Sunday, March 05, 2006

Cafe Hiro - Cypress - Lunch and its Fourth Anniversary

If you read this blog regularly, you aren't a stranger to my enthusiasm about Cafe Hiro, a cozy restaurant in Cypress which fuses flavors from Japan, Italy and France. But if you have no idea what I'm talking about and you'd like to catch up, here are links to my previous posts.

Post Number 1
Post Number 2
Post Number 3

...leading me to this entry, "Post Number 4", which happily coincides with the restaurant's fourth anniversary this week.

To mark this milestone, Chef Hiro Ohiwa and crew are offering a discount: When you come in to dine between March 7th to 12th, you'll receive a coupon for 50% off on lunch or 20% off on dinner for use on your next visit. (Thanks to bottomlesspit and whowantscandy for the scoop).

This is a tremendous offer because even without the discount, the prices at Cafe Hiro are already reasonable. Dinner, complete with soup and salad* normally ranges from $10 to $20. Lunch is an even better deal at around $9.

Lunch, just like dinner, starts with a velvety smooth, pureed vegetable soup of the day. Some days it can be carrot, other days it's white potato touched with a hint of curry. My favorite is the sweet potato soup, an addictive elixir with the color of muted adobe. Each warm and silken spoonful envelops the tongue in a comforting embrace of starch and sweetness.

The soup is quickly followed by refreshing salad of greens, served on a chilled plate. The fresh cold crunch of butter lettuce and baby greens is dressed with a pulpy concoction harboring the sharp bite of ginger, the acidic tang of citrus fruit, and the salty funk of miso. It's a brisk wake-up call to the palate, like a dunk in an ice cold bucket of water.

Next is the entree, which includes roasted potatoes and a cold noodle salad. The chef likes to be creative with the spuds, giving it an unexpected dimension of flavor. Some days, he glazes it with a candy-sweet coating of caramel. On others, it's dusted with the spicy wallop of curry powder. The spaghetti noodles, on the other hand, are always dressed in a tangy cream sauce and studded with sesame seeds. After these two mainstays, all that is left for us to do is to pick the main entree. For this, we're given the choice of a few constants that appear on the regular menu and one special item of the day.

One entree, which is always available on the lunch menu, is the Pork Katsu. This cut of lean pork is prepared in the classic style, breaded with a Panko crust and deep-fried until golden. Although I sometimes find it chewy and bland, the accompanying vessel of homemade tonkatsu sauce makes up for any shortcomings. This dark, gloopy brew has the consistency of tar and a taste similar to steak sauce if it had soul.

For the Sauteed Jidori Chicken entree, Chef Ohiwa takes a tender piece of the thigh meat and cooks it on a hot saute pan until the skin is rendered of fat and transforms into a shiny and crisp jacket. The finished chicken steak is then lacquered in a sweet and sour reduction, with echoes of pineapple.

On the day that I had my camera, the special item was Korean BBQ Beef -- his rendition of bulgogi. Tender strips of marinated steak is cooked on a griddle with onions and finished with soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. The bold flavor of this dish demands steamed rice, which, of course, was provided.

After our lunch, we can never skip dessert, no matter how stuffed we are. The Panna Cotta is strikingly presented in a martini glass and garnished with fresh berries. This cold, creamy delight is the offspring of a happy marriage between Jell-O pudding and Jell-O gelatin. It quivers and jiggles like the latter, but fills the mouth in a dream-like ooze like the former.

The most intriguing dessert however is the Green Tea Blanc Manger. The usual first impression upon seeing it is fear. What is that dark and dangerous liquid anyway? It looks like swamp sludge.

In reality, it's just a thin layer of matcha -- Japanese green tea. Directly beneath is a soft custard. Then, buried deep below the custard, on the bottom of the vessel, is a dollop of sweet red bean. The trick is to dig in, through the different strata of ingredients, and get a taste of everything in each spoonful.

