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Hiro Sushi - a laughable, embarrassing experience

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  • Derek Oct 12, 2006 09:34 PM

A couple colleagues of mine were craving good sushi - we work dwtn and it was suggested to me, that fellow chow's had been recommending Hiro Sushi on King, east of Jarvis. I told my one colleague that I had not heard of Hiro Sushi, and that since I took clients often to Takesushi on Front, and that it was consistently fresh and delicious, reasonably priced, close to our office (it was raining last night) and the service was flawless, that we go there. I was overruled and together the three of us ventured off to Hiro Sushi (walking in the rain no less!).

Thus the story begins. We were walking along King and not knowing the number of Hiro Sushi, I stopped thinking we had found it and went in to this very cool place. It was busy, dark and very 'hip'. We were told that dinner was not served until 6 but that we could sit and have a drink.. how cool. We sat, ordered a drink and were served by very fashionable folk. A menu appeared and the top said 'Kultura'.. opps.. we were in the wrong place! Oh well, we'd all heard of Kultura and thought what the heck.. we are here, let's stay. But alas, sushi was on the minds of two and we finished our drinks all in agreement to return to this very neat Kultura for dinner and drinks in the near future.

Moving right along, we ended up next door at our original destination, Hiro Sushi. We walked in and there was a unique odour. Not sure what it was, but the place felt like a college students room in a basement of an old house. It was an 'odd' place indeed. Dark. Dreary. Dated. The friendly waitress/hostess sat us down and the place was rather dead.. two other tables and one person at the sushi bar. We were then reading over the menus and offered a drink. I ordered Pellegrino, and my collegues green tea and water. The green tea arrived, and the water never surfaced. The Pellegrino bottle was child sized and 3 bucks no less. We looked in semi shock at the menu prices and thought, wow, this must be good sushi. Or at least, it had better be. My buddies ordered $30 each plates of chef's assorted sushi. We had tempura ($15) and Tempura Figs ($9). I had a salad ($6) and Miso ($3). We also were charged ($3) for an extra very small bowl of ginger. (yes, we were charged for this.. hillarious). Allow me to continue. The tempura arrived - it was completely tasteless/flavourless. The portion was ridiculously small ($15!!!) and there were 3 shrimps, a couple of vegetables and much disappointment. There was NO soy sauce on the table, nor did any arrive until asked. Whatever we dunked the tasteless tempura into, it too was watery and had absolutley NO flavour. The miso soup then arrived, cold. Yes, cold. I have never had miso soup served cold. I was hungry and drank my miso juice. Two miniature pieces of seaweed and two chicklet gum size pieces of tofu.. yum (not). Move on to my salad, a portion of 'old' and very 'tired' lettuce.. mixed greens from a bag, unwashed and the size of the bottom of a tea cup.. a round, tiny hump of nothingness. Dressing was edible, but again, a complete disappointment. The water still has not arrived, no tea refills and one english speaking (and rather attractive) waitress who appeared to be running the show on her own. I had ordered california rolls and as I had said previously, my colleagues the $30 chef mixed creation. The creation's arrived. $30 bucks each.. that's a lot of dough. Appeared before them was a regular sized dinner plate, they said the fish seemed fresh (how can one eat / serve sushi that isn't extraordinarly fresh?? (I guess no smell is good) and there was no ginger, and no wasabi to be found. No soya sauce either. We asked for soya and wasabi and ginger. They all arrived in again, miniature quantities. They both dug in and said that the fish was ok, but that it was extremely, almost uncomfortably 'hot'. Why was the sushi so 'hot' I wondered? They continued to eat and then, realized that each piece of rice below the sushi was covered in wasabi!! How strange.. I have never heard nor seen this before. Many people despise wasabi (me included) and we thought this to be very odd. They ate their respective $30 dollar plates in visibile pain and we asked for more ginger.. that was when the $3 mini bowl arrived. The california rolls have not yet arrived. I asked several times and was assured they were coming. My friends finished their sushi as they were not about to leave 30 bucks on the table especially since it was my turn to pay and they were already knowing full well that I was NOT happy about coming to this ridiculous basement to eat. I was fuming. The california rolls arrived, and you guessed it, covered in wasabi. I ate one and returned the plate. Still no water. NO tea refills ($3 bucks a cup no less- what place that serves $30 sushi plates charges for tea?) and boy was I hungry. I paid, $125 including tip (hey, she was cute and it wasn't her fault). Told them how disappointed we were, offered to get her a job at Takesushi and left in disgust. Yet another bad T.O. restaurant and further disappointment for me about this, my city of bad food experiences. We walked back to work, me $125 poorer, said very little to each other and then stopped at Marche for a mediocre caesar salad for me at a cost of $9.10. We then headed home. Friends, for the sake of your health and your pocket book, stay away from this hole called Hiro Sushi. And look for Kathy to be working at Takesushi in the very near future!.

