When hiko-A-mon opened, some five years ago, it impressed me more for its stylish appointments — menus printed on tissue-thin paper, a sushi bar formed from deep green marble, glowing aquariums and furnishings of burnished wood — than for the quality of the food.
Chef Hiko Nakanishi, who hails from Kyoto (making him one of only a few Japanese-born restaurateurs in Louisville), was constructing sushi rolls in a vast array of extravagant combinations — some as elaborate and colorful as carnival rides. But execution was erratic, and parts of the menu were just lackluster.
Things are quite different these days. The menu has grown and evolved, and Hiko’s current kitchen crew (including head sushi chef Nam Huynh and head kitchen chef Tuan Phan — noted for his work at Asiatique) has created an extensive menu that impresses with its mix of entrees and Japanese-style tapas-sized plates that juxtapose robust Asian flavors and nimble Japanese techniques.
Hiko-A-mon’s rolls are as meticulously fresh, and as adventurously designed as ever, and many of the opening favorites are still on the menu — like the Crunch Munch (spicy crab, cooked shrimp and tempura flakes, $9) and the Fire Dragon Roll (avocado, spicy tuna and eel sauce, $12).
But it’s nigiri that reveals the technical prowess of hiko-A-mon’s sushi chefs. They feather buttery slivers of sea bream ($2.25) to a delicate edge that reveals every nuance in the grain; they carve an array of tunas — yellowtail, albacore, ahi and superwhite ($2.25-$2.50 each) — in distinct shapes that highlight the gleaming beauty and distinctive textures of each piece.
For some fine knife work, turn to the list of cold appetizers and order the red snapper carpaccio ($9.95) — translucent slabs of fish awash in a citrusy pool of yuzu juice .
Clean, crisp and delicate flavors are to be found in many parts of the menu. A plate of colorful oshinko — pickled daikon, cucumber and lettuce in shades of red and green ($3.95) — or a daikon salad made from long, crisp batons, flavored with bonito flakes and a sour plum dressing ($4.95).
But there are rich, earthy flavors on offer as well. An extensive list of rice and noodle dishes includes plenty of hot and cold choices, and several udon and soba noodle options. A bowl of springy, chewy ramen noodles floating in an intensely flavored broth (made from pork bones) was a warming, ginger-laden adventure in taste and texture. And if your idea of a spring menu includes lamb, you’ll be delighted by hiko-A-mon’s Asian approach to grilled rack of lamb, a handsome dish accented with the flavor of Fuji apples ($25.95).
And folks who crave interesting cooked seafood and fish dishes have plenty of room for adventure at hiko-A-mon. Oysters are breaded in panko, fried up as enormous fritters and served on the half-shell with a sweet, tangy brown sauce ($6.95).
Grilled smelt (in an appetizer portion, $5.95), grilled silver cod (with saikyo miso sauce, an entree with roots in Hiko’s native Kyoto, $17.95) and grilled whole calamari (a smoky, faintly charred preparation of elegant simplicity, $8.95) are just a few of the kitchen’s cooked offerings.
But beyond those, there are dozens of other choices, like an 8-ounce rib-eye teriyaki, that’s described as “Kentucky proud” ($19.95); grilled, sliced beef tongue ($6.95); lobster tails grilled and dressed in lemon-butter sauce ($35.95); and a couple of dozen assorted grilled and fried appetizers, including yaki-tori skewers and tempura meats and vegetables.
Front-of-house service (led by Shirley Pongyaht) is prompt and responsive. And though I didn’t explore it, there’s a dessert menu that includes a parfait and other choices that feature ice cream from Comfy Cow.
Address: 115 Herr Lane, Suite 130
Telephone: (502) 365-1651
Alcohol: Full bar, specialty cocktails, a reasonable and appropriate wine list; beers and sakes.
Vegetarian: Many options.
Price range: Moderate-expensive; adventurous diners can build a big tab; exclusive of alcohol, two diners could put together an excellent meal for under $50.
Reservations: Accepted for any size party; two party rooms accommodate groups of 10-18.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Children’s menu: Ask your server.
Access: The restaurant appears to be fully accessible for people using wheelchairs without assistance.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday, noon-2 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, 4:30-10 p.m.; Friday, 4:30-11 p.m.; Saturday, 2-11 p.m.; Sunday, 4-9 p.m.