sake.
Light desserts end these meals perfectly. The panna cotta with berry sauce and Café Hiro's sorbets (raspberry-blood orange or cherimoya in season) aren't excessively sweet. And the green-tea blancmange -- unlike commercially made green-tea ice cream -- actually tastes of tea leaves.
Café Hiro's lengthy menu, supplemented with daily specials, quells cravings for everything from light snacks to an all-out omakase (chef's tasting menu). And in every bite of Ohiwa's cooking is a taste of the food world's cultural give and take.
Reggae played softly as I took a bite of roasted Chilean sea bass with asparagus. The portion was surprisingly generous for the price, and the asparagus came peeled and crisp—an unnecessary, gracious touch. A light sauce complemented but didn't upstage the flavor of the fish. My mom ordered a pepper-crusted rib-eye steak special and smiled—a good sign. The steak possessed a slight tinge of wine and was bathed in a garlic-soy sauce my mom declared the best soy sauce ever.
But it was my sister's chicken-cutlet curry that I kept looting. The chicken crunched like Styrofoam in your hand—Hiro's chefs delicately fry the hen with Panco, a fancy Japanese bread-crumb coating that is to fried food preparation what Charles Shaw is to wine. The curry sauce was brown, sweet and mild with a can't-help-but-swipe-some-more quality. My sis didn't mind that I eventually just took the curry plate from her—Café Hiro was my find, after all.
After the curry came dessert. Mom ordered crème brûlée garnished with walnuts, sis dug into a rich pot de chocolate, and I happily spooned the green-tea-flavored panna cotta. We ladies were in agreement: Café Hiro is a keeper. My dad, however, grumbled that the servings should've been bigger—what kind of girlie place was this? "It is sophisticated and smart," I sniffed. "And it, uh, makes me happy." No one bad-mouths my culinary boyfriend.
Since writing —“how I would enjoy, the critic muses, finding a small chez, say room for 30, with the chef/owner actually doing the cooking—the fine cooking—in the kitchen and a couple of good waiters easily handling the tables”—I’ve had the good fortune to find a handful of such restaurants. Among them is Café Hiro in, of all places, Cypress. Here is where Hiro Ohiwa has brought his superb skills, after years of working his trade at big name places like Matsuhisa, Café del Rey, and Blue Marlin, under such master chefs as Nobu (Matsuhisa) and Naga (Katsuo Nagasawa).
Between tuition, books and other miscellaneous expenses, the average Cypress College student operates on a rather modest income. Being able to grab a quick bite to eat in between classes is an unusual luxury for most students. However, students should know that they don't always have to sacrifice great taste for convenience.
Nestled in the Cypress corporate center, next to essential moguls such as the local coffee house and a few fast food joints is Cafe Hiro, a Japanese-Italian restaurant owned by Chef Ohiwa. The colorful decor of the place lends an inviting atmosphere with the wooden tables covered in alternating blue, white and red tablecloths. Emi Miyazaki, a waitress at Cafe Hiro, said "The restaurant is bright and casual in the daytime, but we try to make it more intimate at night with candles." This certainly does the trick.
On any given night, Cafe Hiro patrons can range from loyal locales, to a group of friends celebrating or a couple dining out. Ryan Dolores, 23, and a regular at the cafe, said "Even though I live about 20 minutes away, I try to come here at least once a month. It's so good!" Of course, Dolores' loyalty is warranted with the great food at Cafe Hiro.
The menu at Cafe Hiro is varied. There are traditional Japanese plates such as curry or spaghetti, but their main entrees are more eclectic, with an Italian twist. Take the Osso Bucco for example; tender boneless kobe meat served with a side of potatoes. Main entrees come with a refreshing salad and the homemade soup of the day. Less adventurous visitors can always stick to the garlic spaghetti with topping choices from mushroom and spinach to bacon and uni, a Japanese delicacy. Chef Ohiwa can be seen preparing the food behind the counter, he said "I enjoy talking to customers who sit by the counter when I cook."
Although Cafe Hiro is not what most students would consider fast nor cheap, it is definitely a creative alternative to those who want a fulfilling meal.
Finally tried Cafe Hiro in Cypress and I wasn't disappointed. We were there for lunch and opted to try the $20.00 lunch special to share between the two of us since we weren't very hungry. The special included soup of the day, a choice of salad, appetizer, main entree, dessert and a soft drink.
The soup of the day was pumpkin. This was a smooth textured soup made from a puree of pumpkin with a few strands of wonton skin thrown in for crunch. The flavor of the pale orange soup was creamy and subtly sweet but not too rich. I wished I had ordered more!