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  1. You're not alone in your disgust - I have said it before too, I believe Hiro Sushi is much overrated and overpriced. Perhaps on the night that the master Hiro is there, AND he recognizes you as a regular/friend, then you may be in for a unique treat - otherwise, you're better off at one of the sushi places along bloor in the annex. I am still eager to try their Soba Sundays, only because it would be made by someone else and I love soba but I've long given up on sushi at Hiro's. sad...

    1. Two words of advice: Sushi Kaji.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kagemusha

        Amen.

      2. a dab of wasabi is actually normal for nigiri and maki- but I've become accustomed to never getting it. But it is "supposed" to be there. Eating all that ginger only makes the wasabi seem hotter.

        1. Sorry to hear about your experience at Hiro. It isn't for everybody.

          Kaji is my favourite restaurant in Toronto. But I still enjoy a visit to Hiro. I am by no means a regular there, but I have always had fabulous sushi, and yes it is expensive. Sorry but the fish is so much better at Hiro than any place on Bloor St. You can't compare it. And now I must add that I love New Generation on Bloor. But the calibre is different, as are the prices. There's a time for everything good.

          Not getting soy with your meal is very unusual no doubt, in fact Hiro makes his own soy sauce, so this can only be because of poor service. Because the wasabi is served in the sushi, just as you described, extra would need to be ordered if you wanted more. Ginger is served to help cleanse the palate between different fishes but Hiro doesn't accompany every type of fish with it for some reason lost on me.

          It is traditional to serve sushi with wasabi between the fish and the rice. Restos in Toronto have altered that to suit our palate by putting it on the side instead. Spice to your own liking sort of thing.

          As far as the room at Hiro, there is no doubt that it is shabby and borderline dirty. I can never understand why no profits can go back into cleaning the place up. Removing the stains from the wall. It is just weird that the place is so off putting. We go back because we love the food. Sitting at the sushi bar is always an experience as Hiro pays close attention to your likes and dislikes. He loves to entertain with his food. Compared to Kaji though, the cooked food doesn't come close.

          Some of my favourite chinese experiences were had at "dumps" on Spadina/Dundas, and I go back for more. Hiro is the same to me. YES Hiro is way more expensive than any chinese "dump", but the food experience is well worth it to me.

          6 Replies
          1. re: bestandworst

            Well put, bestandworst. Also, I agree that New Gen. is the best of the cheap places on Bloor in the Annex there and worthy of repeat visits.

            1. re: bestandworst

              i agree with you about Hiro. In fact the wasbi he has, and if you ask for it, is REAL wasbi, not the fake stuff that comes from a power. All the difference in the world.

              I have never been to Kaji, (looking forward to do so) BUT i have found, of those i have tried, and i have tried MANY here and elsewhere, HIRO is the best, in Canada, east of Winnipeg. (there is a very very good sushi place there which matches hiro, bite for bite.

              expensive... right.
              decor.... not great (but some of the greasiest places i have eaten are the best in terms of flavour.
              sushi found no where else.... Right. in fact i remember when hiro did a mackerel sushi, he fried the bones and gave that as well as another dish. never seen that before or after.

              Hiro sushi is the real stuff, including putting wasbi under the fish, on top of the rice. if one doesn';t like wasbi, ask that it not be put on. BUT the default, at hiro and japan, is with wasbi.

