Monday, August 17, 2009

Hibiki, Marunouchi (響)

Monday nights out always get me kinda down, and it sure doesn't help when they're for work. Nevertheless, this turned out pretty well, more for work reasons than food reasons. Hibiki is best described as a chain izakaya gone upscale - it's attractive and well-presented, but there's something pretty soul-less about it that shows through in the freshness and taste of the food.

But hey, it's owned by our important clients over at Suntory Group (though the direct parent is Dynac Corporation; I'll draw you an entity diagram if you want), and so it's a preferred destination. With money comes access to design, and that means you get a lot of glass, faux-natural stonework, polished wood, and attractive flower arrangements. I sound like I'm complaining, but I really shouldn't be. Really, the only tip that this is a corporate place is that it's too big! If they did a series of small places just like it, I'd probably love them all. We had a private room, a big horikotatsu table that could seat 10 or 12 in a pinch, and it had nice rough-fabric walls and a cool dried-flowers-in-a-huge-vase display at the far end. Good stuff.

The food is pretty good, in a tick-the-boxes way. As I sometimes say, this would be a great place to introduce visitors to the diversity of Japanese cuisine in a modern yet 'Japanese' environment. The tofu comes out in a big, fresh-carved lump on a bamboo zaru strainer, with bits of bean still obvious in it and only a plate of roughly chopped scallions and some sea salt as accompaniment (I'm just being poetic. You can put soy sauce on it if you want.). Water eggplant is peeled in strips, sliced, then the slices are cut in half and it's stuffed with chopped myoga. The Kyoto Vegetable Salad was really just greens in a light dressing; when you consider the plethora of wacky yellow carrots, black radishes and giant peppers that abound down there, this seems a shame. Okala, the grainy remnants of soybeans that have been pulverized for their milk to make tofu, was mixed with beans, seaweed and shredded carrot, then coated and fried to make croquettes. A good departure from normal was the ability to order grilled tuna head - not the whole thing, but big, dark, meaty pieces (which smelled awfully fishy, and I skipped them). The sashimi was the biggest letdown - nothing really wrong, just a lack of flavor that didn't match the fresh appearance. Too bad.

The drinks list is pretty broad and not too big; of course they feature Premium Malt's, my new favorite mainstream beer (it's Suntory), and we enjoyed both the free bottle of wine that we got from the Gurunavi coupon (!) and the bottle of California zinfandel that we paid up for afterward.

Yeah, this has been a hopelessly mixed review, hasn't it? It was OK, and some things were fresh and good, but based on the size of the bill, I would never go back. Better to take your chances on two cheap, dirty and promising places somewhere else...

That's a pretty sweet kanji, doncha think?

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