Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Once a Hiro, Always a Hero

Izakaya Hiro is serving Japanese food right. The flavors are focused. The atmosphere is calm. The cocktails are unique. 

Currently the menu includes Nigiri (fish on rice), Norimaki (rolls), Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), Kushiyaki (other grilled skewers), Ramen (noodle bowls), Donburi (rice bowls) and traditional Izakaya style Soups, Salads, and Appetizers. Next week they expect to open for lunch and will begin serving a finalized menu. I'm personally hoping this will include some Onigiri (rice balls filled with fish or meat or veggies) and Chirashi (rice and sashimi bowls). 

The redesigned space has two large dining rooms and an extensive sushi bar. The front room is sleek exposed brick with wooden accents. Through the curtains in the back of the room is their Kushiyaki grill, hot kitchen, and more booth seating for diners. In a few months they will be introduce a private dining room at the back of the building where guests can enjoy karaoke. 

After two visits I'm totally hooked. The quality of everything has been impeccable. The style is simplistic and more traditional, rather than the common American Sushi Bar featuring futomaki with 5 ingredients and two types of sauce drizzled on the plate with tempura flakes. There's nothing wrong with that style, but I personally enjoy the more classic Japanese style.

With a drink included you can expect to spend around $25 per person. It's not the most inexpensive, but then again, good sushi is a always a bit of a commitment from your wallet.

Do yourself a favor and don't skip the drinks. Besides having charming names like Geisha Blushing and Lovers in Japan, the cocktails are something special. Izakaya Hiro is working with housemade drinking vinegars, traditional rice and barley wines (not the beer style but rather Japanese Sake or Shochu), and fresh fruit combinations. The Sake and Shochu are also available by the glass and can be enjoyed chilled, or heated in the hot sake machine behind the bar.

Beer drinkers rejoice. They have an exciting selection of craft beers including Hitichino Nest from Japan (on draft, which is quite rare).  They also offer bottles including Rogue's Morimoto Soba Ale, Great Divide Samurai, the ubiquitous Kirin Ichiban, and Sapporo. If you don't drink they will pour any of their drinking vinegars with a spalsh of soda water for a refreshing and liver-friendly option.

Assuming the quality stays consistent and the fish stays fresh, Izakaya Hiro will do incredibly well. I'm really excited for the developing ethnic food scene in Charleston. Hiro is a leap in the right direction.

(I apologize for the iPhone photos. My stomach couldn't be bothered with the nice camera on this trip.) 

A table in the front dining room. 

Mackerel Sashimi

Karaage- Japanese Fried Chicken

Yakitori Chicken Skin

Shoyu Ramen

Geisha Blushing- Nigori Sake, Cherry Vinegar, Pomegranate, Soda

Clockwise from top: Spider, Eel, Ginger and Wasabi, Yellowtail, Spicy Tuna

Tako Su- Octopus Salad with Cucumber, Wakame Seaweed, Sesame Seed, tossed in Ponzu

Monday, July 9, 2012

On Reviewing

I have been working in the food and beverage industry for almost six years now. I started because I love food. I keep working in the industry for the same reason I write this blog, because I can't truly appreciate what I eat if I don't appreciate the toil that puts the food on my plate. 

I put out my accounts of the meals I eat because I feel people deserve the opportunity to access information about things on which they will spend their hard earned money. I also want to promote the hard workers of the industry, encourage restaurateurs to do new cool things, make exciting and interesting dishes, and I want them to do it well so we can all enjoy more great evenings. 

I write my negative reviews in order to make others aware of the possibility of a bad meal or bad service, but I am also responsible for making them see that my bad experience isn't the only type possible. A negative review has the potential to drive business away from a restaurant, and really that is the last thing I am aiming for. It doesn't make me feel good to denigrate someone’s hard work. When I write a review I hope that I am constructive and I hope restaurateurs see their errors and have a chance to improve. I also hope it helps eaters be aware of the effort and difficulty involved in their evenings out. 

Working in F&B I have begun to see how hard it is to pull off a flawless meal. If you work in the industry and give one sh*t about your job then you are a really hard working m-f'er. The best days at the job are when you make someone’s life better just for a moment. The worst are when you f-- up and everything snowballs, and people leave unhappy, and your coworker has to pick up your slack. It's challenging, it’s awesome, it's miserable, and it's rewarding. That doesn't even begin to touch the surface of the reality of working in a restaurant and I can't pretend I'm an expert. Nevertheless, I’d like to think I have a little credibility when I criticize a restaurant, because I have some idea of where things might have gone wrong. 

After posting my review on NextDoor's wine dinner, I'm feeling a little self-conscious. I often want to post about all the places I check out, but I find it hard to strike a balance between ebullient enthusiasm and critical direction. My post on NextDoor was particularly hard to write because I had some negative things to say about my experience. If I wrote well you will know that I have an incredible amount of respect for the work their whole team puts in and I think overall they are doing a fabulous job. I published the review publicly because I want other people to know that Next Door exists and they are hosting cool wine dinners at affordable prices, and about the awesome team they have, and the delicious food they serve. Not only have I had outstanding food there, I have had really great service from each employee that came in contact with me at the restaurant, on multiple occasions. 

Still, I had something negative to say and I chose to say it in a public forum. Before I published the review I read it over about ten times, trying to decide if I shouldn't just drive over to Next Door and tell the GM exactly how I felt about my experience. I wondered if it was cowardly not to say it to their face, or if it was wrong to make public my single negative experience.  I chose to put it out there, because I want the restaurateurs to know that I did not have a flawless evening. I want them to know what exactly went wrong. I want them to have the opportunity to improve for their own sake, and because in this case, I want other people to come back and tell me that their experience was 150% better than mine and I want them to love the place. (I mean really my goal in life is the populate the earth with only amazing restaurants, but that's another topic.) 

I want my negative reviews to serve as a cautionary tale to potential eaters, and a source of constructive criticism for the restaurateur. In order to be reliable source I must have the ability to accurately express my experience and gauge how likely it is for another person to return for a very similar experience later; be that bad or good. If I review a restaurant and say it was fabulous, I want to be certain that someone else who goes there will be able to say the same. Conversely, if my experience is awful, I don't want other people to have a bad experience. You have the right to know what you might be getting into, and restaurants have the right to some wiggle room, and first and even second chances to do it right.