We chose the tofu salad served on mescalune greens, which was dressed in a complex dressing of miso and soy, decorated with some thin slivers of seaweed. Awesome! I really need to figure out how to make this dressing on my own!
The appetizer was "creamy" crab cake. The single crab cake was deep fried in panko and placed daintily on top of a seasoned tomato sauce. The presentation was something you'd expect at a more expensive eatery, but was pretty much inline with what Chris G. has described at Cafe Hiro's tendency to surprise you. In any case, I couldn't wait to dig in. Cutting into the crisp coating with my fork, I realized that I needed a spoon to scoop up the oozing filling. We destroyed this dish; every last drop of filling and sauce sopped from the plate.
The main course was seafood risotto which was served in a deep bowl. Surprisingly, the dish was predominately more seafood than risotto. Two clams, two mussels, a few shrimp, and lots of calamari became the bed of perhaps a few spoonfulls of risotto. This was excellent, eventhough I think they could have easily gotten away with less seafood and more risotto and saved themselves some money, but as a customer, I wouldn't have it any other way. The texture of the risotto was perfect, al dente, but still very creamy. The seafood was also not overcooked and perfectly fresh. I only wished the flavor was more cheesy, but I was still quite content for what the dish was.
Dessert was the pot de chocolat, which was as the waitress described "a chocolate custard." Really simple, but really good. It reminded me of chocolate pudding but with more body.
The service was very warm and friendly. Eventhough we ordered one lunch for two, the waitress was still very gracious and even gave us each small plates with which to use to spoon our shared dishes onto.
I love this place, and will be back this week to try dinner.
Went there for the second time last night- to cash in on one of their anniversary 20% off coupons that we’d acquired the first trip a couple weeks ago. I didn’t write about it then, because I didn’t really feel like I had the pulse of the place. All I really knew was that I wanted to like it, and that it was a good value. Apparently, though, we didn’t order all that well.
The first time, I had the osso bucco, and my wife had the duck breast with risotto. I liked the osso bucco, because I like my food to be low effort- and you can literally fork cut the meat without problems. That works for me. I actually handed the knife they brought me over to Vanessa, who needed it a bit more for her duck. Which she wasn’t totally enamored with. And that I later found wasn’t really one of their best dishes.
What brought her back last night (besides the prospect of a discount) was the beef salad she’d ordered as an appetizer. This is a tossed green salad with Japanese dressing and slices of sweetly marinated, thinly sliced kalbi. The flavors work together, and the first few bites, when the meat is hot and the salad is cool, are a real treat for the senses. I’d had the crab cakes, which I obliquely mentioned in my review of The Bungalow, but for me, creamy isn’t an adjective I want to be using to describe crab cakes.
So while she went straight for the beef salad again last night, I went for something called a salmon spring roll. Which was more like a salmon-stuffed eggroll, but was quite tasty. It seemed to be stuffed completely with salmon, deep fried, and served on a plate drizzled so lightly with a sauce that I couldn’t tell what the sauce was. And it was hard to soak it up with an eggroll with a smooth hard surface to it. :P
But that won’t stop me from ordering it again. What might stop me though, is the prospect of trying the shu mai. The reviews I’ve read say that those are pretty good, pretty meaty.
For main dishes, my wife went with a miso-marinated cod from the Specials board, served with rice and a green pea soup which I had (since she’d already ordered a salad, and wasn’t a huge fan of that particular soup). The soup was very delicately flavored and lighter in texture, unlike the pureed peas that I think both of us feared. The cod, she said, tasted much like Chilean Sea Bass, although I think it’s more that the miso taste dominates the fish. But in a good way. ;)
I had the uni spaghetti. I mean, uni spaghetti as a house specialty is like throwing the culinary gauntlet. I had to try this thing. And unusually for me, it took a few bites for me to get it. The flavor was less overpoweringly uni than I expected, and the toasted nori was a nice touch. Again, for the first part of the meal, when the uni was crunchy, and the noodles were hot. I’m thinking this place is somewhere you want to go and wolf down your meal, because it just doesn’t sit on a plate and patiently allow you your leisurely conversations. These dishes are highly unstable! The first bites are sublime, and then it’s a race against the clock.
At least dessert didn’t spontaneously combust. I had the green tea blanc manger, which was a small bowl of custard and azuki drenched in cold green tea, the real stuff. It tasted like real green tea ice cream, except warmer and softer. My wife had the panna cotta, which she very much liked. Elmomonster describes it here better than I can.