Japanese Kaiseki in Honolulu
Kaiseki: Now and Zen: The evolution of an austere diet of Zen monks into contemporary dining experiences at Nanzan Giro Giro, Hakkei and Wada.
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There are nuggets of skirt steak cooked with plenty of onion, garlic and shimeji mushrooms tableside, and a choice of spicy sesame ramen or minced tongue and rice in a hot stone bowl. Go with the ramen, in a silky oxtail broth (but no actual oxtails).
From the ála carte menu, some dishes are very Japanese, such as the shuto ae, a mix of fresh seafood in shuto, basically, fermented fish guts. It seems like a travesty to introduce pristine seafood to something so fishy, but I like the salty funk playing against the purity of squid, octopus and ahi (your actual seafood medley may differ as Wada uses whatever is fresh that day). There’s also sea cucumber, with a vinegary tang and chewy texture that changes my mind completely about sea cucumber as the bland and jelly-like dish I avoid at Chinese banquets. Other dishes are cross-cultural delights, such as buffalo mozzarella agedashi, in which fried mozzarella is simultaneously creamy, chewy and crisp, perked up with shiso and tomato and sauced with dashi.
This dinner ends up being the meal I enjoy the most, one that somehow channels the Japanese cuisine ideal of balance, while still satisfying my American palate, raised on brawn and explosions.