Don’t talk to Nobuharu Nakajima about grocery-store sushi. The president of Columbus-based engine producer Kamic Corp. has long decried the quality of local Japanese culinary offerings, no matter how much you like the California rolls at your local Asian takeout. So, with Kazuhiro Hirata, already a prolific culinary entrepreneur in Japan, Nakajima, who moved to Columbus in 1994, recruited well-known chef Akinori Tanigawa and set about converting a part of the lobby of the recently renovated office tower at 130 East Washington Street into a sleek space for showcasing the best of East Asian flavors.
Just be sure to carve out a full evening to enjoy the experience. Hinata, a portmanteau of Nakajima and Hirata’s names, currently offers only prix-fixe chef’s dinners, where Tanigawa turns local Hoosier ingredients and seafood flown in fresh into an elegant pageant of subtle, surprising dishes he hopes will school diners on Japanese cuisine and customs. No flaming Playboy rolls or sloshing bowls of ramen show up here. Instead, for $69, $89, or even $129, Asian food fans can enjoy a slow, methodical progression of sashimi, soup, rice, and seasonal produce that highlight the pure flavors of quality products. And while a steady soundtrack of elevator favorites serenades your meal, the soothing stone gray and light wood of the airy interior of the pristine and socially distanced dining room are a welcome reminder of the fine dining many have been missing of late.
“We are currently limiting our reservations and only having one seating,” says Hinata service manager Shane Lewis. “That means that your table has been sanitized before service, and no one else will be sitting at your seats before you arrive.” When they do arrive, diners can anticipate multifaceted courses such as a quintet of starters with standouts like delicately grilled mackerel, a pillowy Japanese omelet, and a delicate fresh spring roll. Also on the recent $89 menu was a knockout bowl of chawanmushi, a steamed egg custard with tender pieces of roasted chicken thigh. Sashimi favorites included ahi tuna both grilled and raw, as well as succulent yellowtail, and a light vegetable and seafood course featured a miniature eggplant topped with miso and bruléed.
Those seeking the more typical hibachi steakhouse meal could take a bit of comfort in main dishes of succulent rare beef tenderloin and steamed sea bass in a light, slightly sweet broth. And more familiar tempura featured earthy pumpkin, okra, shrimp, and an unusual Indiana favorite, lightly battered corn. Miso soup came in an egg-drop version, accompanied by crab-studded sticky rice and pickled okra and cucumber that offered a welcome brightness. With an understated soy-milk pudding topped with a compote of sweet cherries for a finale, served with housemade vanilla-bean ice cream dusted with matcha powder, the meal, which timed out at around three hours, definitely delivered its promise of being relaxing, with some behind-the-counter theatrics from Tanigawa and bartenders mixing up elegant orange-forward Old-Fashioneds and a compressed watermelon highball with a savory undertone. Excellent sakes at a range of price points can also help enhance the flavors of the meal.
Nakajima is all too aware that many Asian food fans are getting their fix from a delivery driver these days, and he muses about one day opening a second, fast-casual concept with takeout options. But for now, in a time when a dearth of restaurant openings leaves local foodies little to be excited about, Nakajima’s dream of introducing Hoosiers to his brand of home cuisine gives a flicker of hope for the future of the Indy food scene. And a delicious excuse to get dressed up for dinner again. 130 E. Washington St., 317-672-4929