New restaurant: Ko, in the former Ninniku-ya space

Above: appetizer bites; below: sushi

A new restaurant has taken over Ninniku-ya, the homey little place that we loved for its garlic-doused specialities as much as its cozy ambience. As Ko, it's been completely renovated into a modern, bright white space, though the mango tree, severely pruned but still growing through a hole cut in the ceiling, remains.

Left: lotus root manju; right: pork loin with yuzu pepper

But Ko hasn't completely shaken off the ghost of Ninnikuya; preparations remain rustic even though it bills itself as a kaiseki restaurant. I'd call it more of a set menu, for it doesn't offer the refinement and seasonality I expect in kaiseki. But tomayto/tomahto, is it any good? I'd say, better to visit after 10 p.m., when you can order a la carte. Before 10, you're forced into an unexciting set menu: nine courses for either $40 or $55, the latter giving you more luxe options, such as Wagyu, for your main entree.

Above: snow crab wrapped in pickled carrot and daikon; below: fried seafood with salt and pepper, tamari, and ponzu with daikon

The opener is a bit of a yawn: single bites of kabocha, eggplant, egg, and what tastes like pastrami from an Oscar Mayer package. Huh? Sashimi is fresh, but of the usual ahi-salmon-hamachi variety. Then tempura sushi—bland. We were starting to feel discouraged by the whole experience, but a chewy lotus root manju in thickened dashi perked us up, leading into a sizzling platter of pork loin with some yuzu pepper sauce on the side. It spit hot oil all over the table as if rebelling against the pristine whiteness of Ko.

Left: kamameshi; right: monaka with vanilla ice cream and azuki

Two more unmemorable courses, and then the best came at the end—kamameshi, a warm pot of rice with salmon and ikura, mixed table side, and dessert, a delicate wafer sandwiching ice cream and azuki. Good, soothing stuff, just not what I expect in a $40 "kaiseki" menu. So instead, I'd come for the late night a la carte, to order the lotus root manju, the kamameshi and the dessert.

Restaurant Ko, 3196 Waialae Ave., 888-5975