              1. re: galambo

                each piece of fish should have an appropriate amount of wasabi on it as deemed by any real sushi master. not every single piece of fish should be eaten with soy sauce either and if you order it piece by piece then they will give you only what they think is appropriate. if you're really that sensitive to wasabi, then just ask for them to not use it.

                hiro doesn't actually give everyone the fresh wasabi from what i've heard... they'll only do it if you can prove your weight in japanese dining.

                to be honest, i find it rather questionable that for a first timer you'd order california rolls... they're not a good test by any means of a sushi restaurant. beyond that, how is it not the - repeatedly - cute server's fault that you weren't served water, tea, soy sauce and everything else?

                my own experience at hiro was a combination of bad service, by somewhat cute servers, with a dull omakase pulled together using items from the regular menu. the fish was quite tasty but the use of a shitake mushroom for nigiri was silly. i'm willing to give it one more chance at the sushi bar.

                now specifically to galambo!
                where else have you eaten around town that prompts you to claim hiro as the best? i haven't tried kaji yet but am a fan of the work at japango and omi, especially for their price points. bruce at japango is impeccable to his diners and the only place i've been to so far that's served fish paste cones for their handrolls.

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  That was my thought too, pinstripe, I don't think that Hiro uses real wasabi often. But in my experiences so far, Kaji does. I am a fan of both types.

                  I have seen Hiro basically yell at his servers to 'get moving'. I think sitting at the sushi bar, eating omakase, is the only way to go at Hiro.

                  Hiro is HIGHLY reputed to use only the best fish and best parts of the fish. He serves traditional combinations and knows what he is doing. If it matters, I can tell you that Susur has personally told me that he respects highly both Hiro and Kaji.

                  As far as busy or not...I agree that what neighbourguy wrote is a very good rule of thumb generally speaking, and especially when it comes to raw fish. But I personally have to trust that Hiro is the last place you need to worry about this.

                  Anyway, I didn't plan to chime in again, but I really wanted to back Hiro because although not perfect in his ambience, the integrity of his execution has been so well preserved through the years. For a true Japanese experience, I believe we are lucky to still have him available to us.

                  1. re: pinstripeprincess

                    No i have never claimed to have eaten in EVERY Japanese rest. BUT that is not to say that HIRO is not the best either. Taste is VERY VERY subjective to say the least.

                    Also i said 'if you ask for it' in terms of real WASBI. And generally speaking MOST the run of the mill rest do put WASBI on every sushi piece. But then again HIRO is a certified sushi chief and there are not alot of them around.

                    though i am interested in your comments about Bruce, and i guess that is my next spot to go to, when we are not looking to 'just east'

                    1. re: galambo

                      by no means was i trying to berate you, my response fell under your post simply because i'm trying to better ascertain your basis of comparison. i find it difficult to simply take someone's opinion of "the best" without any background. if you've frequented my own personal favourites and have found hiro to the better of them, then it would prompt me more so to try him out again.

              2. Sorry to hear about your bad experience. I ate there once years ago, and it was disappointing.

                Just wanted to say that wasabi under the fish with sushi is quite common -- in fact I've never seen it any other way.

                1. As a general rule, I will not go to any place, well regarded or not, if the place is empty. It's better to wait with the crowd and know that the kitchen is on it's feet and turnover is happening. (I think I even list New Gen as one of my faves...)

                  Thanks for the warning about Hiro. I will make sure your sacrifice was worth something! Will be sure to check out Kaji.

                  1. We're going to Sushi Kaji next week as we have guests in from out of town - we love it ..... but I've felt the tug that we should try Hiro's (I remember him when he was at Sasaya!) but not after reading this - thank you for posting.

                    1. ohhh I gotta jump into the fray Derek. Say what you want about Susur as an individual (and i'm inclined to agree on a certain level), but you CANNOT. Repeat CANNOT call his food *lousy*. Come on!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: nummanumma

                        Nummanumma - I'm telling you.. read my Lee write up and many many others.. the food is overpriced and awful.. I'd be happy to go with you and have you pay, and together, you can prove me wrong.

