Monday, February 11, 2013

Hibino

Box pressed sushi at Hibino: Tuna with avocado and shiso and Eel with kanpyo and shredded egg
Hibino means "daily" in Japanese, which presumably refers to the restaurant's ever changing list of Kyoto-style small plates called "obanzai." The rotating list of obanzai are written on numerous chalkboards near the tables and cost $5 each. Social-media friendly, Hibino keeps a blog describing these daily specials.

Some of these obanzais are very good -- I especially liked a Seafood Harumaki (a crispy roll of shrimp, squid, and vegetables) that they have periodically. But Hibino's best dishes can be best described as Japanese "comfort food" like crisp Agedashi tofu in a dashi broth or slow-cooked braised short ribs in a soy broth with a hint of sweetness. These comforting dishes have an odd way of evoking memories of family dinners from my childhood.

And of course Hibino has fantastic "oshi" -- box pressed sushi -- where soy or miso marinated fish top rectangular rice molds, often mixed with shiso leaves, mushrooms, or egg.

Beef Kakuni - braised short ribs in sweet soy broth with homemade tofu

Hibino is not your typical Japanese restaurant. I have in the past disparaged Japanese restaurants that have offered overly complicated (and overpriced) sushi creations while allowing the quality of their fish suffer. Hibino is different, it serves creative though seemingly simple dishes. Like many restaurants, though, not everything is perfect.

The best dish on the menu is the Beef Kakumi, braised short ribs over homemade tofu in a sweetened soy broth. The beef is cooked just long enough that a fork can effortlessly penetrate it, while it still holds together in the serving dish. The delicate tofu helps to soak up the sauce.

Agedashi tofu
An Agedashi Tofu dish with crisip tofu and shishito peppers was also well done. The tofu appeared to be deep fried just before serving so it was still crispy while sitting in the dashi broth.

These dishes were far better better vehicles for Hibino's homemade tofu than a dish of silken tofu, scallions, and a soy-dashi sauce. The tofu was served in a glass jar, which made it hard to serve, as it kept slipping off the small serving spoon. A similar dish at EN Japanese Brasserie was far more successful -- it was served in a deep wooden dish, which made serving far easier. The tofu was also better there.

Sushi rolls at Hibino
On the sushi side of the menu, Hibino is most known for "oshi" or box pressed sushi.  My favorite was sea eel with layers of shisho and kanpyo within the rice and topped with shredded egg omelet, though a tuna with avocado and shiso was also solid. A miso-marinated salmon variety was not as interesting.
Salmon box pressed suhi

Hibino's spicy rolls caused much controversy among my fellow diners. Rather than mix the spicy mayo in with the fish, Hibino's chefs squirt a dollop of spicy mayo on top of each nigiri piece.

An informal survey of my friends who have been to Hibino indicated strongly held views in opposite directions.

I understand the theory there -- often, when the spicy sauce is combined with the fish in advance, the fish tends to be soggy. You know it's fresh if they squirt it on to order. It also looks pretty.

The problem here is that they used too much spicy mayo, which overwhelmed the fish. And each bite felt unbalanced, since all of the sauce was on one end. The best approach might be to offer the spicy sauce on the side or to add it before the nigiri is rolled to ensure a more even distribution.

Hibino
333 Henry St (between Atlantic Ave & Pacific St)
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 260-8052
http://www.hibino-brooklyn.com/


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