Archive for the ‘Cuisines’ Category

Agu expands menu and horizons

February 25th, 2014
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aguOne of Agu Ramen's "originals," a bowl of kotteri tonkotsu.Nadine Kam photos

Expanding the way we think about wine and food, Agu A Ramen Bistro was the setting for a unique pairing of affordable wines with Jidori ramen and yet-to-be-introduced small plates on Feb. 11. Some of the new side dishes only recently hit the menu on Feb. 21, coinciding with my review appearing in print on Feb. 26.

The wine event anticipates securing of a liquor license in the coming months, and the restaurant enlisted master sommelier Patrick Okubo to help with the pairings. Without knowing what the new dishes would be like, Okubo had his work cut out for him, but the selections he brought in meshed well with the restaurant's mix of deep-fried, spiced and savory flavors.

Agu quickly became my favorite ramen spot when it opened last fall, and here was no reason to believe it would ever offer more than top-notch ramen and gyoza. That was all anyone could expect and that was enough.

But co-owner and chef Hisashi Uehara, a stickler for such time-consuming details as boiling down pork bones for 18 hours to break down fat, marrow, calcium, minerals and proteins to arrive at a thick, opaque broth, wasn't done yet. He had busily been working on new dishes to add to Agu's basic menu, and I have a feeling he's not done yet.
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Agu is at 925 Isenberg St., in the Saint Louis Alumni Clubhouse. Call 808.492.1637.

aguramenI thought it couldn't get better than this shio tonkotsu, but updated versions of the ramen now come with butter, silky se-abura (pork fat), or a mound of  freshly grated Parmesan cheese, below.

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agpatrickMaster sommerlier Patrick Okubo served Secateurs, Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, S. Africa 2012 ($15.27) with the gyoza and  Jidori kawa (crispy chicken skin). He said, "The high acid played off of the gyoza because of the vinegar sauce and the Jidori kawa because of the tart ponzu sauce.  The high acid sensations cancelled out each other so you could taste the sweet flavors in the food and the fruit in the wine." Chenin blanc happens to be a grape with a natural acidity that compliments other high acid foods.

agyozaDelicious pork and vegetable gyoza with light, thin skins delivering a satisfying brittle crackle.

agchefAgu chef Hisashi Uehara delivers a plate of Jidori kawa, crispy chicken skin.

agwineLincourt, "Lindsey's" Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills 2011 ($22.50) and Buglioni, Il Viggliaco, Brut Rose, Veneto 2011  ($27). 

agsoybeansThe Il Viggliaco, comprising 100 percent Molinara grapes paired best with the piri kara menma  (spiced bamboo shoots, background) because of spice was offset by the wine's 1.2 percent sugar content. Its refreshing acid tones also paired well with the kotteri garlic edamame, and the spice of the Volcano sauce accompanying the mimiga, or deep-fried pork ears.

agporkThe lush sweetness of the Lincourt pinot was a good match for the char siu pork because of the richness without the tannin. Pork doesn't require the tannin that you'd find in darker skinned grapes such as cabernet so the pinot will not overpower the pork.

agpateThe Lincourt also was a good companion for the chicken liver paté that looks like a scoop of chocolate ice cream. The paté made by Thomas Jones, president of REI Food Service, parent to Agu and Gyotaku Japanese restaurants.

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First course: Plenty to savor at Sushi Ginza Onodera

February 12th, 2014
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onoyellowSushi of yellowtail that was marinated five hours in a light blend of soy sauce, shiitake, mirin and sake and lightly seared. Topped with daikon and aged negi. True bliss, at Sushi Ginza Onodera.Nadine Kam photos

Honolulu has always been a great city for sushi lovers because of our access to great catch and resulting numbers of sushi bars. But Sushi Ginza Onodera is a game-changer in this town because nothing else is comparable. Sushi here is exceptional, accented here and there with a bit of yuzu, ginger, seasoned salt or a brushstroke of soy sauce and fresh grated wasabi to bring out the seafood's best attributes.

For that, you'll pay a price. Onodera's omakase meals are set at $160, $200 and $250. For $160, you get one appetizer and 13 pieces of nigiri sushi. The $200 menu features four appetizers and about 11 pieces of sushi. For $250, you get five appetizers and about 13 pieces of sushi. The $200 menu seemed like a happy medium for the variety of appetizers that are subject to change on a daily, seasonal basis. On the plus side, as in Japan, you don't have to pay a gratuity.

The experience could prove to be a life changer as well. For myself:

Fallacy No. 1: I would rather spend money on fashion than food. Most of us are not millionaires, so we make sacrifices to acquire and do the things we want, whether to travel, take classes, dine out or acquire the latest shoe or handbag. To eat here again, friends tell me I have to sacrifice buying one new handbag, and I find myself willing to do just that.

Fallacy No. 2: I don’t like uni. My late husband loved uni, so it was great when we ordered nigiri sets. He could claim the one piece that I wanted no part of. He often urged me to try it, and I would take a nibble. I never changed my mind. It was always too strong and pungent to be palatable. After trying it in Tokyo last year, I realized not all uni is created equally. There, it was mild and sweet. A local fisherman friend suggested it may be because of the urchins' diet. The purple and bafun uni here are also sweet and creamy, both with distinctive flavor. I ate up every single bit of both, and may have finally become a true believer.

Here is an array from the $200 omakase:

onoyamAmuse: Yamaimo with a touch of soy sauce, okra and shaved bonito, over a layer of delicate cucumber froth.