                        1. re: nummanumma

                          I don't know about Susur. Never been there. Been to Lee. Absoloutely horrible food. After my experience at Lee, I would be surprised if susur is any good. I have to agree with Derek that Toronto is disappointing when it comes to good restaurants.

                        2. ohhhh derek, you are tempting me. YOU ARE TEMPTING ME!!!! I don't need to read your write-up, I"ve eaten there several times.
                          all right, all right, fine. agree to disagree.

                          1. Sorry folks, I've got to agree with Derek. If you've eaten at Kaji(in the price range of Hiro) Hiro becomes a sorry case. If you've eaten at Nobu in NYC, Kaji still stands up food wise that is how good they are. The unfortunate deal with Hiro is that he has been over-hyped by the Chattos and the Kates' of this world and he believes what they are saying about him. Last time I was at Hiro some of the floor tiles were missing, empty beer boxes crowded around the sushi bar and the place felt just plain dirty. Got to be the Arborite look. I would not eat there again even if you paid for it. Good luck. BTW Hiro is still in Chatto's top 20 restaurant list. Time that old Chatto tried some new restaurants for a change!! The list is getting tired because it is always the same. There are some real good restaurants out there that get very little attention.

                            1. I didn't want to wade into this unwinnable debate, but my general argumentative self prevailed so here are my two cents. I've eaten often at both Hiro and Kaji and don't think they are comparable in terms of price so not a real fair comparison. Kaji is much much more expensive than Hiro and so the selection of ingredients in his omikase is more varied. In my mind, Hiro is a very good more affordable choice, although by no means cheap. My experience at Hiro has been uniformly positive - very fresh fish, traditional presentation, good ratio of wasabi to rice (and yes, it is impolite to ask for more wasabi in an authentic sushi bar - the sushi master is to determine how much wasabi each piece requires to achieve the optimum balance of flavour). Yes, the room is dated but I never thought the restaurant was dirty. And yes, the wait staff is not on top of things, and often forgetful. This could be taken as a sign of bad management, but i prefer to read it as Hiro being a good employer who'd rather not fire people. I have witnessed Hiro "yelling" at the staff - it's much more as a forceful direction pointing out that table X needs something, in no way was it humiliating to the staff or distracting to customers. In general, I liked the food enough, and found it a good enough value, that the room (which I personally find unexciting but not nearly as offensive as some seem to suggest) and the service don't deter me.

                              1. Wow :-)

                                I've never eaten at Hiro nor Kaji (I'm a Japango gal), but I'm like Kasia - sucked in to this interminable argument against my better judgment.

                                And I have to say, so what if Derek ordered California rolls and doesn't know that wasabi goes on nigiri as well as beside it. Not to inflame things but honestly, I find the sushi-chef genuflecting and the snobbery a bit much.

                                Derek posted his experience of grubbiness and poor service, which to be honest was a surprise to me. I'm grateful he did.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: spigot

                                  first of all, i do NOT have any relationship with Hiro San.

                                  BUT i feel that the premise of this thread is very miss leading.

                                  He is one of the best, authentic sushi chiefs in the city. Now when one does not know what real sushi is, one can say he does not do the 'normal' stuff. But remember most of the sushi chiefs are not Japanese, nor certified sushi chiefs. (it takes long time to get the sushi chief cert. with exams and apprenticeships).

                                  So yes he isn't like AYCE rest, but is that a bad thing? SO if you want a sushi rest like that, then i agree DON"T GO TO HIRO.

                                  If you want sushi as it is done properly, then try it out. It may not be to your liking, BUT then its your palate and not someone else.

                                  As for the decor. As long as it is clean, who cares if it is not 'urban modern with flashes of neon etc.' etc. Its the FOOD that it is all about

                                  1. re: galambo

                                    exactly times a billion, galambo!

                                2. My first post, and I'm jumping into the frey on Hiro.

                                  My friends and I went to Hiro for the first time two weeks ago. We had heard much ado about the omakase and how it was supposedly one of the best in town.

                                  Bad choice.

