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Happy Veganuary: Revisiting Tane Vegan Izakaya in Honolulu
A new risotto promoting a meatless January is excuse enough to reacquaint ourselves with Mō‘ili‘ili's plant-based izakaya.
Revisiting Tane Vegan Izakaya is like reconnecting with that stranger you met at a party once who had the same taste in fashion, friends and food—pickled mango and rice, you too?! We’ve fallen off each other’s radars, but when we hear Tane has a new dish celebrating Veganuary, a global movement encouraging meat-free eating in January, the excitement of discovery wells up again and we head back to Mō‘ili‘ili.
It all comes back in a flash: the sleek, dark space, the gleaming wood sushi counter with socially distanced seating, walls of slate-gray pebbles. The look hasn’t changed since the last time we were here nearly two years ago, when chef Kin Lui and his partners opened this Honolulu extension of Shizen, their acclaimed vegan izakaya in San Francisco. Nor has the structure of the menu. We peruse it hungrily, and in a burst of enthusiasm fueled by a limey basil mojito ($11), order in a blur from the top down: old favorites combined with new recommendations and curiosities.
In short, we pig out at Tane. Menu choices follow traditional izakaya classifications like salads, simmered dishes, fried foods, grilled items and so forth. The highlights: Poke salad ($13) is an edible welcome to vegan Hawai‘i—soft greens, plenty of green onion and ogo seaweed and soft, meaty cubes of marinated tofu, all scented with sesame oil and soy. Chilled nasu agebitashi ($7), or eggplant bathed in a light broth of soy and vegan dashi, is a familiar and soothing izakaya staple, the silken chunks made rich and indulgent by deep-frying.
The nigiri sushi (all $7 for a pair) is as revelatory as the first time and the best showcase of Tane’s artfulness and flavor sensibilities. The deep pink dab atop the avocado nigiri is a beet aioli with hints of smoky vegan dashi; it’s hard to believe it’s not made with real katsuobushi shavings. Eggplant nigiri gets a salty edge from saikyo miso and, exactly the way fatty fish is treated at a sushi bar, a sprinkle of sharp green onions. And that mango? Pickly sour with a crown of citrus-avocado purée. It’s tempting to go back and make a meal of these nigiri and more, like asparagus with garlic-citrus aioli and ichimi spice, fried gobo with sweet soy and chile flakes, corn kernels with garlic soy and wasabi wrapped in nori, and slick, chewy yuba tofu skins brushed with yuzu soy and wasabi.
Veganuary’s star dish ($17) turns out to be a mushroom risotto with squash and eryngii mushroom croquettes developed with Sophie’s Kitchen, a national vegan brand. The croquettes’ crunchy exterior gives way to an earthy, creamy filling; word from Tane co-owner Casson Trenor is that Sophie’s Kitchen plans to offer them as a frozen item. The risotto is even creamier, with an amazing nutritional yeast-derived umami that tastes deeply of cheese and shrimp stock.
Our one regret is a caution for next time: Having ordered three deep-fried dishes up front—brussels sprouts ($11—these are standard but what can I say? We were hungry), assorted vegetable tempura ($12, see brussels sprouts) and a whole plate of tempura-fried Shizen Shiitake stuffed with tofu ($12, crunchy-soft with dashes of matcha salt; would order again)—we’re too full to revisit the ramen and specialty sushi rolls like the Kailua ($15), with ginger soy tomato and pickled mango, or the best-selling tempura-fried Wedge roll ($17) with spicy tofu and mushrooms. We waddle out afterward having learned the implausible but obvious—it is possible to overindulge in fried vegan food (cue forehead slap)—but glad to have caught up and promising to meet again.