One of my best friends at the IETF meetings is a refined amateur of good food and we made out a kind of a tradition to have at least an exquisite dinner at each meeting, wherever we meet. It always ends in having an unforgettable meal, and almost always also ends in visiting expensive places. Quality comes at a cost. However, this was not the case with Cafe Hiro in Cypress, south of Los Angeles. Quality came here at an unexpectedly reasonable price.

cafe hiro

There is something about the decoration of American restaurants that fascinates me. I do not know if books have been written on the subject, they must have been, but I did not read them. In a culture where eating out is a popular entertainment and a mass entertainment as well, interior decoration reflects the personality of the owner, of the team, and of the chef.

Naki's mural at Cafe Hiro

The art in the restaurant belongs to an artist by the name of Naki whose murals and paintings define the style and the atmosphere. They look a little bit like naive representations of Californian icons. Mickey Mouse’s kingdom is not far away actually.

more of Naki's art at Cafe Hiro

We had three type of wines at a table of six. We started with a white Zinfandel, a little bit on the sweet side, but well fit as an appetizer. Glasses were special and generally the glasses, dishes, cutlery are nicely shaped and pleasant to see and use.

white Zinfandel is served

What about the food? I must confess that I am not a huge fan of fusion styles of cooking – I prefer authentic and ‘mono-ethnic’ cuisine. So the self-definition of the restaurant as ‘a blend of Japanese and French, with a touch of Italian’ made me cautious. Yet I had the pleasant surprise to discover that the chef’s Hiro Ohiwa’s is all interesting, not pretentious, tastes and looks well. Probably California is indeed the place to taste ‘fusion’.

Tipsy Manila Clams

Among the starters that we shared I will mention the Tipsy Manila Clams, which came with wassabe andcooked with garlic, shallot and celery in a white wine sauce. A touch of Japanese condiments gave a special touch to the often banal fried calamari.

Tofu Salad

Most surprising was however the tofu salad, which was made tasty and interesting by the combination of fine olive oil and exotic spices. Did I mention that my lover of high-end cuisine friend is a vegetarian? Without the risk of ever converting my carnivore self to his religion, he often succeeds to demonstrate me that you can have a fine dinner without the risk of having indirectly caused the death of any animal in the process.

Chilean sea-bass

The main courses (entrees as they are called in the US) at the Hiro Cafe are not huge, but satisfying in the natural order of a several plates dinner. One of my favorite fishes – the sea-bass here of the Chilean brand comes in several ways, with mushrooms or asparagus for instance. On the European side of the menu one of my colleagues had the osso-bucco and the ‘melting in my mouth’ feedback was heard.

Osso Bucco

Of course we had deserts. I will mention the one I picked, which was really exquisite, although not everybody may be happy with the taste. It was called ‘Green Tea Blanc-Manger’ – a gree tea custard, strongly flavoured and not very sweet. I loved it, but then not everybody likes green tea or green tea based deserts, I know.

The bill came at an astonishing 43 USD per person including taxes, excluding tip (well deserved for an attentive service). Everybody had three courses, at least one of us four. We had four bottles of wine. Many times when I have good dinner I say that it’s expensive but worth, we live just once after all. Seldom I say that a dinner is worth more than the money I paid for it. This was one of these cases.

I recommend the place for everybody who is around in the South Los Angeles area. Information about the restaurant can be found on their Web site at http://www.cafehiro.com/.