                                  Two of us ordered the $70 omakase while the other two in our group ordered a la carte (i.e. the black cod appetizer, a salmon terriyaki and sashimi) preferring to "mix and match" as opposed to relying on Hiro's $50 prix fixe. The sashimi arrived first, the grilled cod about 10 minutes later, and then the salmon terriyaki. This was all before the first course of the omakase.

                                  Not wanting the others to wait, we insisted that they start first, and picked on the black cod appetizer (a little too smokey, but interestingly different from the other gindara that I've had before). They were practically finished before the first omakase dish was brought to the table.

                                  The omakase dishes arrived very slowly, and much to my disappointment, consisted of nothing more than the dishes on the prix fixe menu plus one additional item. Taste-wise, only the tempura fig and the black cod stew were interesting, though not really overly impressive. I had expected more imagination and creativity from someone with Hiro's reputation.

                                  When the nigiri arrived, I was even more disappointed. I had asked that there be no mackerel (personal preference) and lo and behold, there was mackerel on my plate. I also did not expect to see shitaki mushroom nigiri, seeing as how I usually associate it with a cheap AYCE Chinese buffet pretending to offer "sushi."

                                  But the ultimate topper of the evening was that one of the pieces of nigiri still had fine pieces of fin bones imbedded into the flesh of the fish... something that wasn't realized until I had popped the piece into my mouth. I'm adept at politely deboning fish in my mouth, but this one was too much effort, and I was forced to discreetly expel the food into a napkin... it was either that or choke.

                                  I was rather disappointed in my experience at Hiro; embarassed, too, as it was at my suggestion that we even went there in the first place. I blame most of it on the fact that we weren't seated at the sushi bar (it was at capacity), the waitstaff didn't speak English, and that for most of the night, Hiro was entertaining a large group at the bar, and downing shots of sake with the patrons in front of him.

                                  I didn't find the decor to be offending. It reminded me of a weathered Japanese seaside food stand. The grubbiness was a little offputting when we walked in, but I sadly believed that the restaurant was just a little "old" and that it was in need of renos.

                                  It will be a long time before I brave that place again. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to Kaji for special occasions and to Sasaya for the weekday omakase.

                                  1. I have watched John Lee at Omi entertain a full house at the sushi bar and still have time to come to our table to ask how things are or explain the origin of his finds. He is always kind and patient with his staff. His cleanliness habits are impeccable. The restaurant may not be well decorated, but could never be mistaken for dirty or old. In short, I find the excuses given for Hiro's shortcomings inexcusable. One needn't travel all the way to Etobicoke to be treated properly.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Googs

                                      Thanks to all that took the time to reply. I log on to chowhound simply to express MY personal views of the dining out experience - food first, then cleanliness, service, ambiance, staff etc to follow. I'm no sushi expert, (and never claimed to be) but I do know good and tasty food when I consume it! I appreciated most of the feedback given in my post and thank all who made the effort to respond to me with a line or two back. Life is too short to eat bad food, and there is plenty of it in Toronto. That said, I have gone twice since my bad experience at HiroSushi to TAKESUSHI on Front - the sushi (spider rolls.. mmmm.fresh crab!!), miso soup, salads, tea, tempura, endless no charge ginger, wasabi on the side, green tea and black sesame icecream ... has well, all impressed me and made me want to return for more. The hot towels to start with.. first class and a great way to start your meal. Until I become better accquainted/educated on the various types and qualities of sushi, and the traditions that come along with it, I will wait for the day that I try the fantastically and consistently highly recommended Kaji. For now, signing off.

                                    2. Wow how did Susr get dragged into this topic??

                                      After I went to Kaji I didn't think I would get a better sushi experience in Toronto. I was thinking of heading back to Kaji soon, but then I heard about Hiro and thought I would head there this weekend.

                                      ..Looks like I wont be visiting there afterall!
                                      Thanks for all the replies in this thread!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: s0memale

                                        If it is raw fish you want - and not cooked japanese, you are missing out by not visiting Hiro. To be clear, Kaji Sushi is my favourite resto in Toronto.

                                      2. Thanks for posting this!

                                        My friend took me to Hiro Sushi, after talking it up as the best sushi in the city.

