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Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa is One of Three U.S. Restaurants That Serve Real Kobe Beef

Hiroshi Onodera who is the owner of Sushi Ginza Onodera opens his second restaurant in McCully.


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The big draw at Sumikawa: authentic and certified Kobe and Omi beef.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
Editor’s Note: Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa has recently changed its name to Tenppanyaki Ginza Onodera.

 

Think teppanyaki, and you might conjure up a knife-wielding chef juggling utensils or flipping a shrimp tail onto your plate from the flat-top grill in front of you. 

 

It’s more dinner show than haute cuisine.

 

But Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa isn’t sassy sizzle. At this new restaurant, the centuries-old style of cooking feels more like a highly trained personal chef skillfully preparing a multicourse meal just for you.

 

“Teppanyaki” derives from the words “teppan,” which means iron plate, and “yaki,” which means grilled or broiled, so it’s literally a style of cooking that uses an iron plate to grill steak, shrimp, rice, chopped vegetables and noodles. Modern teppanyaki often refers to a kind of performance cuisine, with chains like Tanaka of Tokyo and Benihana promoting that image. Not surprisingly, this style of teppanyaki is far more popular with Americans than Japanese.

 

In Japan, teppanyaki chefs cook in front of customers, usually sitting at a counter. The menu is most often prix fixe, and the ingredients can range from the unremarkable to the extraordinary. Like sitting at a sushi bar watching masterful chefs prepare and assemble perfect nigiri or temaki, the experience is intimate and interesting, even without flying shrimp.

 

So when Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa opened in Honolulu in February, it was no surprise people didn’t know what to expect. The prix fixe menu, which started at $200 (now $160), didn’t help, either.

 

When possible, the restaurant sources locally, like this Kona abalone topped with a black butter sauce.

What did help, though, was its connection to the established Sushi Ginza Onodera, a high-end sushi place on Kapahulu Avenue that opened two years ago. Both are owned by Hiroshi Onodera, president of LOEC Co. Ltd., one of the biggest catering companies in Japan. And Sushi Ginza Onodera has established itself as a legit sushi destination with exceptional ingredients and Instagram-worthy presentation. And its prix fixe menu starts at $160 per person, too.    

 

While fresh fish and sushi done right draw folks to Onodera, Sumikawa brings people in with the beef. Turns out it’s one of only three restaurants in the United States that serve authentic, certified Kobe beef. (The other two are SW Steakhouse at the Wynn Las Vegas and 212 Steakhouse in New York City.)

 

Authentic. Certified. Like the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine, Kobe beef must be the meat from Tajima cattle raised in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. The export of this highly prized beef to the U.S. was only approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August 2012. And, even now, scant amounts make it here. Of the roughly 3,000 head of cattle each year that meet the very strict standards to be labeled as Kobe beef, only about 10 percent leaves Japan, mostly heading to Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao and Thailand.

 

The opportunity to try Kobe beef here in Hawai‘i explains the premium price, especially when you consider what else comes with the $250 Kobe-option meal: more than a dozen additional dishes, including Kona abalone in a black butter sauce, fresh crab from Hokkaido and seared foie gras dressed in a sweet Madeira sauce. (The menu has changed slightly this summer.)

 

To be honest, I didn’t fully appreciate the privilege of eating real Kobe beef. I thought I had already eaten it, at least in burger form, not realizing these restaurants were serving Kobe-style beef or domestic Kobe beef raised in Australia or the U.S. But none of it could have been authentic or certified. And none carried the 10-digit identification number given to each Tajima-gyu cow. (Seriously.)

 

Sauteed duck foie gras on la France with truffle sauce.
PHOTOS: STEVE CZERNIAK

 

The Kobe beef on the menu here is the highlight, the draw, the justification to spend more than your monthly cell phone bill on a very special piece of meat.

 

Sumikawa serves three prix fixe choices, the most expensive boasting 3.5 ounces of A5-grade Kobe beef sirloin. The other two feature the same grade of Omi beef, one of the top brands of Japanese wagyu beef. (Wagyu literally means “Japanese cattle” and refers to the entirety of the nation’s breeds.) This beef is no slouch; the best wagyu stands up to the revered Kobe, with many actually preferring it. 

 

Chef de cuisine Keijiro Yamano brings French culinary training to a traditional Japanese style of cooking.

We booked the earliest seating at the little restaurant on King Street in McCully, right at 5:30 p.m., mostly out of fear the complete meal would stretch too late into the evening. (Turns out, the entire dinner took just two hours, from amuse-bouche to dessert.) The seating area, impeccably clean and clutter-free, was empty, save for three very polite chefs who stood in front of the flat-top grill and smiled at us. The L-shaped counter accommodates a dozen diners—there’s a private room that seats six—a space that, in the American version of a teppanyaki restaurant, would cram in 20. Already, I liked the place.

 

In the 1,000-square-foot space, there’s a tray of cooking staples—butter, Himalayan rock salt, olive oil, shoyu—and the autograph of Japanese soccer superstar Kazuyoshi Miura scribbled on the gleaming white walls.

 

Along with the traditional oshibori (hot cloth), we were given a cloth bib to wear to protect our clothing from splatter. Thoughtful.

 

We were then presented with a basket of vegetables—its contents change every week depending on what’s available at the farmers market. That night, we chose from purple spring onions, Portobello mushrooms, shishito peppers, broccoli, eggplant, bok choy, squash, Maui onions and sweet potatoes to be served with the beef course.

