Café Miro gives its French style a fusion flair
By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
Behind an unassuming curtained storefront, chef-owner Shigeru Kobayashi applies his craft like a painter hard at work in his atelier. On any given night, through the framework of a bar counter, patrons can watch him busily tending to a piece of fish, a rack of lamb or other ingredients that get a French-Japanese inflection in his kitchen.
This is not the same Japanese fusion that recalls unusual natto combinations and mayonnaise-laden baked dishes that western palates often find challenging. Nor is it quite the contemporary blend of east and west considered stylish now. At Café Miro, the cuisine is executed with a decidedly French accent, and the Japanese touch is done with a light hand tipping more toward tradition rather than innovation.
Opened in 1997, Miro has slowly built a steady clientele. Japanese customers — transplanted natives and tourists — and select locals have found something sophisticated and different from typical Island fare despite no advertising: They are an appreciative audience for Miro's prix-fixe meals. Elegantly rich French preparations, such as classic sauces and an unctuous pistachio-studded foie gras/chicken-liver pâté, are tinged with Japanese nuances.
The bistro's subdued dining room is a comfortable cross of the quaint and the modern. Homey fabrics dotted with flowers, silverware rests made from wine corks and stout wooden beams give off an unfussy, old-fashioned air. But Joan Miró prints and pop-jazz reveal that it's not all about tarte tatin.
Chef Kobayashi trained in Avignon, France. He and his wife, Akemi, wanted to promote a Provencal feel in their eatery. He said, "I didn't want a very fancy, expensive restaurant." He decided on a casual atmosphere and took his inspiration from lighthearted Mediterranean elements.
In his toque, Kobayashi towers over his baseball-capped kitchen assistants. Akemi is in charge of front-of-the-house duties. Aided by a very capable staff, they run the place with fine-dining precision.
When I asked why only a prix-fixe menu, chef Kobayashi answered simply, "Timing." And this is impossible to overlook at Miro, where impeccable timing throughout the meal meant that my dinners never dragged.
Having a three-course ($32) or four-course ($43) dinner as the only choices can be constricting and expensive, though both options include dessert. Guests are allowed to exert some freedom of choice. They decide how to compose their meals from various appetizers and entrees of seafood, poultry and meats.
Attention to detail abounds at Miro, from fresh roses on the tables to the food. One evening, I heard a gasp of "Kirei!" (Pretty!) It came from a large Japanese family occupying several tables, as their first dishes arrived.
An assorted appetizer plate, part of the four-course meal, might have caused the exclamation. Crisp mesclun without a hint of wilt was dressed in a pleasingly mild vinaigrette. A plump oyster, its neighbor, rested proudly on a foil bed. Swelled by brief, intense heat, it was blanketed in a grass-green herb-garlic butter, escargot-style. Moist slices of swiftly seared 'ahi glistened like cut tomatoes alongside. They lay on a tiny mound of julienned celery, daikon and carrots with a hint of sweet from seasoned rice vinegar for an updated rendition of namasu. A velvety vegetable terrine in earthy layers of carrot-orange brightened by citrus, delicate greens and deep mushroom-brown rounded out the plate.
The soup of the day could also be reason for excitement. I sampled a cold, creamy concoction bursting with ripe peach flavor topped by a swirl of crEme fra”che. And a soothing garlic consommé held some surprises. Egg wisps floated in a clear broth made from a successful union of garlic, dashi and bacon. However, I wished that the fatty bacon bits had been strained out to leave only their flavor. Most intriguing in the bowl were soft bread clouds whose melting texture was reminiscent of wheat gluten in miso soup.
Entrées of Francophile portions, accompanied by scalloped potatoes and vegetables, left just enough room for dessert. Sautéed pork tenderloin charcutiEre (in onion-mustard sauce) was succulent. Traditionally finished with julienned pickles, its sauce was piquant more from mustard than any pickles that I could see or taste, but was still tasty. Duck breast, substituted for duck confit, also was tender, but not seared until its skin was crispy. I preferred the rib-eye steak with a smooth red-wine sauce and anchovy butter over a musky daikon-fusion sauce that was more of a thick, grated daikon relish.
An assorted dessert plate offered up jewel-like melon chunks, a dense chocolate torte and a small scoop of fruit sorbet in a tuile cup. The highlight was a light, silky vanilla-bean-flecked crEme bržlée, one of the best in town.
Café Miro will close for a few weeks in November to expand next door. The Kobayashis hope to re-open in December and will remain prix-fixe, but plan on more beverage and menu offerings, perhaps even freshly baked bread.
Reach Helen Wu at email@example.com.