First Look: Tsukada Nojo
With veggie tacos and kale beer on the menu, this isn’t your typical izakaya.
Chicken curry tacos ($12).
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
It’s not every day you see miso-marinated avocado, or a whole tomato stuffed into hamburger steak.
Even rarer at a Japanese izakaya.
But Tsukada Nojo, a popular Japanese chain that recently opened a two-story location near the Hawai‘i Convention Center, prides itself on being a little different. Will you find nabe? Yes, but the broth here is thickened with chicken collagen. Does it serve fried chicken? Of course, but Tsukada Nojo’s version is done Miyazaki style with a sweet shoyu vinaigrette and served with a house-made tartar sauce.
Miyazaki-style fried chicken.
“Nojo” means “farmer” in Japanese, and this izakaya uses locally sourced ingredients when it can, from the pasture-raised chickens from Punachicks Farm in Kea‘au to microgreens from Mari’s Gardens in Mililani.
“We support local farms to create the best possible [dishes] for our guests,” says tall and tanned executive chef Shingo Sato. “When people think of Japanese food, they think of ramen. But it’s more than that.”
The menu proves that (though there are four ramen dishes). It includes small plates of delicate hamachi sashimi spiked with jalapeño and a sweet-chili ponzu sauce ($15), and a healthy chicken curry taco where the shell is actually a thinly sliced watermelon radish ($12). Even the salads are eclectic, with a caesar with kale and smoked chicken ($13) to a chopped salad topped with unagi ($16). And hidden among the small hot plates is a peculiar dish: corn fritter with savory corn ice cream ($13) that everyone needs to try.
Saikyo miso avocado ($12).
One of the more unusual dishes is the saikyo miso avocado ($12). The avocado marinates in saikyo miso—a golden-yellow miso traditionally from the Kyoto region that’s naturally sweet and very expensive—for 24 hours. The creamy avocado is served sliced with wasabi and sesame seeds; it’s an odd combination of flavors and not my favorite, though others raved about it.
The nikumaki onigiri ($3.50 each).
Hailing from Miyazaki, the nikumaki onigiri ($3.50 each) are simply rice balls wrapped in thinly sliced meat. (That’s what nikumaki means.) Here, the rice is hugged by super-thin and fatty pork belly and flavored with a sweet shoyu-ginger sauce. The combination of smoky pork and sweet-and-salty rice with a punch of ginger works as you’d imagine. You can up the umami with cheese or spicy-garlic chili ($1 more); or opt for the nikumaki torotama ($10), which swaps the rice for a shoyu-marinated soft-boiled egg.
A whole page of the menu is dedicated to the restaurant’s signature bijin nabe ($35 to $90). Bijin literally means “a beautiful person,” and it refers to the beauty-enhancing, collagen-enriched chicken broth used in the hot pot. The nabe with chicken and vegetables ($50) is meant to be shared and comes with a gorgeous platter of veggies including zucchini, tofu, enoki and maitake mushrooms, aburaage, tsukune meatballs and garland chrysanthemum.
Nabe with chicken and vegetables ($50).
While Tsukada Nojo has a nice list of signature cocktails, wins, sake and shochu, the real standout is the kale beer ($10): a blend of Maui Brewing Co.’s Bikini Blonde ale and cold-pressed kale juice for an unexpected beer cocktail that could actually be considered healthy, maybe.
Dessert is also unique, with a sweet-potato doughnut sundae ($8.50) and a matcha-berry tiramisu ($7.50) that’s dusted with matcha powder.
The Polar Bear ($9).
But, if you’re looking for something to post on your Instagram, it’s the Polar Bear ($9), an adorable bear-shaped shave ice dessert with mixed fruits, mochi, black beans, vanilla ice cream and milk syrup that’s as tasty as it is cute. So make sure your phone is charged!
Tsukada Nojo, 1731 Kalākaua Ave., 951-4444.