I love Hintonburg. Don and I have been living in the neighborhood almost 7 years and there’s always something fun to do and see. It’s quirky, artsy (distinctly bohemian), and, as the soon-to-open two new restaurants and one new bakery (The Cake Shop) hint, gentrifying. Recently dubbed Ottawa’s “Lower East Side”, there are some establishments that have remained, strangely resistant to change. They are lingering reminders of Hintonburg’s past.
One of these long-lived establishments is Hino (1013 Wellington Street W.), a quirky, bordering on eccentric, Japanese restaurant. It’s a fixture in Hintonburg, having moved to Wellington Street from Rideau Street more than two decades ago. Its decor seems to have endured the test of time. The furniture has reportedly not changed, chipped and worn tables and chairs, some surfaces sticky. Some of the poster art that decorate its walls hail back to the 90s.
Over the years, Don and I have passed by Hino many times, but never walked in. That is, until two months ago. We had heard stories about Chef/Owner Terry Hino and his eatery’s unpredictable hours, closed when it is supposed to be open. But, we were told the food was delicious and the prices, fair.
On our first visit, one breezy October evening, the dining room had about half a dozen patrons, mostly regulars, eating at the bar, chatting, and having a beer with Chef Hino. A lone server cheerfully led us to our table and took our orders. While we waited, we learned Chef Hino is often the sole person running the place, doing three jobs simultaneously: cooking, bar tending and serving. His one-man show was on full display that evening despite his having a server.
We started with an order of gyoza almost at the same time a basket of sliced white bread arrived, your typical grocery store-bought loaf.
The pork dumplings, steamed and then pan-fried, were encouraging. They had a moist and well-seasoned filling. Their skins looked like they had been machined. There are so few restaurants in the city that make dumplings from scratch these days.
In the mood for beef, I decided on steak. Don chose curried chicken.
My steak was perfectly cooked, just crusted, well-seasoned, and served medium rare. Potatoes were deep fried, and, while they complimented the steak, they were forgettable. According to Don, the chicken was succulent, but the curry sauce, salty. However, Don did enjoy his dish. Both entrees came with an unremarkable salad of romaine lettuce, signature shaved carrots, slices of cucumbers, and peppers. Everything, doused in a soy-based dressing.
Hintonburg Supper Club
Last week, we stopped by Hino again, this time with the Hintonburg Supper Club for its monthly dinner.
With nearly 20-plus members showing up, Chef Hino made sure he had extra staff on hand. Everyone pre-ordered from a table d’hote menu, choice of miso chicken, teriyaki salmon, or steak for our entrées.
Once again, our meal began with a basket of sliced white bread, packets of butter, and salads.
The salad was a letdown this visit as it was badly overdressed.
Having eaten a lot of salmon and chicken lately, I opted for the steak again. Don chose the miso chicken.
My steak was crusted, flavourful, and served medium. Though, the vegetables were a bit overcooked. The griddled potatoes were a nice change from my previous deep-fried ones. Our server also brought me two bowls of steamed white rice. I really like eating steak with rice.
The extra rice would come in handy when Don was served his miso chicken. The yellow miso sauce was so strongly savoury, he needed the rice to dilute the flavour and make his plate palatable.
To date, we feel the food we have been served at Hino’s resembles home-style oriental cooking with some fusion twists. The dishes were passable, value-oriented, hailing from a time when Japanese food was risqué. Entrees will run you $10-$15.
Eating at this restaurant is an experience. Its Chef/Owner is a character, jovial but sarcastic.
We plan on returning to try the legendary sushi special and, on the advice of Hino regulars, an off-menu fish dish.
Total Cost of Dinner with the Hintonburg Supper Club: $50.23 (includes two sodas, two entrées, one dessert and tax)