Archive for the ‘Japanese’ 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: Nagomi Teppan & Lounge

January 14th, 2014
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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.

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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…)

Halloween at Shokudo and other surprises

October 30th, 2013
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The "Thriller" flash mob happens again at 7 and 9 p.m. Oct. 30 and 31 at Shokudo Japanese Restaurant and Bar.Nadine Kam photos

Diners at Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar last night were surprised by an early Halloween treat, that was also a trick for a few wee ones who started crying at the sight of a "Thriller" flash mob.

Maybe I would have cried too if I were 1 year old and saw a zombie approaching. I have to admit it was a little unappetizing to see waiters in "bloody" shirts. Luckily, it's more of a seafood than, say, a beef restaurant, and one can get away with a lot for Halloween.

Diners were surprised to see waiters dropping off their sushi and entrees at tables, then suddenly drop to the floor.

I was surprised that no one in the audience got up to join the staff in the dance, but if you can't resist dancing to thriller, the performance will be repeated at 7 and 9 p.m. Oct. 30 and 31.

Meanwhile, you can check out the video here: http://youtu.be/zcM-_4mUwd0

While at dinner, I had the opportunity to catch up with CEO Hide Sakurai, who has plans to open Shokudo's outdoor patio as a beer garden come December. And even bigger plans to open a 12,000-square-foot Mexican restaurant on the top floor of the Victoria's Secret building next spring.

Why Mexican? He feels there are already an abundance of Japanese restaurants in town, and doesn't want to compete with himself either.
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Shokudo is at 1585 Kapiolani Boulevard. Call 941-3701.

shothrill

Lucky this isn't a beef restaurant. A waiter bathed in "blood" in the spirit of Halloween mixes a bowl of garlic shrimp rice, while Ritsuko Kukono snaps a photo.

sholoco

Gravy is poured over a new dish of ishiyaki loco moco, with beef-and-pork patty, $12.45.

shoaji

Aji sashimi. We ate the bones (deep-fried) at the end of the meal. (more…)

Sushi on rails at Genki Sushi

July 9th, 2013
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gcars
Nadine Kam photos

Sushi arrives via Space Shuttles on Bullet Trains on a magnetic track at the newly renovated Genki Sushi at Ala Moana Center, which opens to the public July 10. If it all runs well at Ala Moana, the next stop for the Genki rail will be Waikele.

Rail may be a long way off for the city of Honolulu, but it’s up and running at the newly renovated Genki Sushi, on the mall level, mauka side of Ala Moana Center.

Leave it to the Japanese to bring the latest magnetic technology to sushi delivery. (Why are we even talking old steel-on-steel rail in Honolulu when the rest of the world has gone magnetic?)

The restaurant revealed America’s first double-rail sushi delivery system to the press this morning, and will open to the public tomorrow, allowing diners to place their orders at a touch-screen panel, then have their meal arrive by Bullet Train, F-1 Race Cars, Surf Board, Space Shuttle, and more.

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Gary Hofheimer photo

The system cost more than $1 million to install and it's both novel and fun. No more waiting and watching the old conveyor belts make their slow loop, and seeing someone else pick up the one dish you were ogling. I never realized how much we needed this. If you thought lines to get in here were long before, I imagine they'll be even longer as people rush in to try the new system.

If you can use an iPad and navigate your phone, you'll find the system easy to use. The pictorial screen is easy to read and use. You can opt for nigiri, sushi rolls, other items (i.e. deep-fried and cooked items) and desserts. Different pages show individual items, and you press a yellow tab to order. Plus signs add another of the same dish, and if you hit it by accident, just hit the minus button.

If you're too short to reach the touch screen, it can be detached and passed around so everyone can examine the menu and place their own orders.

Luddites, don't worry. There is still an old-fashioned conveyor line in place, so you can still grab what you want as the plates pass by.

This kind of system has been in use in Japan for three years. I think we should put a few of Japan’s engineers and restaurateurs in charge of Honolulu's rail project, and blast a few dozen our bureaucrats off via Space Shuttle where they can do no more harm.

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Genki Sushi is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Call 942-9102.

genkiscreen

The touch screen shows your customer or table number on the top right. You can choose your items and hit the yellow button on the screen to order. The plus and minus signs are to adjust the quantity of plates. Your order is rushed to you and once you remove your plates, hit a yellow button on the rail to send your train or car back to the kitchen.

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Robyn Gee places an order.

genkitouch2

These guests debate the many options.

genkishuttle

An order arrives via Space Shuttle. Each order is limited to four plates.

genkisurf

Seared salmon we ordered through the touchscreen arrived on a surfboard.

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On hand for the renovated restaurant's blessing were, at left, Yasumasa Sudo, president of Genki Sushi USA, Inc. and senior managing director of Japan-based Genki Sushi Co., Ltd., and Yoko Kato, director and managing director of Genki Sushi Co., Ltd.

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Staffers surround the restaurant's entrance for the blessing.

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Dessert showed "sold out" on the touch screens, and were delivered the old-fashioned way, via waiter.