Hirozen, Japanese Restaurant Extraordinaire

Hirozen is the little Japanese spot in a strip mall at Orlando and Beverly in West Hollywood, a five-minute drive from our house. Although it was once one of our favorites (I even talked them out of a Hirozen shirt which I still have), inexplicably we hadn’t visited them for probably two full years until our visit last night.

Hiroji Ohbayashi, the owner and chef, has been busy innovating and creating and—still—cooking, as he was last night. The Today’s Special menu is a cornucopia of old and new favorites, brilliantly walking the line between traditional and modern. We’ve always loved the sweetish Nasu Soboro (Eggplant with Ground Chicken), a simple old Japanese pub dish that Hirozen does gloriously; Bob thinks it’s just the right thing to go with sake. Zucchini Flower Tempura is a deserved favorite.

At the table next to us sat a beautiful lacquered black platter with luscious broiled chicken pieces, a tower of tempura, and elegant mounds of hijiki and Japanese potato salad. I discreetly asked the waitress what that was and nearly fell off my chair when she told me it was the “teriyaku tempura combo plate”. Only Hiro could take the tired old stereotyped combination plate from Japanese restaurants in the 60s and update it this vigorously and sophisticatedly and humorously. I spent so much time gazing longingly at it that I almost forgot to ogle the would-be starlet picking it at with her studio executive boyfriend. Seized by a sudden craving for the hijiki and potato salad, I strong-armed the waitress into bringing me a small sample.

Lately we’re stuck on sashimi platters whenever we eat Japanese and here we went for a simple plate of striped bass, kampachi, and aoyagi, which was presented perfectly and was astonishingly fresh. We also had the shiitake stuffed with grilled tuna, a festival of contrasting flavors and textures, your Japanese izakaya staple “ika natto”, and another old favorite, crab meat chile relleno with salsa. We washed this all down with some perfectly serviceable warm sake. It’s winter, after all.

I hear that Hiro is spending time consulting for Japanese restaurants opening up in Las Vegas and elsewhere. That’s great for them and him, but I sure hope he doesn’t stop innovating and cooking great food at his fine little ten-table restaurant, without doubt one of the finest Japanese eateries in our beloved city of angels.

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