The appetizers:

onosashimiSashimi of sea bass and yellowtail, marinated as sushi at top.

onoappWhole, thumb-size firefly squid from Kyoga prefecture, Japan, and steamed Big Island abalone at its most delicious, sweet and tender. With fresh grated wasabi.

onosacWaxy shirako, or cod sperm sac with a pinch of scallop-shiitake salt.

onocrabHokkaido hairy crab chawanmushi.

The nigiri+:

ononigiriBig-eye tuna and gizzard shad. (more…)

First course: 2 new tenants at Shirokiya Yataimura

January 21st, 2014
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sukiyaki
All sukiyaki bowls—regular, large and extra large—will be one price, $4.90, on Jan. 22, to celebrate Matsuzaka-Tei's grand opening at Shirokiya's Yataimura.
Nadine Kam photos

Shirokiya's  Yataimura  welcomed two new tenants this morning, Kitanoya, specializing in Hakkaido king and snow crab, and Matsuzaka-Tei, offering inexpensive comfort meals of sukiyaki.

Both will celebrate their shared grand opening on Jan. 22, with an all-day special.

At Matsuzaka-Tei, all sizes of sukiyaki bowls—regular, large and extra large—will be $4.90. The regular prices are $4.90, $5.90 and $6.90. There probably won't be many orders for the small size tomorrow!

In Japan, sukiyaki is available as an inexpensive comfort food, and it comes as a complete meal here with miso soup (the soup is not available for take-out). The tender slices of beef and onions, also called gyu-don, is marinated in a mildly sweet sauce and served over rice.  It's juicy and satisfying.

Add-on toppings are also available for $1 each. They include ontama (half boiled egg), cheese, green onions, kim chee, natto, okra and tororo (Japanese yam).

Kitanoya will be offering a 10 percent discount off all its crab and rice bentos on Jan. 22. Regular prices range from $9.85 to $26 depending on the amount of crab offered. After opening day, only 50 $9.85 bentos will be offered daily.

Kitanoya specializes in crab imported directly from Hokkaido, renowned for its seafood, farm and dairy industries.

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You can't miss the sign indicating Kitanoya crab.

crabbasic
Only 50 of these $9.85 crab bentos will be available daily. Options are shredded crab with ikura, or shredded crab with a larger piece of crab leg.

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Much more crab is offered in the $26 bento.

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A steer marks the site of Matsuzaka-Tei on the mauka side of Shirokiya's second floor.

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After the main course, cross the aisle to  5&2 Yogurt for dessert. Here, frozen yogurt is buried under fruit, nut and candy options. A smaller sampling of acai-flavored yogurt, below. One plain, one covered with chocolate yogurt, M&Ms and gummy candy.

dessert

 

First course: Nagomi Teppan & Lounge

January 14th, 2014
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nagomi
Chef Victor Jian prepares at dish of Nagomi special soba, below, at the newly open Nagomi Teppan & Lounge.Nadine Kam photos

The teppan restaurant is open; the bar and lounge is a work in progress, so I'm waiting to go back when I can see the complete package. In the meantime, you can check out Nagomi Teppan & Lounge.

Okonomiyaki and negiyaki are specialties here, but on a first visit, I liked many of their appetizers and side dishes more, as well as the simplicity of teppan-grilled seafood. The menu is full of  options for those who crave variety and izakaya-portioned grazing.

Note: Prices subject to change.
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The restaurant is at 1687 Kapiolani Boulevard, across from 24 Hour Fitness. Parking in back of the restaurant. Call 312-3534.

nyakisoba

Nagomi special soba, $16.50, with calamari, shrimp, jumbo scallops, tiger prawns, thin-sliced pork, cabbage and onions.

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Garlic jumbo scallops, $13, with crispy garlic bits on top. Yum! (more…)

Post detox: Return to normalcy in the new year

January 2nd, 2014
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klacquer
The table was set with beautiful lacquerware at Kensei Takeda's Japanese new year dinner.Nadine Kam photos

New Year's Day marked Day 2 of my return from Blue Tree Cafe's five-day "Renew" juice cleanse. I'd been slowly introducing solid foods back to my diet, and after starting the morning with a banana, another handful of raw, unsalted almonds, and lunch of more of my homemade chicken soup, dinner would mark my return to normalcy.

I had been invited to a friend's home for what was described as "a little traditional Japanese New Year's food." Knowing Kensei, it probably would not be a little, but it would be healthful, and delicious. It sounded ideal for my return to social dining.

kcauli
"Creation namasu" of cauliflower and Japanese cucumber marinated in ume and rice wine vinegar, topped with turkey bacon and cracked black pepper.

Of course his idea of "traditional" involves what he calls "Creation," a bit of fusion and contemporary interpretation. Traditional foods and ingredients such as ozoni, mizuna and mochi, were not to be found, for instance. He explained that every year in Japan, people die after choking on mizuna and mochi so he wanted to offer alternatives.

The resulting meal numbered eight courses presented on a mix of antique Wajma, Imari and Noritake porcelain, Japan Imperial household lacquerware, European crystal and ceramic ware by the artist Nanzan, whose work also inspires meals at the Pensacola Street restaurant Nanzan Giro Giro.

It was a lot of food, though the meal comprised mostly vegetables, and I rationalized that most of it would have filled only two of the 16-ounce juice jars I was ingesting over a two-hour period the past few days. With dinner spread over three-and-a-half hours, it worked out fine.

Did I overeat? I would say yes, by five dishes, but it was worth every bite on this special occasion.

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Second course of steamed edamame potsticker topped with a light Middle Eastern style sauce of tomato, onions and cumin.

kosechi
New Year Osechi platter including kuro-mame (black soybeans) signifying good health, datemaki (sweet rolled omelet), kamaboko topped with uni,  kazunoko (herring roe) with a touch of yuzu, and chestnut purée.
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