Thanks Chef Ohiwa and staff, for four wonderful years of great food at an incredible value!*

Cafe Hiro
(714) 527-6090
10509 Valley View St
Cypress, CA 90630

*UPDATE 1 (March 10, 2006): After my most recent dinner visit on March 10, 2006, I'm disappointed to report that now an entree comes with either a soup or a salad, not both. In addition, it seems that prices have increased slightly by as much as two dollars on some dishes. However, service and food quality remains unchanged -- spotty and excellent, respectively.

*UPDATE 2 (July 14, 2006): I'm pleased to report that Cafe Hiro is back to including *BOTH* soup and salad with its entrees.


At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what's the spaghetti in the photos like? kinda looks like carbonara! i love asian fusion. have many ideas myself - like sushi made with chorizo or ginger marinara sauce.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmo - Wow Hiro redux - you must be on their VIP list by now? It's really hard to get good tonkatsu - many times it's either too tough, or very bland.

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, thank YOU for turning me on to this place! What a gem!

That panna cotta IS lovely, isn't it?

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Greg said...

I've been to Cafe Hiro with friends and family a number of times, thanks to your blog. I might make a trip there to try out some of the specials (and get the discount) now that your post reminded me of their anniversary and discount.

As for desserts, I think my favorite on their menu is the croissant bread pudding.

Anyway, Cafe Hiro is a great restaurant. It definitely deserves all the press you give it.

At 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to Cafe Hiro today with my family, actually. I think Japanese fusion is either a hit or miss in certain dishes. However, I do agree on the sauteed jidori chicken being really good!

When I saw your mention of the lunch discount, I was kind of expecting to use it on my trip today. Sadly, this isn't the case. You get a coupon as you dine but can't use it on that day - you have to use it on your next dine in to Cafe Hiro. I wish they had explained this before hand but I'll let it slide because my family and I did come in during their lunch rush.

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

I love your photo superpost on Cafe Hiro! I got so excited, that I read all of your Cafe Hiro posts (again)!

Cafe Hiro is lucky to have you as their main proponent--it seems like lots of Monster Munching readers try the place out after reading your praise and high recommendation. You might say, that you are the "hero" of Cafe Hero! Bada-bump.

Okay, I fess up to the terrible corniness of that joke. Thus, the drum roll.

At 9:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


It might have been carbonara, but with a sesame flavor. In any case, it was delicious!


I wish I were on their VIP list! I think they should just hire me to do PR or something! They can pay me in free meals. But I know what you mean about the tonkatsu. Cafe Hiro does it well, I'd say, 90% of the time.


No thank you again for posting on Chowhound about the offer!

Some Guy,

From whowantscandy's post below, the offer turns out to be a coupon for the next visit. But I absolutely agree with you on the Croissant Bread Pudding...I order it anytime they ever have it on the specials menu. Alas, the two times I was there for lunch, they didn't have it.


Thanks for the update! I'll be going later this week for dinner, so thanks for clarification that the coupon is for the NEXT visit! I've updated the post with this info so that no one's caught by surprise.


I liked your joke! And you're right! Cafe Hiro has no champion more enthusiastic than I.

At 7:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmo,

Ate there last night, thanks to your rec (and the coupon offer!). As you say, very reasonably priced. I had the osso bucco (very tender, didn't even need the knife they gave me), and my wife had the duck breast on special.

She especially liked the bbq beef salad.

We stuffed ourselves on appetizers and entrees though, so we didn't get to try the desserts. Next time! :)

At 9:30 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Glad you and your wife enjoyed the dinner! I'm relieved that your wife liked the duck breast. It's actually the one dish I actually didn't like at Cafe Hiro. I guess it's a hit or miss. Thanks for reporting back! I'll be there this weekend for dinner too.

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice photos, Elmo, and your enthusiasm for this place is not disguised. The pork cutlets actually looked pretty good to me.

At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

THE BEST EATS here! Luv this place too! Appetizers always tops, we like to order a bunch for our meal--lots of sharing and tasting. Try the spinach-bacon pasta--sounds wierd, but you'll be back for more. Cod & Chilean seabass, nice presentation--plus subtle & divine tastes. Service can be sketchy at times, but who cares!

At 9:02 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Chino Wayne,

This truly is one of my favorite restaurants. There was a time in January that I ate here three times in three weeks.

