Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hiroko's a Hero

I love going out to eat with my friend R because she always picks adorable, tucked-away restaurants with a cozy, comforting vibe. Yesterday's dinner destination, Hiroko's Place, was no exception.

I was apprehensive when she suggested a Japanese restaurant because I had already eaten Japanese food twice in the past week (at Watawa and Miyako). However, a quick perusal of the menu immediately piqued my interest. The food choices were nothing like what I expected from a Japanese restaurant. The owners must have found a very specific niche, because none of the reviews I read seemed to include a universal description of the type of food they serve. Japanese/Sushi, Home-cooked, American Comfort Food, Coffeehouse, Dessert/Ice Cream, and Cafe are just a few of the ways reviewers and Web sites have described the cuisine.

I decided that I wouldn't try to understand it. I was intriuged, and I was ready to see for myself what this place was all about. The entire space is a moderately spacious box that resembles a coffee shop and a living room at the same time. A few small, two-seater tables are set up near the front windows, and a massive bookshelf takes up the wall to the right of the entrance. I immediately noticed that the shelves are crammed with manga, but I read in a New York magazine profile that there are fashion magazines and other publications available to customers as well. Artwork, some of it in the anime style, covers the walls. There are two large couches that appear to be leather facing each other in front of the long diner-style counter dotted with bar stools. The whole place just creates a great vibe as soon as you walk in the door.

Feeling immediately comfy and quite at home, I get cracking on deciding what to order. After a brief flirtation with the idea of Neapolitan Spaghetti (with japanese sausage and veggies cooked in ketchup), I took R's recommendation to order the Ham Gratin with Macaroni. To start out, we requested an order of gyozas to split.

While we were waiting on our food, we received complimentary salad in small glass bowls, which I insisted on eating with chopsticks. Topped with some sort of tangy, vinegar-based sauce or dressing, it was actually quite amazing. I'm not much of a salad girl, but I ate my entire portion. Empty salad bowls aren't very common for me!

The gyozas, which I think were vegetarian, actually turned out to be fantastic (as you can probably guess from the photo). Gyozas are often hit or miss, and although I'm not quite sure what was in this particular type of gyoza (maybe the descriptions on the Hiroko's menu need a little help...), they were some of the best I've ever had. I barely stopped to breath between bites, which isn't anything new, but it's still important to note.

Although the name of my main dish turned out to be slightly misleading (unless "macaroni" now actually means "penne"), it was nonethless delicious. The penne was served in a pretty dreamy cream sauce and was mixed not only with ham but also broccoli, cauliflower and other assorted veggies. Served in a skillet reminiscent of S'Mac and looking very similar with a crusty cheese topping, this dish was heaven. Besides, the portion cost only $11 and I couldn't even put it all away.

R ordered a huge omelette over fried rice, which looked both weird and enticing. She seemed to love it though, so that's good enough for me!

I was assured by R that the desserts are also very good, but I was unable to cram even one more morsel into my mouth. However, I can't wait to go back! K would probably not appreciate the fact that it took them YEARS to bring our check (we had to ask for it) but anyone looking for a place to linger over dinner in a cozy atmosphere won't be disappointed. Weird, yummy comfort food at its finest!

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