Hakkei

 July 27, 2012

1436 Young St. Honolulu, HI | www.hakkei-honolulu.com

Nestled at the bottom of a small office building near the corner of Young St. and Keeamoku Ave, Hakkei has been serving delicious Japanese cuisine for years. Chef Koji Kuwa has led the kitchen since its opening and has brought to the Hawaii food scene a real taste of Japanese kaiseki cooking. My family has dined at Hakkei regularly since its opening and has celebrated many a special occasion here. Now that we reside far away from the islands and any real semblance of authentic Japanese cuisine, Hakkei was a “must visit” for our recent visit back home.

The interior design of Hakkei transports me back to the feel of small inns in Japan. In fact, it has the same rustic feel as the restaurant in the Hakkei hot spring hotel in Yubara, Japan. The menu format has evolved to be a little more “American” over the years, but the food remains authentic. The real delight in dining at Hakkei since its opening is the kaiseki menu.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must let you know that a few of the menu items for this visit are dishes that may not appear on the regular menu. Having dined here on numerous occasions, I am known to the house and keep in touch with Chef Koji even after moving from Hawaii. Knowing that I was in town for just a short time Chef Koji was kind enough to create a few of our favorite dishes for this visit.

Dashimaki – Japanese rolled egg omelet with grated daikon and a dashi sauce

By far one of the most simplistic and yet enjoyable dishes is this presentation of dashimaki. The rolled egg omelet is ever so light and tender, with just the slightest firmness to hold its shape. The pool of dashi is absorbed into the omelet giving it additional savory and umami flavors. The simplistic yet delicious nature of this dish, for me, is decidedly Japanese in form.

Salmon Croquettes – Fried potato croquettes with salmon, served with a sesame sauce

Somewhat of a departure from the traditional Japanese korokke, these croquettes show some of the Western influence in Hakkei’s menu. The cylindrical shape of these croquettes, along with the creamy texture of their filling are more akin to some European styles of croquette. Regardless of their form, these croquettes were delicious. The exteriors were perfectly crisp, providing great contrast to the creamy salmon-potato filling. The accompanying sauce added another layer of flavor with a slight tang which was a welcomed addition to the fried croquettes.

Hamachi Kama – Grilled Hamachi collar, grated daikon, lemon

One of the most delicious fish dishes I have ever eaten was prepared by Chef Koji’s master in Japan at the Hakkei hot spring hotel. Entire fish were skewered, simply seasoned, and then deftly grilled to perfection. The hamachi kama was very similarly prepared; grilled to a perfect doneness, with wonderfully crispy skin and tender flesh. Here the quality of the ingredient is allowed to speak for itself. Although there were four of us at the table, I’m not ashamed to admit that I easily consumed half the fish myself!

Ebi Arare – Fried shrimp, mochi rice cracker, kabocha

This is my wife’s favorite dish and something that I specially request every time we dine at Hakkei. Sweet, tender shrimp are coated with a crust of arare (rice crackers) and fried. The salty exterior coating of rice cracker adds not only a delightful textural element, but also the contrasting flavor to the sweet shrimp. No sauce is required for this dish, just a simple squeeze of lemon juice.

Steak & Hakkrian Sauce – Grilled steak with a sauce of green onion, ginger, wasabi, Maui onion, and dashi shoyu

This plate is a preparation of grilled steak with a sauce named and conceived by Chef Koji. While the steak was cooked a bit more than I would prefer, the flavor of the sauce was both delicious and unique. The combination of ginger, onion, and dashi with the kick of wasabi added a lot of complexity to the steak. I found myself trying to heap as much of the sauce on each piece as possible.

Tori & Gobo Kamameshi Rice – Rice prepared with chicken and burdock root in an iron pot

Simply described as form of Japanese rice pilaf, kamameshi rice is a mixture of ingredients and rice cooked in an iron pot known as a kama. This method of cooking creates a layer of burnt, crispy rice around the edges of the pot which add a desirable flavor to the overall preparation. I appreciate that Hakkei keeps to the traditional method of cooking (some restaurants prepare similar rice using a standard electric rice cookers) which I think enhances the flavor of the rice greatly.

Assorted Sashimi – Tai (snapper), maguro, hamachi, and Hakkei poke

Our final course of the night was a simple plate of fresh sashimi. Chef Koji had some of these fish flown in overnight from Japan. All the cuts of fish were fresh and clean tasting. This was a simple yet delightful end to a great meal.

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I have dined at Hakkei numerous times over the 6 years that it has been serving its menu of authentic Japanese cuisine in Honolulu. I have never been disappointed, even on the occasions where we challenged Chef Koji to come up with some interesting menus (we once asked him cook an entire meal Iron Chef style, with mochi as the theme ingredient). Hakkei is a rare gem of Japanese cuisine, even in a market dominated by Japanese restaurants.

Hakkei
1436 Young Street Ste. 103
Honolulu, HI 96814
Phone: 808.944.6688

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