 

Our drinks and the first amuse-bouche arrived, a small plate with two items: a profiterole filled with a cream cheese mixture of shallots and parsley, and a cold vegetable terrine with king crab meat, beans, okra, cauliflower and peppers, wrapped in kale and served with a curry aioli. A second amuse-bouche was a paper-thin slice of bluefin tuna with uni (sea urchin) from Hokkaido and bonito-infused vinegar.

 

 SUMIKAWA SHARES THE SEAFOOD BROUGHT IN FROM JAPAN, LIKE THIS KING CRAB FROM HOKKAIDO, WITH SISTER RESTAURANT SUSHI GINZA ONODERA.

 

Next, chef de cuisine Keijiro Yamano brought out a wooden tray with a few of the raw ingredients he would be cooking for us. Thick squares of Hudson Valley foie gras, a leg of king crab and uni from Hokkaido, and abalone from the Big Island—one of the few featured local items on the menu.

 

A surprise hit: Kahuku corn panna cotta topped with thyme-flavored consommé jelly and Osetra caviar. 

The first course turned out to be one of the best of the evening, and used local ingredients: a panna cotta made of Kahuku corn topped with thyme-flavored consommé jelly, Osetra caviar and garnished with thyme leaves. The airy texture and subtle sweetness of the corn paired perfectly with the slightly salty consommé and caviar.    

 

The next course was a rockfish carpaccio infused with kombu, dressed in a finger-lime vinaigrette and topped with ikura (salmon roe). Finger lime is a micro-citrus that’s filled with little orbs of lime juice—like citrus caviar—that pop in your mouth. Though it was discovered growing wild in Australia, finger limes are now cultivated at Wailea Agricultural Group on the Big Island. This dish, arranged with microgreens, was as gorgeous as it was tasty.

 

THIS KONBU-INFUSED ROCKFISH CARPACCIO IS DRESSED IN A VINAIGRETTE OF BIG ISLAND FINGER LIMES AND IKURA. 

 

Though this is clearly a Japanese restaurant, the European influence is strong. Take the jambon persille, an old-fashioned French dish of jellied ham with parsley and shallots, served with a horseradish mayonnaise. Or the very refreshing —and very Spanish—chilled cherry gazpacho garnished with a slice of kiwi.

 

Like its sushi sister, Sumikawa excels at seafood technique. The rockfish was sautéed with the skin on, keeping it moist and flavorful, and served over lentils with a white-wine cream sauce. The Big Island abalone was paired with a rich black butter sauce that had a slight hazelnut flavor. And the crab didn’t need anything to shine on its own.

 

But on to the Kobe. It arrived on a decorative ceramic plate, two densely marbled, small slabs of Japanese beef with slices of Maui onion, bok choy and a stalk of purple spring onions.

 

The chef recommended that both Kobe and Omi beef be cooked to a medium or medium-well finish because of the high fat content. I wasn’t going to argue with a highly trained chef holding a knife.

 

Sumikawa shines with seafood. This rockfish sautéed skin-on is served over lentils and a white wine sauce. 
PHOTOS: STEVE CZERNIAK

 

There were several ways we could eat the beef. We could rub the cooked meat on a small plate made of pink Himalayan salt—a souvenir you take home—to add a delicate salty flavor. Or choose from three sauces: an artisan Kamebishi shoyu from Kagawa Prefecture that’s aged in cedar casks for three years; a sweet Maui onion sauce with white wine, mustard seeds and horseradish; or a creamy house-made sesame dressing. Or just dab wasabi on the beef, dip it in shoyu and top it with a deep-fried garlic chip or two. 

 

But first, I just took a bite. No sauce or salt plate. I wanted to try the Kobe beef in its purest form.

 

Prefecture that’s aged in cedar casks for three years; a sweet Maui onion sauce with white wine, mustard seeds and horseradish; or a creamy house-made sesame dressing. Or just dab wasabi on the beef, dip it in shoyu and top it with a deep-fried garlic chip or two. 

 

Kobe beef’s high levels of unsaturated fatty acids make each morsel melt-in-your-mouth tender.

But first, I just took a bite. No sauce or salt plate. I wanted to try the Kobe beef in its purest form.

 

Now, the reason Kobe beef is so fatty and tender is the closely guarded secret of Japanese ranchers. Do they feed their cattle beer or give them massages? We can’t say, but we do know this: Kobe beef contains high levels of unsaturated fatty acids, which melt at a much lower temperature than saturated fatty acids. So the fat in a piece of Kobe beef literally melts in your mouth. It’s not your imagination. Which is why you’re served just 3.5 ounces: That’s enough.

 

The Kobe is soft and tender, similar to otoro, or super-fatty bluefin tuna, that dissolves in your mouth.

 

The Omi beef, though, wasn’t as sweet or fatty, and I actually preferred the meatier flavor. (The restaurant will start offering Miyazaki beef, too, later this year.)

 

While we ate the tender meat, the chef took pieces of the fat, fried them almost crisp and added them to the garlic rice on the flat-top. That concoction almost made me cry.

 

As did the check. We opted for one Kobe beef menu at $250 and one $200 Omi beef. (It gave me pause even though I have paid $295 for a meal at Vintage Cave.) Restaurant manager Manbong Ching pointed out that you don’t pay gratuity here, which saved about $100 in tip.

 

For anyone who’s dropped full paychecks at sushi bars—you know who you are—Sumikawa offers high-quality food you can’t get anywhere else. 

 

This isn’t the kind of place you’d dine in monthly or on an average girlfriends’ night out. Sumikawa is for serious foodies who wouldn’t hesitate to splurge on a 3.5-ounce piece of beef. Think special occasion, not pau hana. And you have to be OK with the chef watching you eat his dish. While holding a knife.

 

 Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa, 1726 S. King St., 784-0567, teppanyaki-ginzasumikawa.com

 

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