Freestyle Asian

Hiro expands again, to Ramat Aviv with a more balanced menu.

Hiro (photo credit: ROY GUY)
(photo credit: ROY GUY)
Celebrity chef Israel Aharoni is in no hurry to grow his popular Hiro chain of Asian restaurants. After all, he has plenty to keep him occupied elsewhere. In addition to his popular globe-trotting culinary TV series co-hosted with Gidi Gov, he has joined the judges’ panel of the runaway hit show MasterChef. But finally, this year, the third restaurant opened in the upscale Ramat Aviv Mall in north Tel Aviv.
Several things differentiate this branch from its two sisters. For one, it is defined simply as a “freestyle Asian kitchen” without the usual qualification as a “ramen bar.” Ramen is indeed on the menu, but on an equal footing with other categories. The summer menu in particular has more of a focus on lighter dishes and salads.
Second, the menu is what some might consider “kosher lite.” There is no pork or seafood on the menu, and no dishes contain meat together with dairy. However, to be sure, milk and dairy do coexist in the kitchen, and at the table.
There are three specialty cocktails (NIS 39), two of which have been reviewed in these pages before. The Hiro gin and tonic – the classic drink with an Asian twist – was especially refreshing on a warm summer’s eve.
The food menu comprises five categories: Salads (NIS 28-69); Gyoza (NIS 39-58); Buns (NIS 25-36); Ramen (NIS 54-68); and Stir-fry (NIS 62-78). As we have come to expect from Hiro, there are vegan options in every category. 
Alongside the regular menu is a daily list of Specials, some of which will rotate. There is also a kids’ menu, and gluten-free dishes.
At a recent tasting session for journalists, Hiro provided a sampling from each category. We discovered that the Salads category might perhaps be more accurately titled Vegetables, since it includes dishes like steamed eggplant.
From the first section we were served the Beet Salad, a cold dish in which maple syrup enhanced the natural sweetness of the ruby-red vegetable. At the same time, the other ingredients – smoked soy, ginger, green onion and wasabi beans – added welcome spice and contrast.
Our chicken gyoza bore the Hiro signature: a lacy crust, the result of one side of the Japanese dumpling being seared gently on the grill after being steamed. With its melt-in-the-mouth soft interior and slightly crisp exterior, it takes just a drop or two of chili oil or soy-yuzu dipping sauce from the condiments on the table and you are in dumpling heaven.
Next was the Entrecôte Bun, succulent slices of steak overflowing from the pale white steamed bun. Not only was the combination delicious, it was also surprisingly filling for such a relatively small sandwich.
One of the specials that evening was a bit of a surprise: grilled corn on the cob with butter and Asian spices, a Japanese take on an American summer classic. The fresh corn itself was as good as in the old country, and once the butter mixture was spread more evenly, it was a real treat.
A summer adaptation of one of the noodle dishes in the Wok (stir-fry) category was cold soba – thin buckwheat noodles with assorted vegetables. While I prefer my noodles warm, this was certainly an acceptable, even satisfying, interpretation.  
Another special was the Agedashi Tofu, a hefty brick of silky fermented bean curd. The seasonings were excellent, but alas, the texture rather mealy.
The restaurant has a limited wine list, as well as a carefully curated selection of Japanese sake. Interestingly, there are more Asian beers than either wine or sake, including four ales from the Japanese brewer Echigo. 
Reflecting the lack of emphasis in Asian cuisine on desserts, Hiro offers only one: mochi (NIS 12), a scoop of ice cream wrapped in a thin layer of rice dough. Of the four flavors, the berry exploded into fruity goodness, while the starchy skin contributed little to the overall taste. 
Hiro Freestyle Asian Kitchen
Not kosher
40 Einstein St., Tel Aviv. Tel. *3721
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.