Find the Best Budget Tasting Menu in Honolulu at Akira Japanese Restaurant
This hidden happy hour kaiseki on King Street costs less than $50.
From left: housemade tofu, mozuku seaweed from Okinawa, simmered eggplant
Photos: Martha Cheng
One doesn’t usually associate the terms “budget” and “tasting menu” with one another. But Akira, which opened at the end of 2018, offers a nine-course kaiseki for $48 that’s as exquisite as more expensive tasting menus in Honolulu. The catch: You’ll need to reserve a table between 4 and 5:30 p.m. and order the happy hour tasting menu in advance, since there are only 10 prepared each day.
From left: saury, aji, Spanish mackerel and scallop
Akira occupies a small, somewhat generic space tucked into the ground floor of an office building where there’s a lot going on with the mouth—above Akira are dentists’ suites, and right beside, Morio’s Sushi Bistro. Compared to the boisterous Morio’s Sushi Bistro, with its ebullient namesake owner and generous cuts of fish, Akira is much more restrained. Its chef, Taiki Kawai—who writes on Akira’s website, “I will continue to pursue perfection every day from now on”—keeps to the walled-off kitchen, serving up precise, jewel-like courses, in which the texture and aesthetic of each plate or bowl is as carefully considered as each bite it holds.
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Salmon (below) and ankimo
At Akira, the progression of dishes that characterizes kaiseki—from sashimi to a grilled dish to fried—begins with a refreshing cold trio of house-made tofu, simmered eggplant, and mozuku seaweed from Okinawa in vinegar topped with a bit of snow crab and ginger. For the sashimi course, raw tako, thinly sliced and delicately scored, is so tender I can’t believe it’s tako. Kinmedai, flushed pink, and a slice of sudachi (a citrus), fill out the tableau. Other dishes in the series include steamed clams, grilled unagi and fried mehikari, a small fish barely larger than an anchovy, served with curry salt. Some of my favorite bites came toward the end: smooth and buttery ankimo liver, the foie gras of the sea, balanced with ponzu; and the sushi course, arranged from the darker tasting seafood to light—saury, aji, Spanish mackerel and scallop—on small pedestals of rice.
This is just a glimpse of what you might get: Kaiseki is seasonal and so the dishes change frequently. It is an excellent deal, though when we finished, I found myself lusting after our neighbor’s hamachi kama, a huge hunk of fish that looked as satisfying as a steak. Next time, I’ll try the à la carte menu, which includes many of the tasting menu dishes in larger portions, as well as a snapper and grapefruit carpaccio ($10.50). A seasonal specials menu included shirako offered four ways—do you prefer your fish sperm plain in ponzu or in a chawanmushi? (I say chawanmushi, where its creaminess matches the egg custard.) There’s also a happy hour à la carte menu from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 to 10 p.m., offering a small chirashi ($9.50) and fried arare-crusted lobster ($9.50). No matter when you come, a reservation is strongly recommended, as this small space fills up fast. Akira’s ambiance is not as evocative as where Kawai used to work—as the head chef at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel and the now-shuttered Izakaya Shinn—but the food is every bit as memorable.
Monday through Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m., 1150 S. King St., #101-B, (808) 376-0928
READ MORE STORIES BY MARTHA CHENG
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