New: Rinka, a Japanese restaurant in Honolulu

Left: spicy pork hot pot; right: abalone croquette

The sliding shoji door to Rinka, sharing the same building as Heald College, reveals a different world, shutting out the grit and smells of Makaloa Street and the packed-to-the-crustacean-gills Kickin' Kajun across the way. There's even a Zen rock garden (the rocks resembling the Hawaii island chain) by the entrance hallway and waiting area, to help you achieve serenity while you wait for your table to clear. Inside, it's a mix of concrete and wood and a tatami room. Thanks to a Japanese media push, the tables are filled with Japanese nationals, keeping what might have been a hushed space lively.

The menu is long, with items categorized into fried and boiled, shabu shabu and hotpot, sushi and sashimi, udon and donburi. It is in turns comforting (the spicy pork hot pot) and unexpected (an abalone croquette). I'd recommend the hot pot, but I'm on the fence with the abalone croquette. You probably won't be able to resist ordering it, seeing it coming out to other tables, a vaguely seafood-flavored béchamel spooned into an abalone shell, crusted with panko and adorned with tonkatsu sauce. See, you're curious, right?

Left: abalone and daikon; right: sashimi combination

Other unique items: the grated lotus root manju, slightly chewy and sticky, more like a savory mochi dumpling than the sweet manju pastries we usually think of; and the awabi daikon, off the specials menu, baby abalone simmered with daikon until oh-so-tender. Another special: dried, grilled fish of various varieties, such as kinmedai, a large-eyed snapper, fun to pick the meat off the bones if you can get over the ghastly Silence of the Lambs-esque presentation.

Dried and grilled kinmedai

The adventurous will find much to sample at Rinka, but be aware that the flavors are subtle. Also, those looking for sushi and sashimi might be disappointed. Oh-toro from Tsukiji fish market surely melts away on the tongue, but leaves behind sinew. A sashimi plate offers a mundane assortment of fish; for the price, I've had better variety and freshness at nearby Sushi ii.

Average check $30/person
1500 Kapiolani Blvd. (entrance on Makaloa St., across from Kickin' Kajun), 941-5159,