Neiman Marcus’ New Postcards from Japan Menu Brings a Taste of Upscale Oishii

Dishes at Mariposa restaurant and an in-store trunk show of epicurean goods highlight flavors and traditions of southern Japan’s Saga Prefecture.


Ever notice how Japanese department stores are sandwiched by food? Trendy and luxe restaurants get the prime real estate on the top floors while basements called depachika are dedicated to confections, prepared food and omiyage gifts. I’m not sure how this came to be in Japan, but in Hawai‘i a recent visit to Neiman Marcus had me doing a double-take. 


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Located on the third floor near men’s shoes. Photo: Thomas Obungen


Through the month of November, you’ll find a collection of gifts and goods fresh off the plane from Saga, Japan. The campaign, Postcards from Japan, is a new foray for Neiman Marcus and its Mariposa restaurant. Alan Takasaki (who left Hau Tree to become Mariposa’s general manager earlier this year), executive chef Lawrence Nakamoto and sous chef Corey Harimoto are using ingredients from the collection to prepare a special menu that is metcha oishii, so delicious.


Start with the chicken karaage ($16), which a little birdie told me is adapted from Izakaya Gazen’s recipe. Harimoto, who was a chef at Gazen before it closed, takes it up a notch by crossing the fried chicken with a French-style frisée salad with radicchio and a runny onsen poached egg. He dresses the frisée with sloshes of a bright shoga (ginger) dressing that is sold out at the department store now because it’s so addicting. Don’t worry, I’m told more bottles are on the way. 


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


Folks who want something light will gravitate toward the somen salad ($24) featuring noodles from Inoue Seimen, a Saga-based factory dating back to 1873. The somen is dressed in a light shiitake mushroom dressing before it’s garnished with dashimaki tamago omelet, fresh watercress and sesame roasted broccoli. Add grilled shrimp for $10 more. 


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


The wasabi-marinated flat iron steak ($30) is a fairly standard option apart from the special Saga-grown rice it’s served with. The steak is tender, as expected, but is merely a side to the sticky Nikomaru rice that’s a better version of Koshihikari, because it doesn’t get hard when it cools down and makes bentos shine. 


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


The pan-fried scallops ($34) are my favorite dish from the hosted tasting. Tender with crisp edges, they soak up the smoked dashi butter sauce with nori pesto so well. Everyone at the table wished the sauces that commingled on this plate were available for purchase. Sadly, we could only dredge our popovers through the sauce. 


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


Allow me to temper your expectations a little: Neiman’s does not have a depachika. However, its epicurean department, with crates of highly allocated wines and cases of luxury chocolates and candy, is essentially its affluent American cousin, except it’s right next to the restaurant.


Depachika are brimming with the sights, sounds and smells of things delicious and delightful. It’s easy to get caught up in the urge to splurge on everything in sight. At least, that’s how I felt perusing the small selection in Honolulu. 


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Photo: Thomas Obungen


Saga Prefecture is on the main island of Kyushu in southern Japan and is known primarily for its agricultural products, ceramics and tea which you’ll notice in the collection. I found a $36 hinoki cypress wood musubi mold that supposedly absorbs excess water and enhances the riceballs’ flavor. I also found Ureshino matcha and sencha green tea gift sets ($10 to $35); a black truffle shoyu ($18) that’d be perfect for amping up some sashimi; and fabulous furikake and roasted nori sets ($34 to $68) that deserve to be paired with a pack of Nikomaru rice ($15). 


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Furikake and nori gift set ($68). Photo: Thomas Obungen


The campaign is off to a good start in Hawai‘i, where our appetite for all things Japanese accounts for these pretty new displays under the iridescent butterflies. I’m told replenishment items are en route from other Neiman Marcus stores to help the Ala Moana location keep up with the demand. The special menu at Mariposa is expected to run through the end of November, making it a worthy alternative to the onslaught of turkey and prime rib in our near future.


Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., 1450 Ala Moana Blvd, (808) 951-3420, Postcards from Japan menu, @mariposahawaii