Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Dinner at Hiro's Yakko-San

Here is just one small reason why I love my wife. It's Valentine's Day, we have baby-sitting, and as we head out the door, the question is, "Where should we go?" After kicking around some options and even sidling into someplace that had a romantic Valentine's prix fixe menu, Mrs. F sets down her menu and says, "Let's go to Yakko-San." Let's indeed. Because a cozy spot at the bar and some Japanese tapas are all we need to have a wonderful night.

Hiro's Yakko-San is an izakaya-style restaurant in an unassuming strip-mall location in North Miami Beach. There's sushi-bar style seating with about a dozen seats, about 15-20 tables, and no real decoration to speak of unless you count a few TVs scattered around the place (usually showing whatever sporting event is in season). The menu lists something over 100 dishes, most various tapas-style small plates, plus there's always about a dozen or so daily specials and several fresh fish specials. There is sashimi (gloriously fresh) and onigiri but no nigiri, and no maki. If you want a deep-fried roll with four different kinds of fish and cream cheese, sorry, you'll have to go elsewhere (there's always Hiro's Sushi Express next door, take-out commodity sushi which is a different beast entirely).

Because most items are fairly modest portions and pretty reasonably priced, you can order several to assemble a meal. A snapshot from our "Valentine's Dinner" last night: tofu with kimchee, a great contrast between the cold, creamy tofu and the spicy, funky kimchee; negitoro tartare (a daily special), lush, rich toro diced with scallion, topped with a generous dollop of caviar, served over shiso leaves with strips of nori for wrapping up little DIY tartare tacos; grilled local shrimp (another special), served head-on, incredibly fresh, well-salted, needing nothing at all but a tiny squeeze of lemon (don't forget to suck on the heads); grilled half-dried squid, made even better with a dip in umami-rich Kewpie mayo spiced with togarashi (I love these things, the drying giving a concentrated flavor and a somewhat chewy, but not bouncy, texture); octopus nuta-ae, sliced thin in a way that somehow renders the octopus completely tender, served over chopped scallions and greens with a mustardy miso sauce; uni sashimi, a generous serving of at least a half-dozen sea urchin "tongues," with that wonderful briny essence-of-the-ocean-with-a-hint-of-sweet-apricot creaminess.

A perfect Valentines' night - they even gave Mrs. F a rose as we headed out.

Here's a longer list of some of the many things we've tried and enjoyed - this list was compiled over the course of a few years visiting, over that time some of these items have gone off the menu, and others that were specials have now found their way onto the regular menu - with stars on some of the favorites:

-spicy miso cod or sea bass*
-flash-fried bok choi*
-hamachi usuzukuri (very thin-sliced yellowtail sashimi, to which they'll add slivers of jalapeno and ponzu)
-kabocha tempura
-maitake mushroom tempura (sometimes on the specials)*
-hamachi kama (often a special - collar of a yellowtail broiled and served w/ ponzu; a little work, but worth it for the delicious meat)
-salmon kama & belly (occasional special - outrageously rich and fatty; you'll feel like a bear fattening up for winter)
- takoyaki! (octopus dumplings; and there's a waitress who always says it like this, with the exclamation point, whenever I order it)*
-nasu buto miso itame (sauteed pork w/ eggplant and miso)*
-spicy chile shrimp
-uni & ikura pasta
-fried chicken gizzards (not bad, but not sure what the point is)
-grilled pork belly (used to be a frequent special, now on the regular menu - little slivers, nice and crispy)
-sanma (like a big sardine, grilled whole including innards - sometimes a little dry but if you like strongly flavored silver-skinned fish like sardine or mackerel, etc. it's good)
-steak w/ garlic sauce
-tongue stew
- spicy manila clams (a semi-regular special)*
-grilled fiji shrimp (they haven't had these for a while, but when they are on the specials they are absolutely delicious)
-ikura onigiri (since they don't do regular sushi, this is as close as you can get - it's like a pyramid of sushi rice stuffed inside with salmon roe - or salmon or a couple other things - with a sheet of nori wrapped around it; almost as good are the little japanese pickles that come with it)
-salmon ocha zuke (over rice w/ green tea poured over it - very refreshing)* (no longer on the menu)
-okonomiyaki (they call it a japanese pizza - an odd omelette type concoction with cabbage, fish, fish flakes and mayo - really rich and an excellent late night munchie) (no longer on the regular menu)
-jack tataki
-jack nanbanzuke (sometime special - this was surprisingly good - jack, a somewhat strong-flavored fish, fried and served cold, sort of pickled with vinegar and peppers - almost exactly like a jamaican fish escovitch)
- kimpira gobo (sauteed burdock root)
- crispy fish & onion salad
- local octopus ceviche (occasional special)*
- black pork sausage (a favorite of our kids)
- motsuni (pork intestine stew, occasional special; not for everyone)*

It's always fun to watch the open kitchen, where 3-4 chefs make almost everything other than the fried or stewed items that come from a back kitchen. It was a beautiful thing to see one of the chefs start to slice a loin of tuna and then, amidst all the chaos of a busy kitchen and full house, just stare at it intently for a minute while assessing his plan of attack. Yakko-San is open late (2am weekdays, 3am Fri-Sat) and you will frequently find local chefs and other restaurant biz folks there late or on their off-nights.

UPDATED: Yakko-San has moved, note new address below. Also, to avoid confusion, note that there is another restaurant along the 163rd St. Causeway called "Hiro." That is not Hiro's Yakko-San and is not asssociated with Yakko-San. Yakko-San is in the Intracoastal Mall, just west of the bridge over to Sunny Isles, right next to the Old Navy store.

Hiro's Yakko-San
3881 NE 163rd St.
North Miami Beach, FL

Hiro's Yakko-San on Urbanspoon


  1. Congratulations Fro!

    So happy to see you're doing a blog. Please let the kids post too. I've always wondered if they might add their own, unique perspective to all of your restaurant visits.



  2. That's an awesome idea. I think the chowpups would get a real kick out of it.

  3. Great blog, Frod. Really love to hear your opinions. I have to admit I haven't been to Hiro's much since Marumi opened in Broward, but YS does do some things a lot better (and vice versa).

    PS - Nothing like sucking on a shrimp head!

  4. Always great at Hiro's, and always on point Frod! Check me out at: