Izakayas in Honolulu
To me, an izakaya is the perfect restaurant concept.
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Sushi Izakaya Shinn
2065 S. Beretania St., (808) 946-7466, Monday - Saturday, dinner starting at 5 pm.
My friend arrived at Izakaya Shinn while I was still on the way. He texted: “This place not Tokyo Japanese. NYC Japanese. NYC Cool.”
The new Shinn is seriously stylish—river rock walls, nylon-beaded curtains, lotus flower light fixtures. It’s gotten considerable buzz among those for whom style counts most.
Two questions remained. Is the food good? Can you have a good time there?
The answers: Yes and yes. The two of us had an izakaya of a time, relaxing over bottles of the most reliable sake ever, Dessai 50.
What’s good tonight? we asked Mayumi, our server. For her, it was oyster and clam night. On an earthenware platter that could have been the shell of some exotic sea creature came six firm, not too large oysters. Two with yuzu and black sea salt (perfect), two with yuzu and spicy daikon, and two with Shinn’s version of tomato salsa (skip).
On another shelllike platter came an array of three-clam sashimi—if scallops count as clams. The sweet scallops were accompanied by mirugai and aoyagi, the crunchier orange clam.
Mayumi also guided us to the sawara. Like saba, sawara is usually translated “mackerel,” but it’s much better than saba, less fishy, firm yet supple on the palate.
Shinn seems to have it all, including a robata bar, so out came the grilled skewers: thick cylinders of negi browned perfectly, a jumbo shrimp, kurabuta pork, asparagus spears wrapped in bacon, beef tongue.
And since we were ordering off the grill, two crunchy, delicious grilled rice balls, although we didn’t take them as a sign to stop drinking. As gaijin, we decided we were afforded a certain latitude.
A longish pause, some sake, a lot of conversation, then back to sushi: unagi, kanpachi, ikura.
I find it incredible that we were still hungry for dessert—and that Shinn had desserts worth ordering. Annin with umeshi jelly, for instance. Mayumi called it annin tofu, but it only looks like tofu. It’s actually milk gelatin flavored with almond extract. In other words, almond float. Shinn’s is perhaps the ultimate almond float, because it’s topped by cubes of translucent plum wine (umeshi) gelatin and pureéd frozen strawberries.
Shinn’s big on frozen berries. It serves vanilla ice cream with berries barely thawed by a hot grenadine and brandy syrup—a dessert that adds up to more than the sum of its ingredients.
The bill was $237 for two, but, really, we’d brought it on ourselves. A three and a half hour dinner, izakaya style. Since my friend had been in Japan, we had much catching up to do.
Japan made me think of Harry, my izakaya friend from Tokyo. It was years ago now. I’d sure like to know he’s doing well, maybe take him to Shinn and talk for hours.
John Heckathorn has been writing award-winning restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984.