1/2 Hibino and Bocca Lupo always get lumped together in my mind. They both kind of popped up out of nowhere, glowing behind lots of windows on quiet Henry Street corners. Now, I’ve forgotten what previously filled those spaces.
I live on Henry Street so you might think I’d be excited by these options, but I never give them a second thought because I reside along that last little bit of Carroll Gardens that’s still on the east side of the BQE entrance.
I have been to Bocca Lupo twice now (once last month, but in a fit of reserve I didn’t write it up). Hibino, and Japanese food in general, is almost always charming yet it’s never what I’m craving. Subtle is a difficult concept for me.
It wasn’t until this weekend after watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (I was most struck by how attractive [in a natural way—not my usual taste—again with the subtle] all of the actresses were and yet not one was under 35. There’s no way they’d make the movie here without throwing in at least one young starlet to play baby mama, mistress, nurse, speech therapist or eye-blink transcriber) at Brooklyn Heights Cinema, my favorite never-full movie venue, that I gave in to Hibino.
There was no way I was eating in the immediate neighborhood. I don’t think I’ve ever dined in Brooklyn Heights, unless you count the north side of Atlantic Avenue and include Chip Shop or Waterfront Ale House, which technically fall into that zone. One block south of Atlantic is safe, though, and there’s friendly Hibino.
I felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t try any tofu since it’s made in house. I can’t speak to the wonderfulness or miserableness of their bean curd because I just can’t tell. Well, obviously it didn’t suck. I was impressed with the barely (in the past year I’ve noticed so many abuses of the bear/bare homonym—one during a subtitled trailer for The Band’s Visit before the Diving Bell and the Butterfly—that I’ve started questioning my sanity. But I do know there’s no way that a crust can be bearly there) there lightness of the coating. You could hardly even call it tempura.
But the squares were surrounded by dashi, once again presenting me with the tempura in soup conundrum: why it’s agreeable to put crispy into wet. If you don’t immediately dig in, there’s trouble; the coating flakes off, sinks into the liquid and turns to fluffy mush. I don’t see how it couldn’t. And this seemed like a high quality preparation. Three shishito peppers and a few shiitake mushroom caps also sat in the bowl lending spice and texture.
Mayonnaise, even sweetened Japanese style, has always been a creepy condiment but I can deal with drizzles on onomiyaki. It’s not the flavor that’s offensive because if you close your eyes and nibbled everything would blend, crispy with creamy, hot and cold. This pancake with octopus, cabbage and other bits, was a little thicker than I’m accustomed to. And I’m not convinced that the center was fully set. This was a dangerous move for someone who’s supposed to be avoiding starch, but I couldn’t help myself.
I did eschew all the meaty entrees over rice and sushi for unadulterated fish slices. Octopus never tastes like much even though it looks interesting (I first discovered this at an early-‘80s luau thrown by Hawaiian church friends of my parents. Church friends were always meh, but I did relish trying the “gross” stuff like octopus legs covered in tentacles and poi. I also used to be known for eating pet food for shock value. In fact, I lived up to this when my sister was recently in town and she scrounged up a dog pepperoni stick from her coat pocket and dared me to eat it. Of course I took a bite. It was foul, bitter and waxy, nothing like the surprisingly benign Milk Bones I used to chomp for shits and giggles).
I like fat and oil so the mackerel (Spanish and non) and tuna were my favorites. And the dramatic yet practical on-ice presentation somehow made everything taste better.
Here’s the sushi plate, traditional, not “new style.”
Hibino * 333 Henry St., Brooklyn, NY