This summer when I was invited to join a group of six at Hiro Asian Kitchen on 14th and Washington, I quickly accepted. “The owner is from Malaysia,” I was told by one in our party. “He has a great flair with Southeast Asian food.” I was excited. It’s been years since I was in Kuala Lumpur, but I still remember the superb meals made with simple, fresh ingredients and flavor-enhancing spices.
Our group of foodies was varied in age, ethnicity and tastes: some fiercely carnivorous and others in various stages of veganism. Feeding us would be a challenge to any cook. But the amiable restaurateur, Bernie Lee, took it all in stride. After all, he’s from a country he refers to as a “melting pot,” an area known for its blend of many cooking traditions, including Malaysian, Chinese and Indonesian.
Meet Bernie Lee
It was clear from the start that Bernie has the soul of an artist. You see it in his staging of each dish with its distinct and complementary flavors. It was evident in the Asian contemporary décor with the whimsical overhead lighting and even in his website at hiroasiankitchen.com.
Bernie was testing some new menu items, so we yielded to his choices for the evening. The drinks, which we also left to his discretion, were creative. One called Sunshine was concocted from Wild Tea vodka, bitters, and elder flowers; another champagne-based, Lychee-Tini, was topped with a lychee, and another featured a hibiscus flower at the bottom of the glass.
We started the meal with the Lobster Rangoon ($12.50) and Jalapeno Calamari with Wasabi Tartar and ended when the bakery chef delivered a pleasantly-textured Almond Cake. During the course of the evening, I got caught up in the array of tastes from the many offerings: Tofu Goreng, ($7) made with local tofu and pickled root vegetables with a sweet chili sauce; Chicken Satay ($7) with peanut sauce; and Chicken Claypot Taipei-Style ($17).
The Lotus Leaf Wrapped Sticky Rice kicked up the flavor of the Asian staple and the elegantly served Goji Steamed Sole was further enhanced by a zesty sauce. The oohs and aahs of those eating the Beef Rendang almost converted the vegans among us. I tucked some of the beef into one of the light, fluffy steamed buns to form my own creation. As a senior citizen, I was glad to see that the seating was comfortable and that the background music—unnoticed at first—blended pleasantly with the surroundings.
Here is a place to bring the family or impress an out of town guest with the depth of St. Louis cuisine. There’s no other Malaysian restaurant serving such a variety of Southeast Asian food within 300 miles. Sadly, I missed out on the much-hyped Hiro Ramen, Chicken Pot Stickers, and Dim Sum Platter. I definitely need a return visit.
Hiro Asian Kitchen, 1405 Washington Avenue. Open: Tue.-Sun. Closed Mondays. Menu here.