- Super Hiro’s Restaurant
- Location: 2585 West Broadway, Vancouver
- Phone: 778-737-3333
- Website: superhiros.com
- Prices: Omakase, $60 (four courses), $100 (six courses); à la carte, $8 to $25
- Cuisine: Japanese
- Additional info: Dinner, Tues. to Sat., 5 to 9:30 p.m.; lunch, Wed. and Thurs., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations accepted.
- Rating system: Casual dining
It was just as well that the server at Super Hiro’s Restaurant mixed up our order.
The nigiri platter was sad enough – its thin, frayed slivers of salmon and tuna sagging like broken dreams over lumpy nubbins of cold rice. When it arrived, we realized that we would only be getting a four-course dinner, rather than the six-course we had requested.
By this time, a large party in the corner was filling up with loud hooligans, who were spiking their drinks from a bottle stashed underneath the table. Wearing thick gold chains, leather jackets and Versace sunglasses, they looked like shady stock characters from a Japanese yakuza film.
“Isn’t this the restaurant where someone was shot?” I asked nervously. (No, that was Quattro on West Fourth). Still, although still hungry, we were happy to leave early.
Super Hiro’s chef-owner Hiroki Watanabe must really believe he acquired some sort of semi-divine power while working, for 17 years, at Tojo’s Restaurant with his uncle, the legendary Hidekazu Tojo. Like uncle, like nephew - both restaurants specialize in omakase (chef’s choice) menus that are overpriced and underwhelming.
The dexterous feat of coasting on one’s reputation works for Mr. Tojo, because he was once a groundbreaking chef who nurtured Vancouver’s taste for one raw inside-out California roll at a time.
It isn’t working so well for Mr. Watanabe, who is unknown, has opened in a drab space off the beaten track and specializes in relatively expensive fusion cuisine, which is hit and (largely) miss.
Mr. Watanabe does have a certain charm that makes you want to root for him. Tossing back his spiky hair and laughing throatily, he visited each table several times. Unfortunately, he was sequestered in a closed kitchen for most of the night. The generic beige-on-grey dining room, which looks like it was furnished from HomeSense, felt flat without his presence.
“It does have a good feng-shui flow,” my friend noted, generously.
Mr. Watanabe seems to appreciate premium sake and chatted to us about his various suppliers. Unfortunately, the server forgot to provide us with the list, leaving us with only one option by the glass – an unnamed brew master’s choice, served warm.
And he certainly has ambition. “First year, we survive,” he explained on a second visit, when we were the only diners in the 46-seat restaurant. “By year three, no choice,” he said, referring to the recent addition of a more casual, à la carte menu – which he obviously regards as an indignity.
“Super Hiro’s sounds like a joke, not a restaurant. But I make very serious dishes.”
Our four-course omakase began with medallions of pressed snapper roe, dried to a crumbly, chalky texture. It had no discernible taste and was served with only small droplets of dashi broth. This must be what it feels like to exfoliate one’s tongue with a microbead clay mask.
Next, whitefish ceviche drenched in olive oil.
“Kihada,” the server announced.
Kohada (gizzard shad)?
“No, yellowfin,” she mumbled, searching for the translation on her phone. Or maybe it was yellowtail.
She basically had no clue what she was serving the entire night – a fault that lies with the chef and a lack of proper training. In this case, it didn’t really matter since we could barely taste the fish under all the grassy olive oil, which somehow managed to overwhelm even the plate’s fruit bowl of citrus segments and a fistful of jalapeno.
For the main course, there was a slab of grey, gamey tenderloin (grilled blue-rare and cold in the centre) and a pan-fried filet of grunt fish (well cooked, save for the limp skin). Both were served as composed, Western-style plates with assorted sauces (red pepper and miso pureé on the fish, brown miso jus and creamy sake squiggles on the beef) and vegetables (peas, carrots, crispy kale). Neither dish left the impression of being overly serious.
On our second visit, the chef recognized us and tried hard to impress. Several dishes showed artistic flair. There was seared skipjack presented with a towering floral spray on the side, although the fish itself was still ice-cold in the centre and could have used some tempering to bloom its natural flavour.
Two tiny freshwater crabs, standing on their hind legs like sparring boxers, were served with green matcha salt for dipping. The crunchy, red-shelled snacks were full of “big brain” flavour, as Mr. Watanabe amusingly described the green tomalley.
There was a lot of cross-cultural experimentation, but it was all thrown together willy-nilly. Seared hamachi, for example, came with tangy beet purée and cabbage leaves speckled with spicy Chinese XO sauce. Prawns, clams and squid were poached in a rich tomato-fish broth – and served as a soup, with chopsticks.
And there was an awful lot of blue fin tuna, which probably goes down like a dead weight in the Kitsilano neighbourhood, the birthplace of Greenpeace.
When we asked the chef if he had any qualms about serving an endangered species, he deflected the question with pseudo-scientific theories about how Japanese people have developed digestive systems that are more tolerant to mercury. He then flew off onto tangents about the cross-border discrepancies in commercial spot prawn fisheries and how, as a sport fisherman himself, he was very concerned about declining resources.
Whoa, Super Hiro. You might want to get your head out of the clouds and come back down to Earth. If this restaurant is going to survive, it is going to require lower prices, better consistency and a menu that is more approachable to mere mortals.