Itadakimasu, Five Times
We check out a gaggle of new Japanese restaurants—including two dueling buffets.
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Ala Moana Shopping Center
Lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. dinner nightly 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Free parking, major credit cards.
Apparently in response to Tsukiji opening next door, Kyoto Ohsho dropped the price of its buffet to $27.80. It didn’t need to. As buffets go, it’s better.
The restaurant is smaller than Tsukiji (then again, almost every restaurant in town is smaller than Tsukiji). It doesn’t attempt to be as grand. But it succeeds better with a black and red color scheme, large paper lanterns, and gauzy curtains.
Ohsho handles its food differently than Tsukiji. The long line of largely Japanese dishes–gyoza, tori karaage, chawan mushi, butterfish, chicken tatsuta, beef tataki, kinpira gobo, hajiki, wonderful simmered kabocha—are all in individual portions on an appropriate little tray or in a bowl, so they look like Japanese food.
There are some practical advantages to this, for the restaurant–portion control and dishes that take up room on the tray so you can’t load up as heavily as you otherwise might. It also makes the eating experience more pleasant.
Included are items you must have on a Hawaii buffet line–little bowls of ahi and tako poke, and, although wholly unJapanese, an entire roast beef.
When it opened, Kyoto Ohsho limited people to an hour and a half at its buffet. Standing near the shrimp tempura (the tempura batter is as hard as iron), I ran into my friends Joanne and Daniel, who have a toddler. They’d avoided Ohsho because of the 90-minute limit. “With the baby, we didn’t think we could finish that fast, but we called and they don’t have the 90-minute thing any longer.”
Ohsho still seems a little paranoid about how much people in Hawaii can eat. There’s a sign posted, which in polite Japanese-style circumlocutions, says that some people are eating only the fish off the top of the nigiri sushi, and that’s not kosher, so if they find the sushi rice still sitting on your plate, they’ll charge you more.
For the record, we ate the rice as well as the fish—just the usual maguro, salmon, shrimp, tomago, but at least some unagi. “Oh, this is fresher and better than Tsukiji,” said my friend, who accompanied me to both buffets.
This time, he’d brought along his girlfriend, who approached the buffet in an entirely different manner than we did. We went right for the protein. She went for the noodles–well-made udon noodles in soup. After noodling around, she went straight for the desserts, which included both a soft-serve ice cream dispenser and a chocolate fountain. She was obviously enjoying both, especially the miniature éclairs, which could be dipped in the chocolate.
Often, the desserts in Japanese restaurants are either symbolic (little cakes that look good but are very light, entirely insubstantial) or made with adzuki beans.
To me, it’s better to fill up on snacks and sake. The sake here was better than at Tsukiji as well—the waitress suggested the Hakkaisan Honjyozo. The bill, for three this time, not two, was only $20 more than at Tsukiji.
Kochi Restaurant & Lounge
Photo by Monte CostaKochi is designed as a relaxed place to hang out with friends, with drinks and family-style pupu.
1936 S. King St.
Dinner nightly 5 to 10 p.m.
Free parking, major credit cards.
The pride of Kalihi, Gulick Deli, has come to town, to the old King’s Bakery spot on King Street.
The location’s been split in half. Half is the daytime deli, a more Japanese, less Filipino version of the Kalihi okazu-ya. The other half is a cocktail lounge called Kochi, the bar filled with gleaming wood and living-room-style seating, the larger room crammed with high, black, vinyl booths and long tables with black vinyl stacking chairs.
Kochi is designed to be a casual place where you can bring a group of friends and share, as the menu puts it, “Local Japanese Food Family Style.”
There’s little in life better than drinks, friends and pupu—but Kochi has missed out on one important development. Over the past decade, with the improvement in local-style cuisine and the influx of accomplished Japanese restaurants from Japan, the food in the drinks-plus-food equation has become more competitive.
Kochi doesn’t measure up. A pair of friends and I started off well, ordering sake and beer and dishes upon dishes. But we weren’t happy with what emerged from the kitchen.
The soft-shell crab tempura tasted fishy in the way that makes you nervous with shellfish. We left most of it; the waiter didn’t even ask why.
We ordered the $16 sashimi salad. It did contain some ‘ahi, tako and salmon, but the greens were a bit tired and heavy on the chopped lettuce. The dressing contained masago, smelt roe, but it reminded us of an old-fashioned, local-style sweet orange dressing.
A similar dressing sat on the chunky, tough ahi katsu. Almost every restaurant in Hawaii now does an ahi katsu. This one was overdone on the outside, stone cold in the middle and we couldn’t finish it, either.
The yaki soba, normally one of my favorite things, was both too sweet and had a weird sour tinge.
However, let us praise the pork chops. They do not perhaps rise to the heights of the legendary Sidestreet Inn pork chops, being more heavily battered and deep-fried. But it’s hard to dislike tender chops, cut up in pupu portions, with catsup heavily laced with chili pepper water.
Dessert was a disappointment. Strawberries Romanoff is supposed to be strawberries macerated in sugar and orange liqueur served with sweetened whipped cream. Kochi’s version was essentially a strawberry ice cream sundae with whipped cream and a cherry on top, presented in an old-fashioned milkshake glass.
The trifle we ordered turned out to be, well, another ice cream sundae in an old-fashioned milkshake glass, looking exactly like the strawberries Romanoff. A trifle is a British dessert–day-old cake sprinkled with sherry, topped with layers of custard, jam and fruit. In this version, cubes of pound cake rested at the bottom of the sundae, but by the time you dug down to them they had been reduced to sludge by melting ice cream.
Kochi is not inexpensive. Many of the menu items are market price, i.e. you have to ask what they cost. The meal for three cost $140, with tip and a restrained number of sakes, since one of us was drinking Diet Pepsi.