Super Secret Izakaya Elevates Japanese Street Food to Kaiseki Cuisine
The only way to reserve is by Instagram direct message and yes, the name of the place is Super Secret Izakaya.
Inside Waikīkī’s Luana Hotel, a solid wood door separates a small restaurant space from the lobby. The door is a detail that echoes homey izakaya spots deeply special to Ricky Goings, the chef behind the $150 prix fixe dinners that unfold behind it, course by meticulous course. You may not have heard of Goings, but the list of kitchens he’s cooked in reads like a cross-section of the local food scene over the past decade: now-shuttered izakaya Aki-no-No, He‘eia Kea Pier General Store & Deli, Prima, Butcher & Bird, Sushi Ii and others. Now, at Super Secret Izakaya in the Luana’s Fish Hook Café space, Goings bares the chief lesson he learned from the pandemic, which claimed the life of his father: What matters most is cooking from the soul.
For Goings this means his version of kaiseki in an elevated izakaya setting, following the progression of courses of a traditional kaiseki meal. Like other prix-fixe restaurants, this one is by reservation only; like other kaiseki restaurants, there are no menu substitutions. I know Goings pretty well, having worked with him years ago and followed his career since. He’s invited me to a private tasting, a preview of what he’s debuting to the public. So if all eaters in your party are open to anything, and to eating well and eating a lot, you can find yourself seated in the cozy dining room with a mix of hip-hop and metal humming through the speakers. I recommend bringing sake, as it will get jovial.
The meal starts with a thin, bubbly cracker topped with an herbed smoked salmon spread sprinkled with lemon zest. This is paired with a cold pressed spinach salad lightly seeping sesame oil with tiny pops of shrimp and bonito flakes left over from making dashi. While unassuming on its surface, the combination is deep and ethereal, making me excited for what’s to come.
Although I have read the menu, each dish is equally unexpected in some way. The progression of seven savory courses followed by dessert and fruits is smooth and easy, and the portions are plentiful. A light avocado soup comes next, its creaminess cut by pops of smoked trout roe and grounded with slightly bitter toasted black beans; cilantro lingers in the background. For the grilled course, we get an interpretation of tsukune, the grilled skewers of seasoned minced chicken found at yakitori counters. Since the kitchen doesn’t have an actual grill, these are deep-fried menchi katsu style, filled with havarti cheese, drizzled with a decades-old mother tare sauce that Goings carried back from Japan and draped with copious amounts of feathered Australian black truffles. It’s our first hint that we’re in for a run of humble street-style izakaya dishes, pushed to the limit of delicacy and elevated more than a few notches.
Next up is my favorite dish of the evening: takoyaki, Osaka’s famous grilled octopus street dumplings, but in this case a crispy ‘ulu cake, creamy in the middle and studded with tender pieces of tako. On top is a dollop of bright and spicy tarako mayo melting into the crevices. But the dish is a double pun: It’s also Goings’ homage to the taco rice at Ethel’s Grill (tako versus taco, get it?), so the ‘ulu cake sits on a bed of iceberg lettuce, its ragout of chorizo carrying a hint of cinnamon. It hits all the buttons. The spiciness is rounded out and leaves me with a slow burn. Curry butter crab and a cream croquette follow. Next, a smoky aroma wafts from behind the counter, drawing approving hoots and hollers from our table (you can make some noise at this kaiseki), before small earthen pots are placed in front of us. More aromatic kiawe smoke escapes when we lift the lids. In true kaiseki style, the last course is a savory rice dish with takuan adding crunchy, tart pops while cubes of konyaku play on the palate like ika. On top are perfectly slimy wild mushrooms and more black truffles. We are stuffed.
One of the things I always liked among Goings’ dishes at Sushi Ii were his foie gras specials. Now, after taking us on a personal journey through the food that he loves, comes the weirdly delicious finale that, knowing Goings’ personality, I realize I’ve subconsciously been waiting for. It’s still unexpected: a foie gras and Nutter Butter sandwich with berry jam dusted with kinako roasted soy powder. The combination garners smiles, laughs and moans. If you’re ready to book a seat, direct-message Goings at his Instagram below, and know that by the end of the meal you’ll have gotten a good look at the heart of this chef, because this time around it’s all about him.
2045 Kalākaua Ave., @blackangus_