First Look: Baku Waikīkī

A new, modern take on traditional dining from Northern Japan comes to Waikīkī.


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Baku Waikīkī opened this month at the International Market place. It specializes in the traditional robata style of cooking using local ingredients and fresh fish.
Photos: Diane Lee

 

Think of robatayaki as your traditional campfire’s refined older sibling. Influenced by the traditional robata style of cooking, Baku Waikīkī, which opened its second location this month at the International Market Place, seeks to provide cuisine prepared with locally and sustainably sourced ingredients and bring people together for a meal as though they were seated around a fire.

 

Robatayaki translates to “fireside cooking,” developed centuries ago in Hokkaido, when the fishermen needed a way to prepare the fresh seafood they caught while they were at sea. They used binchōtan, a charcoal made from Japanese white oak, encasing it in a stone box to lock in the heat. Although the coals can burn up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, this method allowed them to cook their catch without overheating the boat.

 

At Baku, the food is cooked using the same traditional charcoal. First, the food is placed on the bottom rack of its four-tiered robata grill, and then it’s moved up as it cooks, so it can absorb the flavors from the charcoal without getting burnt during the process. We were impressed by this style of cooking.

 

The restaurant offers an assortment of menu items, from skewers to sashimi. At a recent media preview, the highlights were the grilled meat and vegetables. We found that the robatayaki infused a great smoky flavor, which accented the food rather than overpowering it.

 

Baku’s menu features a wide variety of dishes, from skewered Kurobuta pork belly with a gochujang-miso glaze ($14) to A5 Japanese wagyu sold at market price. You’ll see a lot of local flavors, too, from the kalbi-style short ribs ($26) to steamed buns with hoisin and pickled peppers ($14).

 

Many of the dishes are takes on izakaya favorites, including prime beef tartare with truffle-cured egg yolk and shrimp chips ($16), beef tongue on skewers with yuzu kosho ($7), satsuma sweet potato with nori butter ($10) and shishito peppers tossed in a soy dressing ($8). We loved the sake-glazed chicken wings ($9), with lime and sansho salt. The flavors were well balanced.

 

Chicken gizzards with chili, sesame ginger, garlic and soy ($8).

 

Shishito peppers with soy dressing, lemon and bonito flakes ($8).

 

The kalbi-style short ribs with kim chee purée and pickles ($26).

 

One of our favorite dishes was the sake-glazed chicken wings ($9).

 

Baku’s fish offerings—which are extensive and run the gamut from New Zealand king salmon to Madai red snapper from Japan—are sustainably sourced and caught using hook-and-line methods. The monchong, bigeye tuna, Keāhole lobster and kampachi are locally caught.

 

For their beverage menu, Baku’s staff carefully selected wines, shochu and sake, and created cocktails that would complement their menu offerings. We sampled three cocktails: the Cherry Blossom, the Katana and the Tokidoki. The Cherry Blossom ($10) was perfect for satisfying your sweet-tooth craving, all in martini glass. It combines house-made jasmine tea-infused gin, lemon juice, lychee and  egg whites (which creates the frothy top). The Tokidoki ($10) was another favorite; the cucumber vodka-based drink is a tall glass of refreshing. It includes ginger liqueur, coconut sake and sugar cane syrup. The Katana ($12) is made with Combier L’Orange, Corco Silver Tequila, muddled shishito peppers, yuzu, calamansi and local honey, and garnished with a sesame rim. To us, this cocktail fell short; although it contains shishito peppers, it didn’t pack the punch we thought it would.

 

From left, the Katana, Cherry Blossom and Tokidoki cocktails.

 

The kitchen is separated from the main dining area by just a glass window, so guests can watch chefs prepare the food on the eight-foot-long robata grill. There’s an option to sit on high-top chairs that face the kitchen for a true sitting-by-the-campfire experience. Or you can also choose to sit on the patio with a view of Kalākaua Avenue and a peek of the ocean.

 

Inside the restaurant located on the third floor of the International Market Place.

 

The restaurant’s design intertwines its ocean theme with traditional Japanese elements, with a touch of Hawaiian culture. The restaurant’s interior feels intimate but not crowded, designed to be a space for people to interact. As Keith Mallini, Baku’s general manager, puts it, “We want you to come in with two friends and leave with six.”

 

2330 Kalākaua Ave., Suite 396, 10 percent discount for kamaʻāina and military, (808) 800-3571, baku-waikiki.com

 

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