Review: Hiro Asian Kitchen in St. Louis

1405 Washington Ave., St. Louis, 314.241.4476,

In a time when simplicity, local sourcing and a “less is more” philosophy hold sway over so many bar owners and restaurateurs, it’s hard not to grin at a new establishment bucking all trends and, if anything, erring on the side of ostentation. Inside its chic little address in the nexus of Washington Avenue, the former Smash Bar and Sugar Lounge space has been reborn as Hiro Asian Kitchen. Part Pan-Asian eatery and part after-hours cocktail lounge, this ambitious newcomer is a bastion of excess.

Imagine if Benihana and P.F. Chang’s tied the knot and decorated their new downtown loft. That’s a close approximation to the look of Hiro – tastefully flashy. You can tell the owners threw some serious coin into this futuristic Asian-fusion redesign, which maintains a lively atmosphere throughout the night. Above the restaurant and main bar is an “ultra” lounge space, which caters to a young, after-hours crowd that packs the house until close (currently with the help of a DJ who spins house music and pop hits most Fridays and Saturdays). Lounge goers enter up a flight of stairs and down a hallway to a slick little loft space, which overlooks the restaurant below. Not so much a dance spot, the lounge (probably the most minimalist space in the joint) has a handful of benches, drink tables and a small but well-stocked bar. The upstairs crowd rolls in around 10 p.m. weekend nights, overwhelming the lounge (and the hapless bartender) and pouring over into the downstairs bar or outside to grab a cigarette on the street-side patio space. The restaurant also is flush with well-dressed groups of friends and the odd date night couple who mills around the enormous main bar or cozies up in one of the many bright wooden booths lining the opposite wall.

Nothing is small or subdued about Hiro, where, akin to the decor, even the small plates are substantial. Take for example the dim sum platter – a generous sampling of shrimp, pork and Shanghai soup dumplings served inside a chic little bamboo basket with wafts of steam escaping before a server ceremoniously pops the wooden hatch. The dumplings, overstuffed and delightful, are complemented with a savory ponzu dipping sauce. Guests will likewise make short work of the lotus leaf-wrapped sticky rice. Not to be confused with a lighter lettuce wrap, this starter features a hearty mix of shiitake mushroom strings, chicken and lap cheong (minced Chinese sausage), resting on a mass of gorgeously soft and sticky rice (Think the best you’ve had anywhere on South Grand.). Likewise significant are oversized noodle bowls such as the Singapore Spicy Ramen, a bright red amalgamation of full-size shrimp, thick egg noodles and tangy broth.

Like the food and furnishings, the drink menu follows a scattershot philosophy. Sometimes it hits: the Hiro Sangria, a pungent and well-flavored mix of house wine, sake, ginger liqueur, honey and a little orange liqueur. Sometimes it misses: the Washington 1405 cocktail, a sugary and sad waste of good whiskey. Serious drinkers should resist the urge to try anything that even hints at being too sweet. Unfortunately, most of the cocktail and martini menu falls into this trap. An exception would be the Drunken Samurai, a fun little mix of Maker’s Mark and plum wine. When left to their own devices, the bartenders perform more than admirably with non-signature cocktails. It also helps that the bar is reinforced with an outstanding selection of hooch, a variety of sake ready for traditional service, as well as a collection of smooth Asian beers on draft and in bottle. Not to be outdone, management also has included a thorough wine list with a handful of smart and reasonably priced Malbecs, cabernets and pinot grigios from across the globe.

At times Hiro might seem overtaxed in its attempt to be everything. It’s a Chinese place. It’s Vietnamese. It’s Japanese. It’s Thai. It’s also a lounge and, hey, a great spot to catch the game. (Did I mention the two massive flat-screens, which dominate the main bar?) It’s all over the place. But it’s also a hell of a lot of fun.