J-Shop’s New Izakaya is a Hidden Gem in a Hidden Gem
Head after hours to this Young Street market for daily specials of tender ‘ahi belly nitsuke, torched dynamite and buttery sashimi.
Japanophiles and Japanese nationals who miss products from home know about J-Shop, a niche market that sells limited foods and snacks from Japan. (Think of a micro-Marukai.) You can get slabs of wagyu, small-batch shoyu, specialty ume plums, high-end espresso … you get the idea.
They import so many ingredients from Japan, for a long time they had a little plate lunch business on the side of the store so you could get affordable meals to go for a taste of what J-Shop has to offer. As we all pull out of the pandemic, the shop decided to start an izakaya in the evenings, after hours. The reasons are not important since the reasons are different depending on who you talk to. On this day, the answer I got was, “We wanted to try something different.”
They’ve been operating the izakaya since July 22, but they like to warn everyone that they are still in the “soft opening” phase. The kitchen is run by their chef, known only by his nickname, Chu-san. I asked what his real name is, and no one in the store seems to know. I met Chu-san himself and asked him what his real name is, and he laughed and said, “Just call me Chu-san.”
I guess what I’m trying to tell you is: Don’t dwell on the details. Go to J-Shop with friends so you can share more plates, and BYOB—in fact, if you want soft drinks, you’ll have to bring that, too, because they only serve water and tea. The store is closed so you can’t buy anything off their shelves either.
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There’s a standard menu of sushi, sashimi, and other cooked items, but they recommend you consider the daily specials first. The bestseller on the regular menu is the tako karaage ($12.50), which was our favorite, too. Tender morsels of octopus, lightly breaded and deep fried.
One of the surprises on the menu was the tamagoyaki ($9.50), which is very unattractive but very delicious. It had the right amount of delicate savoriness and the egg was properly soft. Other items like the assorted tempura ($25) and misoyaki butterfish ($21) were up to par. The ‘ahi belly netsuke on special ($19.50) was one of my favorites, as the fish was moist and the accompanying tofu was silky, with the shoyu flavor permeating perfectly.
I also recommend the dynamite ($7) if they have it, as you can’t go wrong with torched seafood drizzled with spicy mayo! And for those of you who like bitter melon, the goya champuru ($8) has a good balance of pork, tofu and egg with it so there isn’t too much bitterness in the dish.
If you’re going to have sushi, I recommend the bite-sized negitoro (minced fatty tuna, $12.95) or the toro taku (takuan and fatty tuna, $7). You can get the freshness of the fish in this shareable form without much rice to weigh you down. Friends who have had the nigiri were not fans of the rice, so skip the carbs as much as you can and just enjoy the high-quality sashimi. We had the hamachi ($20), which was fresh and buttery.
There are only three desserts for those of you who need to end your meal on a sweet note: Custard pudding with whipped cream ($5), prepackaged yuzu sorbet ($9.75), and citrus sorbet ($17.50), which is frozen in a hollowed-out orange. We liked the unphotogenic yuzu the best, since it’s light, but I also love my custard pudding. The citrus sorbet in the orange was good, but maybe not $17.50 good. At least I can say that I tried it.
Like many places, you just need to know what to order. As mentioned, you can skip the rice. There were a couple of dishes that didn’t quite hit the mark for us, like the unagi tempura. But for the most part, it’s good, and the BYOB is a huge plus. Dishes may seem a little expensive, as the store is, but once you split the bill with your friends, it may come out to about $30 to $40 per person (depending on what you order, not including wagyu). Not bad for a unique experience. After all, they are still in the soft opening phase.
J-Shop’s izakaya is open Monday through Saturday from 5:30 to 9 p.m. and reservations are required. They have their own lot with ample free parking.
1513 Young St, (808) 200-5076, @jshophawaii