We decided to check out Hino (1013 Wellington) just down the street from the tragically departed Vino del Mar. Jon told me that it's a Japanese-esque restaurant, and had heard the owner just kind of opened whenever he felt like it. We showed up on a Tuesday evening at 6 (happily, it was open that night) and were the first customers.
The place is not a total dive (anyone who has ever eaten in Chinatown has seen worse) though it helped that it was pretty dark; an open kitchen and bar spanned the back wall.
The menu definitely runs towards Japanese fusion. There were spicy crab rolls on the specials board but no sushi on the menu, which basically consisted of chicken, beef or seafood done with a variety of sauces - teriyaki, curry, garlic. Prices were really reasonable (appetizers range from $6-9, mains from $13-19).
We placed our orders, and the server brought out a basket of white grocery store-style bread with a couple pats of butter. The outside pieces were dried out on one side, and I wondered why they even bothered with bread; they could replace it with something equally inexpensive but tastier. Japanese rice crackers, maybe?
We shared the scallops in ginger sauce, off the specials board.
They were so good. I know I will be thinking about them whenever I'm bored. The scallops were soft and yielding and beautifully cooked, but it was the sauce that really made me swoon - tangy with a bit of a bite. We nearly had a death match over the last scallop - or possibly just a brief Hungry Hippos duel, pistols at dawn style. I started trying to lap up the rest of the sauce directly from the dish with my fork. And that is when I became really thankful for the previously maligned bread.
Unfortunately, after the mountaintop experience of the scallops, the mains were a bit of a let down. They were fine, but not transcendent. I had the miso chicken ($13):
and Jon had the shrimp curry ($14).
The curry didn't have any bite at all, which was surprising. The miso sauce was sweeter than expected, almost with a teriyaki taste.
We could see the chef/owner cooking in the open kitchen at the back, and chatting with two guys eating at the bar - the four of us were the only customers. The chef was joking (I hope) about selling the place, and the guys were placing bids - "$50! $60!" Jon yelled from our table, "$85! And all the beer in the fridge! Except Corona light".
"I like Corona light," the chef said.
"Then we can totally do business together!"
The chef asked Jon, "Do you prefer Chinese or Japanese?" After a brief, confused pause, he added, "Beer".
"No, women," I said drily, and the guys at the bar started laughing. The chef asked me if I was Japanese (I'm not, I'm Chinese, I said. All the same, he replied) asked me my name (while hilariously ignoring Jon) and introduced himself as Terry.
"We're not dating, you can have her," Jon said benevolently, and we made our exit.