Eating Out: Date Night At RONIN
Ronin is the kind of restaurant that you never knew you needed, but after one visit, you can’t imagine life without it.
My husband and I picked Ronin to celebrate our second wedding anniversary. The restaurant has been making its rounds on “Best Of” lists for some time, and after I read that it’s one of Hong Kong chef May Chow’s favorite places in the city, we had to go.
The 24-seat restaurant sits behind a grey unmarked door with a wooden handle at the end of a quiet street. Reservations made two weeks in advance are required to snag one of the spot’s coveted bar seats, though walk-in guests can cozy up to one of 10 available bar stools.
Ronin is an izakaya-style dining bar that focuses on fish, seafood and Japanese spirits. That means we started the night off with highballs made of whiskey and soda. The bar's whiskey collection features over 100 varieties bottled only in Japan. Because the restaurant focuses on the freshest ingredients available, the food menu changes daily depending on what’s available at the market. But the bar menu is pretty reliable, which is great, since I had a highball made of a special, house-made liquor that I’d like to return to.
The best thing about Ronin is that the knowledgable and friendly waitstaff will guide you as much or as little as you want. Since my husband and I have dietary restrictions consisting of his kosher lifestyle and my preference for fish that doesn’t taste fishy, we went omakase and let the waitstaff select our menu for us. There's also a market tasting menu available, or you can order a la carte.
We started with an assorted sashimi plate, followed by sardine tartare served with potato chips. I would never order sardine tartare if I saw it on a menu but that’s exactly why you should just do the omakase or tasting menu, unless you're an expert in Japanese cuisine.
Next up was three different types of fish — including one dish that was perhaps one of the best things I’ve ever eaten: a small piece of beer-battered, deep-fried grouper that was served with small glasses of the brew in which it was marinated. The fry wasn’t greasy or over-the-top, it was absolutely perfect.
We finished the meal off with a plate of udon noodles made with creamy mentaiko, which is marinated roe of pollock and cod. When mentaiko is added to warm water, it creates a creamy consistency, so the dish reminded me of a Japanese version of cacio e pepe pasta. That might not make any sense to you, but I promise that’s what it was like. Either way, udon with mentaiko was heaven, and something I will try to recreate in my kitchen at home.
Before you book your barstools, there are a few things to keep in mind before heading to Ronin. First, it seems as though this would be a tough place to go with more than one other person, since it’s all bar seating. So it really is the perfect date spot. Second, this meal is best enjoyed leisurely, so this is not the place to go to if you’re hangry, in a rush or generally don’t like to wine and dine. Third, it's pricey so just be prepared.
I did see a few walk-in patrons come in, order a few pieces of sashimi with a drink and head out fairly quickly. So you could approach the evening that way and just go for starters. But with a restaurant this good, you’ll want to stay for the whole meal.