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First Look: Minori Craft Japanese Tavern Opens on Kalākaua Avenue

This recently rebranded izakaya scores with Instagram-worthy dishes and a grand-opening discount.


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Minori Tavern Bacon Potato Salad

The homemade bacon potato salad topped with smoked egg is a must!
Photos: Terri INefuku

 

If you’ve ever dined at Tsukada Nojo on Kalākaua Avenue, walking into Minori Craft Japanese Tavern may seem like a case of déjà vu.

 

That’s because Minori is a revamped version of its predecessor, the result of a renovation and rebranding that put the location out of commission for several months last year.

 

Nojo fans need not worry: The restaurant remains a stylish izakaya that offers artfully composed dishes. Minori means growth in Japanese, and the restaurant has come up with fresh concepts for its space and menu. 

 

Minori Craft Tavern Interior

 

The interior was kept sleek and stylish with dark wooden tables and accent walls, industrial pendant lights above the bar and a bright corner kitchen adorned with open shelving and glass. Ninety people can dine downstairs, including 10 at the bar, while a second-story loft area can fit nearly 50 more with additional booths and a semiprivate lounge space. We visited twice—once as guests of the restaurant and my dining companion returned with a friend to try it again.

 

The biggest changes, from what I can tell, are on the menu, and we discovered several delicious gems during our hunt. Our first order was a bacon potato salad topped with smoked egg ($6), chilled, creamy bites of potato dotted with bacon and onion so mild it invoked a murmured, “Mmm, what is that?” from the table. The egg, we learned, is cooked first, then given a delicate infusion of smoke via wood chips. Tiny slivers of fried onion are placed on top. This was a delicious start to the meal, and one I highly recommend.

 

Minori Craft Tavern Stone Beef Pepper Rice

I will return for the comforting and delicious stone pot beef pepper rice.

 

My favorite dish was the stone pot beef pepper rice ($12.80), an addictive mixture of thinly sliced beef that continues to cook as it’s stirred tableside with corn, green onion and butter, and drizzled with a blend of steak and soy sauce and beef consommé. Its deep umami flavor kept me reaching for more, even well after other dishes were brought to the table.

 

The shrimp, vegetable and egg tempura ($15.80) coated in light, crispy batter was perfect for sharing, and the Japonika roll with Kona kampachi and yuzu ($12.80) was tasty, though the crab and avocado filling overpowered the bright, subtle flavors of citrus and fish.

 

I could have done without the Meli Melo Chicken on Fire ($12.80), chunks of chicken thighs, hearts and gizzards mixed with diced potato and spicy yuzu and charbroiled with Hawaiian sea salt. While the simple seasoning and preparation kept the spotlight perfectly on the chicken, I found the dish a little too chewy for my taste. (I did, however, turn it into a delicious fried rice the next day.)

 

Minori Craft Tavern Salad Bar

The self-serve salad bar is small, but stunning.

 

A refreshing addition to the space, in my opinion, is a small self-serve salad bar in the back brimming with Ho Farms produce: an array of crisp greens, pink radishes sliced so thinly they appeared near-translucent, cucumber, and plump cherry tomatoes in shades of yellow, red and orange. Raw vegetables are nestled among offerings of lightly dressed green beans and okra, and slices of fried Aloha Tofu.

 

The salad bar is available as a standalone dining option ($7.80 all-you-can-eat, add $3.50 for chicken and $7 for roast beef) and/or as your staple ingredients for a Minori Beautifying Hot Pot with collagen broth ($19.80 chicken, $23.80 pork belly, $29.80 prime rib-eye).

 

The base of the hot pot will look familiar to Nojo regulars. A large jellylike mound (fun!) is plopped into a large pot and slowly warmed until it oozes down into a milky liquid. Sipping on the Original Chicken Paitan, I realized the infusion of collagen created an incredibly rich broth, almost too much so, and I’m ashamed to admit I tapped out early. Be warned: This dish is best enjoyed among a large group.

 

Minori Tavern Polar Bear Shave Ice

Who can resist that face? The Polar Bear Shave Ice returns.

 

Our dessert was a familiar one that graced many Instagram feeds during Nojo’s days. I have to admit, the Polar Bear Shave Ice ($9) tastes as good as it looks: a mound of shaved ice drenched in condensed milk, accented with apricot ears, sweetened black bean eyes and nose, and a mango sorbet snout. Tapioca pearls and mochi balls are hidden inside with fresh blueberries and black beans. Despite feeling stuffed by an already satisfying meal, we managed to eat nearly all of it.

 

The drinks menu was fine, if not extensive. You will need help with cocktails; none of the ingredients are listed.

 

If you’re looking for a new go-to lunch spot, Minori will add a teishoku-style lunch after the grand opening on Feb. 1. Takeout bentos are also available, though you will have to order a day in advance. Prices start at $10.80 for heartier entrées, including chicken karaage, teriyaki yakitori chicken, ginger pork and miso-marinated grilled salmon.

 

Its biggest hurdle is parking. Minori is located just outside Waikīkī near the Hawaiʻi Convention Center, an area notorious for its lack of parking. With 14 stalls, three of which are reserved for the restaurant next door, the lot in front of the restaurant remains impossibly tight. Fortunately, Minori also validates for two free hours at Century Center across the street.

 

Which is good news for me, since I plan on returning.

 

Mention “HONOLULU Magazine” and get 10 percent off regular-priced dine-in food only (happy hour and alcohol excluded) through Feb. 28.

 

1731 Kalākaua Ave. Tuesday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to midnight, happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to midnight. Open daily starting Feb. 1 with additional lunch hours, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and extended Friday and Saturday hours, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. (808) 951-4444, minorihawaii.com.

 

 

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