Take a Bite

Maru Sushi presents preview of omakase meals to come

October 7th, 2016

This will be my last restaurant blog post on this site. Aloha and thank you for your support over the past seven years, keeping up through several URL changes. My weekly restaurant review column will continue to appear in Wednesday's Crave section in the Star-Advertiser.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Michelin Award-winning chef Takeshi Kawasaki is building a Hawaii branch of his Maru Sushi on Kalakaua Avenue, and offered a preview of his omakase dinners last week.

There’s no shortage of great sushi in Hawaii, and the omakase-only trend will continue with the opening of Michelin chef Takeshi Kawasaki’s Maru Sushi, tentatively set for late fall to early 2017 on Kalakaua Avenue, near Kapiolani Boulevard.

The Hokkaido-born chef worked at the renowned Sushi Zen in Susukino, Sapporo, for a decade before launching his own restaurant, Maru Sushi in 1987. His combination of premium ingredients and technique led him to earn a Michelin star in 2011. Recently retired, his son now helms Maru Sushi, but not content to stay idle, Kawasaki’s starting over in Hawaii.

Prior to the dinner, the chef was grating fresh wasabi for the meal, which doesn't burn the nostrils like the fake stuff.

A popup at the Waikiki Shopping Plaza last week gave a hint at what diners can expect when he opens his restaurant. Delicacies from the waters of Hokkaido included sweet urchin, baby abalone in eel sauce, and two of the earliest types of sushi seafood eaten in Japan, nakazumi (small kohada) and hamaguri (cherrystone clam).

Diners also got a history lesson with a selection of aji (horse mackerel) wrapped with nori and cut in half. Through a translator, Kawasaki explained that in ancient Edo, sushi was topped with a half side of fish, which made it longer than today’s made-for-the-mouth counterparts. To make the sushi bite size, chefs cut the sushi in half, which evolved into today’s practice of serving two pieces per order.

Here's the 18-course Maru Sushi pop-up omakase dinner presented last week. They estimate that the approximate cost once the restaurant opens will be about $150 to $160, but don't hold them to that.

1. Shirasu, or whitebait, in bonito dashi.

2. Baby abalone in eel sauce.

3. Chutoro with a splash of awamori.

4. Hyogo Awajishima aji was prepared in ancient Edo style, when a half side of fish topped sushi that was then cut in half to make it more manageable to eat. The practice of presenting sushi in two halves resulted in today's "tradition" of serving two pieces of sushi per order.

5. We were told vinegared shishamo must be eaten with sake to make it more palatable, but I thought it was delicious even without alcohol. I could eat a bucket of these.

6. Suzuki, or sea bass, nigiri.

7. Snapper in ponzu sauce with cucumber, lime and myoga, or Japanese ginger.

8. Nigiri of sayori flavored with konbu.

9. Garlic is typically not used in sushi bars because it has a smell that would linger on chefs' hands. To mimic the bouquet of garlic, ginger and green onion are minced and mixed together to bring out a fleeting hint of garlicky aroma. The mixture tops a piece of saba that is also blanketed with thin-sliced konbu. This was amazing.

10. Maguro akami of bluefin tuna typically offered in Japan, vs. bigeye tuna served in Hawaii.

11. According to Kawasaki, nigiri nakazumi (small kohada) was the earliest type of sushi eaten in Japan. In ancient times, he said fish was not eaten raw, but braised first.

12. Next up was hamaguri, also known as Orient or cherrystone clams, which Kawasaki said is the second oldest known sushi seafood eaten in Japan. After creating the sushi, he distributed the pieces to fit the mouth sizes of the eight diners assembled at the popup.

13. The deep red of the back of maguro was a little frightening, but like every other piece we had, delicious.

14. We are so accustomed to eating Santa Barbara uni at upscale sushi restaurants here, but it just can't beat the candy-like sweetness of Hokkaido uni.

15. I was eyeing the ikura all night, and it came up near meal's end, marinated in dashi and soy sauce.

16. Nigiri of aka ika, or red ika.

17. Maguro tekka maki.

18. The dinner ended with the chef's signature tamago.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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