                                        I was appalled. The room was . . . well, like the living room of a old woman who had passed on a few months ago.

                                        And the food was bad, really really bad. I left a lot of it, claiming not to feel well so as not to insult my friend.

                                        I thought I was on crack to not like 'the best sushi in Toronto' and haven't told anyone how much I hated it.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: orangewasabi

                                          First time I have ever heard or read that the food at Hiro is not just "bad, [but] really really bad"

                                          I am curious to know...what food was so BAD and how was it so BAD?

                                        2. It was about two years ago and the specifics have faded. The simple memory of being truly appalled is all that remains.

                                          I know I had sushi that it was warm and the fish was probably off. And the tempura had definately been fried in oil that was rancid. Although we were the only couple in there at lunch time the food came over 1.5 hours. I was nauseated upon leaving though my friend and I have had friendly debates on if it was the dirty dusty/spiderwebby environment or the food that turned my stomach -- it's become a running joke.

                                          sorry, I don't recall if there was wasabi on the sushi or not ;-)

                                          I have only had two truly offputting meals in TO: Hiro Sushi and Lee.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: orangewasabi

                                            So you are implying that Hiro is as inconsistent as your postings...maybe that means it will be stellar if you decide to visit again. Try it out!

                                            1. re: orangewasabi

                                              look there is reasons why almost ever critic states Hiro is top grade. and it isn't because of the decor.

                                              as i stated before, taste is subjective. BUT his reviews, his certification all speaks about his ability and knowledge.

                                              if you don't like it, FINE, BUT as you can see here, there are alot of people who have had just the opposite reaction.

                                              P.S. Warm sushi is not a good or bad thing, would you have rather waited for it to be 'cooled' down even more, or gotten rice that was pre-made yesterday instead???

                                              1. re: orangewasabi

                                                I loved Lee. I think I should go try Hiro Sushi now.

                                                1. re: pescatarian

                                                  I have been to Kaji, Hiro, Japango, Solo, Nami and lot of the other 'not in this class' japanese restos in TO. Hiro and Nami .. not at the top of my list. But I have to say, neither is Kaji. I have been to Kaji twice and both times the sushi bar was fantastic but the kitchen left a little to be desired. Maybe a little too much attention to presentation and not enough to the flavour and texture of the food (no excuse for over cooking the fantastic fish they have available .. both times). For the money, it's tough to want to go back. Hiro ... too expensive for what they offer. Great, fresh fish but that is a minimum requirement for sushi and for the ambiance and price, not worth it. I personally love Japango (but i haven't been in a few months and have heard some rumours about dropping quality, I hope not). The pricing is good and the food (both raw and cooked) is (was?) fabulous. My favorite japanese restaurant so far. Solo Sushi-Ya is also fantastic. I was not thrilled with their kitchen on my first trip it has since improved dramatically and for the winter $50 omakase ... well worth the price (especially if you live north of TO). Winter is not the best time for a great variety of fish so it all the usual suspects from the sushi bar but super fresh and I can't wait for the summer weather to visit Japango and Solo again. With places like Japango around, who needs ridicuously expensive places like Kaji and Hiro. Let's be honest, most of us can't really tell any difference in the fish (because they all serve absolutely the freshest available).

                                              2. Exactly the same happened to me. I was told that the service is poor, so better to sit at the bar. However, the omakase menu was disappointing: very little food for the exorbitant price, and the tiny portions so far in time between one another as to make us leave hungry. The quality of the fish was good, but not out of this world. Don't go there.

                                                1. First of all it isnt disgusting to have wasabi already in sushi since in Japan at real sushi places they already season sushi and sashimi. Im guessin the chef at Hiro is a 1st generation from Japan so already adding wasabi is common and should happen at a real japanese sushi restaurant. In Japan sushi is pre-seasoned and adding extra seasoning is seen as an insult to the chef, even the use of soy sauce which many people find common here is an insult when used in the large amounts that are commonly used here.
                                                  So if you dont want a real japanese experience then dont go to Hiro, but if you want a real sushi experience then go...although the prices are high, I do prefer the taste of the sushi there above all in Toronto.