By Bernie Whitmore
1121 Grafton St, Worcester
With a couple of notable exceptions, dining in Worcester’s Grafton Hill area has been nearly nonexistent. Things changed, though, when Hirosaki Prime opened in a new strip mall near Sunderland Road, an area of town long associated with fast-food emporiums.
But after a visit to Hirosaki Prime, I’m inclined to think that Worcester’s dining scene might just be poised to conquer another neighborhood. If the last time you ventured out to this area of the city was to get to the Mass Pike, it’s time to give it another look…and taste.
Hirosaki Prime is divided into two sections; on the left is the Hibachi Room with seating around stainless cook tops. Although hibachi is a fun experience for groups and birthday celebrations, the attendant theatrics of flashy knife-work and fire-play are not necessarily the best format for evaluating quality and service. For this reason, my guest and I requested a table in the lounge, an elegant room of undulating scarlet red-on-black with accents of steel and torchlight.
In fact, Hirosaki Prime seems to have joined a very positive trend in Worcester restaurants, focusing not just on quality, but also on creating a sensual backdrop for the dining experience. Have the days of great food / dismal room run their course?
Soon after being seated we were welcomed by Neal, who introduced himself as our waiter and took our drink orders. My friend ordered a mixed drink; I chose a bottle of Kirin Ichiban, a frosty-crisp pale lager brewed in Tokyo.
Our first appetizer, an order of six Spring Rolls, came from the “Hot” category. Crispy on the outside, they were stuffed with ground pork and bits of vegetable. A bowl of Thai chili sauce rescued this dish from obscurity; its spicy-gingery flavor provided the spring rolls a spark of interest. A solid effort, but it would prove to be the least impressive of the evening.
Our second appetizer, Sushi Chef’s Selected Sashimi, is where the sun came out and Hirosaki began to shine. On an oval white platter, slices of three types of fish glistened in their simple presentation on large green leaves. The center was occupied by two lumps of wasabi impressed with a leaf motif and placed near a tower of shaved pickled ginger. Pinkish-red Ahi tuna, buttery smooth salmon and firm white tuna were the evening’s selections ~ elegantly simple, perfectly fresh, and subtly flavored.
The house salad of sliced romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes and shredded red cabbage and carrots was topped with a light ginger miso dressing. It was served in a bowl that resembled a giant Japanese porcelain soup spoon ~ or, perhaps, a retro-style lounge chair in Barbie’s Kyoto Dreamhouse.
To assist in my friend’s entrée selection, Neal had declared the Prime Filet (10 ounce) to be the best town. One hears such boasts so often that they’re easy to dismiss, but he may well have been on the mark. This was melt-in-your mouth tender, seasoned with a sea salt, pepper, and shallot topping. Tasty, juicy and scrumptious, it was elegantly served as two half-ovals of meat, one on its side, the other casually propped on end near a simple salad.
I chose Chilean Sea Bass. The snow-white filet was grilled just until it separated into moist flaky sections and it its flavor was gently tinged with lemon zest. It was artfully served on a bed of sautéed lemon slices alongside mixed greens and garnished with a trail of sauce dabs. Even the steamed rice seemed exceptionally delicious!
Neal presented the dessert tray, an offering of little cakes topped with cream. Sadly, that would have to wait for our next visit. For those who erroneously think Worcester’s East Side is incompatible with fine dining, take a look at Hirosaki Prime’s website. It’s better than most sites, providing their full menu and prices, but take special note of the photos, as they accurately portray the mouthwatering items on that menu. I’ve now joined the rank of “believer,” as you likely will after a visit to Hirosaki Prime.