Food & Wine

Behind the scenes: Hiroshi's 'secret' omakase dining


Photos by Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
Chef Hiroshi Kimura opened an eponymous restaurant at 328 Main St. in Los Altos devoted to truly intimate dining. He hosts one table of diners each evening, serving a multicourse menu of seasonal Japanese vegetables and seafood and the restaurant’s hallmark dish, A5 Wagyu beef, below. A charcoal-heated ceramic grill allows diners to heat each bite to taste, with ponzu, wasabi and truffle salt as optional accents.

Hiroshi, the Los Altos restaurant as known for its mystery as its A5 Wagyu beef, trades on the tailored experience of private dining.

When the “appointment-only” restaurant at 328 Main St. opened its doors to local food writers last month for a conversation with the chef, it offered glimpses of a dining experience intended for the world of loftier paychecks. The omakase menu starts at $575 per person for groups of four to eight – and diners must book the evening as a group. Omakase refers to a multi-course meal driven by chef’s customized selections. You won’t find a wine list or menu on the website. Chef Hiroshi Kimura’s sake collection headlines the pairings, though Napa Cabernet Sauvignons including Stones and Alpha Omega complement the red meat on the menu.

A typical meal might include eight courses and highlights the Japanese style of grilling beef, yakiniku, though Hiroshi has increasingly begun to emphasize seafood flown in from Hokkaido, Japan, in addition to the foundational A5 Wagyu beef. Cows raised with the Wagyu pedigree are bred and fed to develop a distinctive white marbled fat known for its sweet taste and soft, rich texture.

Hiroshi began cooking in Osaka before moving to restaurants in the United States. He ran a small yakiniku restaurant in Waikiki before coming to Los Altos with the idea of serving one table, a single group of diners, each evening. After making a booking, diners design a menu in concert with the chef based on preferences and limitations. The seafood is ordered based on each individual evening’s itinerary, arriving the day of or day before, sometimes still alive, from Tsukiji Fish Market, where Hiroshi’s agents can select what they want on a given day, according to Kevin Biggerstaff, the restaurant’s general manager.

Secret dining

Biggerstaff, previously of Jardiniere and The Village Pub, said Hiroshi liked that Los Altos’ clean, quiet streets reminded him of Japan. Biggerstaff referred to their Los Altos restaurant as “secret dining” – exclusive and intensely private.

From its exterior, Hiroshi is an enigma, a carefully landscaped storefront that only hints at the understated opulence hidden inside. Tech executives, venture capitalists and realtors all have had their place at Hiroshi’s table, but Biggerstaff said they see more private social bookings than work events. Artwork along one wall can pull back to reveal a screen for business presentations – or karaoke. In addition to niche demographics such as professional poker players and football players, families have brought babies and children – at least some of the youth of Los Altos are prepared to take on the nuances of omakase cuisine.

“Most people say, ‘I’ll eat anything,’” Biggerstaff said of the trust directed to the chef-driven menu by diners who often won’t have experienced an omakase meal where extremely high-end sake is paired with food.

The Edo Kiriko cut glass used on the table and as decor along the dining room is handcarved in Japan, the knives and forks mottled with the signature whorls of Damascus steel, the dining table a dramatic 15-foot slab of wood from a Japanese keyaki tree.

Biggerstaff and another server staff each dinner, with Hiroshi largely out of sight in the kitchen. A diner unfamiliar with the seasonal vegetables and seafood arriving from abroad can get a primer on components and how to eat them.

Clarity of flavor

Opening courses might include scallops with miso and trout roe, tremblingly soft Hokkaido tofu with scallion and bonito flakes, a chawanmushi savory pudding topped with crab meat and broth or a takiawase nimono, whose autumnal vegetables last month included kabocha squash, purple yam and bamboo.

The kegani “hairy” crab served with Japanese vinegar came with a silver claw for prying sweet flesh from shell. Bites of shoyu-marinated Wagyu tatake – beef that has been pounded, marinated in shoyu, seared and draped with uni – gave a preview of the beef that was to come.

The Nechi Otokoyama Junmai Daiginjo Sake, dry and delicate, proved lighter than a white wine or spirit as accompaniment to the largely subtle palate of the opening courses.

“When I was young I cooked a lot of seafood,” Hiroshi said, describing his focus on a clarity of flavor that wasn’t “fishy.” “I don’t like to make too much sauce – I enjoy the original taste.”

Hiroshi described starting restaurant work at age 16, peeling potatoes with a knife and learning through work, in a context where “they don’t teach you anything.” He said that his vision for opening an intimately private restaurant included dropping “jacket and tie” formality.

“If you’re one group, nobody cares because you’re old friends,” he said. “I want comfortable.”

The tempura kisu, a white fish decked with ossetra caviar, came nestled on straw in a basket, a high-concept homage to fried fish that flaunted how delicate the genre can be.

Similar humor showed in the Wagyu Katsu Sando, a combination of milk bread, house-made katsu sauce and panko-crusted beef whose overqualification made a tender joke of the typically humble fried meat sandwich.

A yuzu sake sorbet and green salad with freshly ground sesame dressing gave a pause while a tray of marbled beef circled the room before Hiroshi’s signature appeared, a Wagyu beef that comes with a glowing charcoal hibachi brazier, so that diners can lightly heat each bite as they navigate the sacred cow.

As a wind-down after the dramatic event somen noodles in broth appeared, followed by a minimalist dessert of Concord-like Kyoho grapes and monaka, green tea ice cream sandwiched between cookie-like mochi wafers.

For more information – such as is available – visit Hiroshi328.com or find at least three friends ready to lift the veil of mystery via a future booking.

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