Dining: Upscale Asian
Asian cuisine is already a star in Honolulu. Does it need to get dressed up?
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Most things were just pretty good. Given the expectations created by the setting and service, that may not be enough, especially since there’s little on the menu that isn’t generally available all over town. Desserts, with the exception of the rich tapioca pudding, are Western and restaurant quality. The best, to my taste, was fresh fruit, largely berries, warmed with a custard-y sabayon sauce.
The E&O “legend” has fictional trader James Bailey importing British ales to the Orient. The San Francisco E&O opened with its own brewery.
The Honolulu E&O is more wine-oriented, with a short, upscale list, a little pricey by the glass. Confronted with a riot of different flavors, I did what I always do, ordering prosecco, the light Italian sparkling wine, which seems to go with everything and is never terribly expensive.
Dinner ran $300, with tip. Remember that’s for five: seven appetizers, three entrees, and five desserts. More restraint will get you away for less, though it seems to me E&O runs the risk of people saying, It’s a nice place, but I can get the same dishes for less at a lot of other restaurants.
Ala Moana Pacific Center,
1585 Kapiolani Blvd.
Dinner nightly 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Free and valet parking, major credit cards
Shokudo is an intriguing concept. It’s a Japanese restaurant designed for America, not by Americans, but by a Japanese company, Dream Dining Corp., which hopes to open 50 of them across the country in the next decade. The Honolulu Shokudo is the first, the prototype.
So far so good. The 180-seat restaurant is a dazzler, high-ceilinged, glass on two sides. On one side there’s a tiered dining room so the tables descend from level to level like theater seats. A large bar holds down the center. Over the main dining room hangs a—I don’t know what to call it, a sculpture, perhaps, a flying saucer?—huge concentric red rings attached by chains to the ceiling.
For all that, Shokudo is reasonably casual, reasonably priced, the sort of place that’s supposed to be packed and humming, not hushed and reverential. The menu’s designed for casual dining as well, a choice of 50-plus items. There are bar snacks like deep-fried chicken wings, but also tofu, sushi and noodle dishes, salads.
The house specialty seems to be ishiyaki—a hot stone cookery originally developed by the fishermen of Northern Japan. Ishiyaki dishes come on hot stone plates or bowls that continue cooking at the table. For instance, the ishiyaki unagi comes with an appealing wedge of eel atop a portion of rice. But the server immediately mixes the unagi into the rice and the rice keeps cooking, getting crispy on the bottom.
We tried seven dishes, from fresh housemade tofu (more texture than flavor, but the texture’s great) to a grilled chicken (only the skin of which was seasoned with the yuzu and pepper that made the flavor come alive, the rest being pretty dull). The food was far from flawless, but endlessly fun. The most elegant dish was tomato no kimchee—a tomato peeled, cut into wedges and then reassembled and served with a red-pepper dressing that tasted exactly like kim chee.
It was a pleasure to go from minced chicken cooked in bamboo to garlic ahi seared on a hot stone, accompanied by chilled Otokoyama, a dry sake with a 340-year pedigree. Samurai traditionally drank it after battle, and it shows up in some famous Ukiyoe prints.
Despite our adventure through the menu, we managed desserts, a green-tea syrup shave ice (more sweet syrup than green-tea flavor, I thought) and honey toast, which deserves some explication. Two very thick slices of bread are toasted, the crust cut off, the bread diced into bite-sized cubes. Then, its thoroughly drizzled with honey and topped with vanilla ice cream. Your first reaction is “huh?” Your second reaction is to gobble it down immediately. If only they sprinkled it with a little cinnamon.
Menu items run about $7 or $8 and the dazzling tomato kim chee is only $3.75. Shokudo seems to be even better than the sum of its parts. The atmosphere, the food, the young, not particularly well-trained, yet cheerful wait staff—all seem to add up to a good time. Grab a bunch of congenial friends and see if you couldn’t have one yourself.