Hanamaru bucks the trend of the typical Japanese restaurant peppering the Wasatch Front. Most, these days, specialize in sushi and are modern, often serving clever cocktails and sometimes even featuring house music and DJs, along with lots and lots of raw fish and Nobu-influenced fare. Ogden’s Hanamaru is not such a place. The sushi—what’s available—isn’t the main attraction here, and that’s just fine with me.
My family lived in Japan, outside of Tokyo, for five years when I was a kid. And I don’t recall ever eating raw fish. Our housekeeper, Yukiko, frequently cooked large steaming bowls of noodles with roasted pork slices on top, or bowls of rice with tender fried beef, or wonderful katsu pork cutlets (Japan’s answer to wienerschnitzel). Her fried soba noodles with shredded carrots, onions, cabbage and julienned beef was also first-rate. I’ve yet to find a restaurant version of yakisoba as good as Yukiko’s was. But, I’m happy to say, Hanamaru takes me back to my early days in Japan.
The food is the sort of fare that average Japanese people eat day in and day out. There is sushi on the menu—and it’s all very good—but it’s the cooked dishes that really stand out. The owner-chef, Roy Yamamoto, graduated from Abeno Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan, where he also studied French and Italian cuisine and techniques. He’s even certified in fugu blowfish preparation, although he doesn’t do that at Hanamaru. Fugu, as far as I know, has yet to hit Ogden.
One of my fondest childhood food memories is of Japanese curry. Most of us associate curry with Indian and Thai cuisines, but it’s rare for a Japanese family to go a week without eating curry. Curry (kare) in Japan is thicker most other types; it begins with a roux or pre-fab curry paste found in most Japanese pantries. Carrots and onions are standard in Japanese curry; potatoes are a more modern addition. The result is a somewhat thick gravy, often darkened to a deep brown color by beef stock or bouillon, spiked with onion and carrot slices and, sometimes, chopped potatoes. To sample Hanamaru’s excellent curry, you might begin dinner with the tempura assortment ($6.95): shrimp and veggies fried in a crispy batter, which come with a bowl of curry for dipping and a small serving of edamame.
For heftier curry cravings, I suggest the curry with pork ($10.50). First, a crisp mixed-green salad with a nutty sesame-seed dressing arrives, followed by the main attraction: a large bowl of steamed white rice topped with a rich, dark curry infused with tender, thin morsels of beef and sliced, breaded pork cutlets (tonkatsu). There’s shredded cabbage on the side, which is traditional. If you see katsu on a Japanese menu, you’re looking at something—chicken, pork, beef and sometimes fish—that’s been dipped in egg, then breaded with panko crumbs and deep-fried to crispy perfection, in the case of Hanamaru.
Along with katsu, noodles are a staple of the Japanese household. And I haven’t found better Japanese noodles in Utah than Chef Yamamoto’s. My favorite from the menu is niku udon ($8.95), thick wheat-flour noodles cooked to just slightly chewy or al dente, and served in a superior clear broth, then topped with thin slices of beef (similar to what you find in Vietnamese pho) and sliced scallion greens. On the side is a serving of vegetable tempura accompanied, unexpectedly, by ketchup. The dish is also available made with heartier buckwheat soba noodles or chilled and served with shredded seaweed. There are also chicken versions of both the udon and soba noodles at Hanamaru.
On Tuesdays there’s a sushi “happy hour” featuring an assortment of rolls normally priced at $8 for $6 each, and California rolls for $3. The maki rolls are good, but predictable: Spider, Playboy, Caterpillar, Rainbow, Philly, Dragon, etc. The best choice—and one of the few rolls that incorporates raw fish—is the Maruko roll, with a chef’s choice of fresh fish (likely to be mahi mahi), avocado, nori, tempura “flakes” and sesame seed. Nigiri and sashimi options are fairly predictable too, although artful, fresh and well-made. Choices typically include salmon, mahi mahi, yellowtail, mackerel and ebi (shrimp)—no fugu, that I could find.
At lunchtime, Hanamaru offers $10 bento boxes, which come with rice, salad, edamame and marvelous miso soup, along with a choice of two entrees; it’s quite a steal. Bento entrees include the katsu selections mentioned above, gyoza dumplings, fried shrimp, a tempura assortment, salmon and chicken teriyaki or grilled fish: saba (mackerel) or salmon.
Unfortunately, there’s no beer, wine, sake or such available at Hanamaru, so diners are limited to soft drinks, green or black tea, or Ramune sodas from Japan, which kids love. Look out, though, if this is their first Ramune voyage; there’s a special technique to opening the pressurized soda bottles (called Codd-neck bottles) and first tries often result in a light soda spritzing.
If you’d like to learn to cook homestyle Japanese cuisine for yourself, you’re in luck: Chef Yamamoto hosts cooking classes, which include dinner, on most alternating Monday nights. True, Hanamaru may not be trendy, nor is the cuisine cutting-edge. But authentic, traditional Japanese fare, consistently served up with warmth, is an ageless fad I can thoroughly get behind.
350 E. 37th Street
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