If anyone is interested in more photos of Cafe Hiro's food, here are some that I took but never included in any of my postings.

Seabass with Asparagus
Chocolate Cake

and their Specials Board.


Believe or not I haven't tried any of their pasta dishes (but I will someday)...can't pry myself away from the main entrees!

At 10:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey! I was there for dinner on March 10th too. We were there fairly early in the evening. First time eating there--it wasn't my party's kind of food. We tried the osso bucco, chicken jidori, uni spaghetti, and scallops with risotto. For the prices, we expected more. The desserts were pretty good though.

At 5:00 PM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

I really wanna go try this place out... the food looks wonderful! but it just feels so far away from Irvine... :P
Maybe next weekend...

At 11:01 PM, Blogger Seth Chadwick said...


Great write up and I have added this to J.'s and my list of places to get to when I am in town, because if J. goes alone, the wedding is off. :o)

Anyway, you had me drooling and I am glad this place has remained consistant. I only hope the sudden change in pricing isn't indicative of things to come.

Also, just wanted to make sure you were okay as I haven't seen you post much on the CH boards.

Best wishes!

At 7:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the head-up about the special last week! I didn't catch the update, so we were also surprised by the "eat today, get a coupon for next time" deal.

I would say lunch is definitely very good, but not spectacular. I was a little disappointed that some of the entrees you described turned out to only be available at dinner or were specials.

That said, the curry was delicious, and the tonkatsu, very very good. We got soup and salad. Potato soup was very good. Overall, wouldn't make the drive from anaheim hills again (we were in the area already) just for lunch (well, maybe to use those coupons), but we enjoyed the food and service anyway.

At 8:47 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Although I loved the food that night, I was similarly disappointed that it wasn't as good a value as it used to be...the move in raising the prices and not including both a soup and salad is a sad and ominous sign of things to come.


I hope you get to try it some day. But as I mentioned, it sucks that they're not as generous anymore.


This would the one place I'd love to get the Seth Chadwick perspective on. Let's all hope they don't continue to screw up the great thing they least not until you come to visit!And hey thanks for checking up on me. Just got crazy busy last week!


Oh thank goodness they still include a soup and salad for lunch. Sorry if you didn't get to try the items I mentioned. I should've mentioned that they take things out of rotation from the menu all the time.

Dinner is somewhat better than lunch, but as I mentioned, it just got costlier. And some of my favorites (Salmon Saiko) among others have been taken off the menu permanently. I am still in a mini-state of depression about that one.

At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm in a mini-state of depression now since i didn't read your blog earlier, missed the anniversary week, missed the coupon...and now the news that prices have gone up...

it's not so much about the few more bucks that we'll be paying, but the inevitable reality in life--small gems like cafe hiro won't last long. word of mouth makes the place more and more popular and it's only a matter of time when the owner decides to do what makes sense--adjust the price.

i hope they still have the homemade dessert on the house--"melty kiss" chocolate cubes. those sweeties always give me a smile while i step out to the parking lot.

At 7:24 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


You're right about the inevitability of all that's happened. But yes, it can't help but be depressed when something that had consistently made you happy, finally lets you down (if only just a little).

By the way, I hope you don't kill the messenger but...they stopped serving those "melty kiss" chocolate cubes too. ;-(

At 2:20 PM, Blogger ChristianZ said...

"word of mouth makes the place more and more popular and it's only a matter of time when the owner decides to do what makes sense--adjust the price."

I know this is a late post but what an owner should do when popularity increases is to keep the prices the same, perhaps even lower them, and increase his earnings simply because of the increased volume of sales. I know prices eventually have to go up on just about everything but raising prices in response to increased sales is silly.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going tonight! Can't wait. I'll be taking more photos! LOL!

At 8:57 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Ain't supply and demand a b*tch!? ;-)


What happened to all your photos?! They're gone! Every single one! I'm so bummed!


If you end up there this weekend, I hope you like it. I'm always a little worried that I hype this place so much that I'm setting people up for disappointment. It's still one of my all time favorite restaurants though.


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