Less than a month before the onset of Covid, I wrote in WAG about Miku, a new Japanese restaurant in Greenwich. Smart and sophisticated, Miku survived and indeed flourished through the first year of the pandemic, so much so that last May, its plucky owner, K. Dong — always known as K — opened a second site, across the street and down the hill, at 322 Greenwich Ave.
A sister restaurant it may be, but Hinoki quickly parts company with Miku and a third sibling, Kumo Sushi in Scarsdale. The new joint has a smoochier, jazzier vibe, underscored by its “speakeasy”-type cocktails (a live DJ will soon be installed in the booth near the entrance). And the menu, while originally conceived as sushi-based, has developed into more of a pan-Asian, tapas-style affair, with many more hot and “main” dishes than Miku. Hinoki is also considerably bigger in size than its older relatives and set to grow even bigger when it expands into the recently acquired clothing store next door later this year. When it does, with more than 4,000 square feet, it will be the largest restaurant in Greenwich. (Hinoki is also set to launch in Darien, with further branches in Fairfield County coming shortly.)
Hinoki is divided into three distinct areas, with the first, slightly sunken room, which also houses the restaurant’s long, attractive bar, being the most “high energy.” Here, the music volume is amped, service is swift and cocktails are poured with an almost manic urgency. Even early in the week, it offers a great vibe. Farther in is a narrower, slightly calmer space with comfortable booths, adjacent to the part-open kitchen, for some added theater. Lastly, at the rear is a brightly lit sushi bar, where the sushi chefs work tirelessly behind the gleaming counter — irresistibly Instagram-able in their gleaming white jackets, black chefs’ caps and masks. Along with six stools at the counter, there are three large, comfortable tables for relatively quiet, civilized dining, and the entire third-room space can be closed off for small, private events.
The menu, which is the same for lunch and dinner and covers all areas of the restaurant, is divided into raw bar, soup and salad, dim sum, hot and cold appetizers and “signature mains.” Added to this are classic and “signature” rolls; nori taco (taco cases made of nori and holding luxury assemblies, like king crab and wagyu beef); and an à la carte section to build nigiri sushi or sashimi combos of your own.
Of the many dishes we tried, the nori tacos of top-grade A5 wagyu and Spanish-caught tuna presented on a vast block of Himalayan salt, with a delicate topping of olive, avocado and mustard soy sauce were among the most spectacular, as visually arresting as they were delicious to eat. Hot on their heels came an extravagant Toro tartar with caviar, served over ice and bathed in soy sauce, and a dim sum sampler. These were four beautifully presented, individual ‘jewel-cases,’ with edamame, crystal shrimp and shredded duck, fresh and piping hot in the steamer.
Next up came that old dependable, miso black cod — here cooked slightly “wetter” than is usual, so that the pearls of flesh did not fall so uniformly but none the worse for that. In a second main dish, meanwhile, slices of deep-flavored prime ribeye, sizzled under a beguiling wafu (slightly sweet, slightly sour, with a touch of fruit) sauce.
The pièce de résistance, a king crab rice hotpot, a winning combination of starch and flaked crab, lay somewhere between an Italian risotto and a Chinese congee, or porridge, although the subtle flavors were somewhat traduced, at least in my view, by the overuse of commercial truffle oil. Still, washed down with silky, ever-so-slightly fruity Soto sake, served at room temperature, this was a wonderful supper overall, in which the finest, most authentic ingredients were treated with absolute professionalism by a highly skilled kitchen brigade.
Incidentally, if you want to enjoy this kind of quality Asian fare at home, Hinoki will cater small or even large parties for you, setting up an exact replica of its sushi counter, or laying-on an omakase (or “leave it to the chef”) feast, in your home or at a specific venue.
Another crab dish, meanwhile, less ambitious in its preparation than Hinoki’s hotpot but no less enjoyable — certainly hitting the spot when you fancy it ¬— is the jumbo lump crab cake available at another Greenwich Avenue newcomer, Ruby and Bella’s Restaurant & Bar.
Located in the SaksWorks store (Page 10), this new restaurant comprises an all-day bar and French-style café, complete with French bistro-style chairs at the front and on the street, with a slightly more rustic, full-service restaurant at the rear. Undoubtedly upscale and agreeable though the Avenue is, there are only a handful of cafés worthy of the name, so this neophyte is a welcome addition to the scene.
True, the café menu, with some good breakfast items, including house-made yogurt and fresh pastries, is a little limited (and not enhanced by distracted service on the day of my visit). There can, however, hardly be a more appealing place to sit and enjoy a morning cup of coffee than in the sun-dappled front room. But it’s the restaurant behind where Ruby & Bella’s really comes into its own. Carefully made New England chowder, a classic Caesar salad and the aforementioned crab cake all make good starters, while Faroe Island salmon, served with spaghetti squash and a punchy, Black Label burger cooked rare, especially impressed in the mains. And since there are few bargains to be found on the ambitiously priced wine list, you might just want to settle for a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne — Winston Churchill’s favorite — and call it a day with an elegant drink at a not-too-inelegant price, served with a flourish on Connecticut’s most elegant “Avenue.”
For more on Hinoki, including reservations, visit hinokigreenwich.com.
For more on Ruby & Bella’s, including reservations, visit saksworks.com.