New izakaya: Wada

Photos by Martha Cheng

It’s a funny sequence of events that led me to Wada: I tried to go to Sushi ii on a Monday. It was closed. I ended up at Izakaya Shinn, where I had a lackluster meal, but who should I sit next to? Garrett Wong, the sushi chef at Sushi ii. He tipped me off to Wada, a new izakaya in the old Tokkuri Tei spot. (Keeping track in the izakaya-name dropping spree?)

To Wada I went, and it was amazing. You wouldn’t recognize it as the old, cramped, slightly dingy Tokkuri Tei. The whole place has been elegantly finished in wood; the gleaming kitchen opens into the dining room. Lots of photos to follow because I love reliving the memory of this dinner. We ordered the $55 tasting menu, eight courses in a beautiful kaiseki sequence.

First (above), a charred, sweet scallop on top of silky tofu melded with crab, with shimeji mushrooms and a sliver of shrimp. Topped with just a dot of ume-shiso for pucker.

Then sea urchin roe sitting on a raw, thin slice of marbled beef.

Plump, juicy clams in dashi with expertly fried fish—the batter crisp like senbei, the fish inside meaty and firm.

A plate of sashimi next: tako, Japanese snapper, ahi.

And then my favorite part: ishiyaki, or stone grill. The server brought a hot, heavy stone on a portable gas burner to our table along with paper-thin slices of beef tongue. Grill it for seven seconds on one side, three seconds on the other, he instructed. We did one slice at a time, dragged it through a bright ponzu dipping sauce, and savored the uniquely toothsome yet tender texture of each piece.

Our server returned to sautee onions, garlic, mushrooms and hirami (beef nuggets—from the diaphragm, apparently) on the stone dish.

The last course before dessert–always the starchy, filler course in a kaiseki sequence–was not a throwaway dish as it can be. Cold, chewy yam noodles mixed with peanuts, ground beef tongue (they like tongue here) and pickles in a spicy black sesame sauce were refreshing, yet fulfilling.

To finish, a milk pudding, like a well-executed flan.

I’ll be back very, very soon. 

611 Kapahulu Ave., 737-0125,