Where Japanese nationals eat Japanese food

IMG_4425No doubt, Japanese food is a staple here in Hawaii, and when we have a craving for sushi, tonkatsu or udon, there literally are hundreds of restaurants to consider. But where do Japanese nationals eat Japanese food? Are their preferences really different from the tastes of Japanese Americans and other locals?

We went on a quest to find out where those originally from Japan, but now living in the islands, dine when in the mood for Japanese. They told us about their go-to destinations and what they order, whether it’s comfort food, expertly prepared dishes or meals they remember loving back home.

Miho Yamanouchi

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Originally from Osaka, Miho Yamanouchi first moved to Hawaii in 2005. She then moved back and forth between Japan and the U.S, living in Hawaii for a total of six years. Yamanouchi loves to travel and try new, exciting food.

(In case you missed it, we’ve covered Where real Vietnamese eat Vietnamese food and Where real Koreans eat Korean food).

Chuggy’s picks: Restaurant Week 2014

SigResizeRestaurant Week is typically a time for diners to flock to Hawaii restaurants for a taste of special prix fixe fare, discounted aged steaks and other promotional menu items. Between Nov. 17-23, eateries once again will be packed as people spend the week before Thanksgiving dining at select restaurants, while raising money for the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head.

But with 77 participating restaurants, how do you choose which ones to hit?

Let me break down my methodology to help you choose where to make reservations (highly recommended).

1. Start with your “bucket list”
Scan the list for all the restaurants you’d love to hit, but usually reserve for special occasions. Restaurant Week is a great time to see what a top tier restaurant has to offer without breaking the bank. Use this experience to determine if you’re going to spend your hard earned dollars for a birthday, anniversary or special event.

The top of my list this year is Azure, known for its masterful preparation of seafood. At $65 for a four-course dinner, featuring kampachi, Kona lobster, Kauai prawns and Hawaii Ranchers filet with foie gras, it’s easily the best deal in town.

For one of the best views for a romantic dinner, check out Top of Waikiki’s $49 four-course menu. The roasted pork tenderloin with farro and fruit salad with mango mostarda caught my eye.

baklava2. Step our of your comfort zone
If you’re a creature of habit like me, you eat at same restaurants and order the same dishes time after time. Why not try a place like Kan Zaman for some Moroccan and Lebanese food? This $30 dinner menu is a bargain three-course menu complete with their decadent baklava and comforting Moroccan mint tea.

Looking for consistently amazing food outside of town? Look no further than Le Bistro in Niu Valley. This French restaurant is East Oahu’s best kept secret and has put together an intriguing three-course menu for Restaurant Week, that features such possibilities as a dish of Calvados (an apple brandy) chicken breast with caramelized granny smith apples, gruyere and tatsoi for $50 per person.

3. Don’t waste your money on overly antiquated or trendy food
Ain’t nobody got time for that. Braised short ribs and pork belly are a thing of the past and unless you’re still toting around a pager, it’s time to upgrade to dishes like little neck clams and Nueske bacon in a sake garlic butter dashi and breast of duck sous vide in duck fat with a port wine gastrique at Japengo for $49 (includes four courses). Doesn’t that sound so much better?

4. Invite friends and have some fun
Personally, I never dine alone. Whether that’s a symptom of wanting to photograph more dishes and needing more mouths to eat them all or an undiagnosed need for human interaction, I love sharing meals with friends and invite them along as much as possible.

Tiki’s Grill and Bar might sound like a tourist trap, but I assure you chef Ronnie Nasuti (a Roy’s Restaurant alum) expertly captures the essence of living in Hawaii and translates it into a diverse menu of Asian and Pacific Island flavors. Just looking at the appetizer of kalbi gyoza, guava glazed ribs, coconut shrimp and island ahi tartare with white truffle is enough to convince me to make a reservation. (The four-course meal is $39.)

sushiI remember Shokudo Japanese Restaurant and Bar as a popular spot for the high school crowd to eat and hang out. And now I must admit that although I’ve always considered their food mediocre, they’ve stepped up their game in recent years earning my approval. The six-course Japanese tasting menu ($38) for Restaurant Week looks like an excellent bargain for high-quality fish.

5. Don’t forget lunch
Live a little. Don’t bring home lunch for once and enjoy a nice meal at one of these two gems.

rw13Stage Restaurant has one of the best burgers in Hawaii. A juicy angus beef patty, avocado, bacon, onions, mushrooms, two types of cheeses, lettuce, tomato and a thousand island sauce is piled onto a house made brioche bun that will satisfy the most discerning burger aficionados. It’s part of a $30, three-course prix fixe lunch option.

My favorite Restaurant Week meal is also the most casual at Hank’s Haute Dogs. Last year they featured a rich bratwurst Francais with truffle cheese fries. This year, Hank’s is cooking up a Polish Rueben ($9.50) with potato latkes. Be sure to get it with their refreshing frozen pineapple ice.

For the full offering of restaurants and menus, visit RestaurantWeekHawaii.com

Something new: Choco le’a

IMG_7902An artisan chocolatier quietly expanded their shop in late September taking over the former LMS Boutique in Manoa.

The story begins with Erin Kanno Uehara and her chocolate obsession, which led her on a search for the most delectable truffles on the planet. Her search ended when she found silky smooth bites made by Colins Kawai who started making chocolates as a hobby for dinner parties for the past 14 years. Uehara then found out from family that Kawai is her uncle and the two made an instant connection over his chocolates and the Choco le’a company was born.

Kawai, a self-taught chocolatier shared his craft with Erin and her husband Chris and started making chocolates for family and friends in 2010. Orders for special events, weddings and wholesale started coming in and Choco le’a began selling to places like the Moana Surfrider, Red Pineapple and Eden In Love. Uehara, a former school teacher and dance instructor, decided it was time to pursue her passion and make Choco le’a a full time endeavor. She envisioned her future shop to have a welcoming feel and a white picket fence. As she searched for a location, the stumbled upon the space with exactly that on Lowrey Ave. nestled in breezy Manoa.

IMG_7931Specializing in chocolate truffles, macadamia nut clusters and dipped fruits, Choco le’a is a family-owned-business that started as a hobby and donates a portion of each sale to charity.

Using a combination of the finest Hawaiian and Belgian chocolate, Choco le’a creates a wide assortment of truffle flavors ranging from red velvet and cookie butter to lychee liqueur and Guinness beer. The shop carries 18 flavors that change weekly often releasing new flavors inspired by customers so be sure to let them know what you like.

With the holidays quickly approaching, visit the shop for sweet gift ideas like the 9-piece truffle box ($19.99) to the luxurious 20-piece truffle box ($39.99). They also offer a six month club membership ($210) where you pick your own 20-piece box per month.

The grand opening is set for Saturday, November 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. where they will be serving Dom Perignon champagne truffles and a sipping chocolate drink.

Something new: Choco le'a

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Tucked deep in Manoa, Choco le'a can easily be found by the white picket fence fronting the store.

Parking is available at the adjacent lot on East Manoa Road as well as ample free street parking in the neighborhood.

Choco le’a
2909 Lowrey Ave.
Shop hours:
Tuesday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

New eats: Food trucks and street vendors

New food trucks and vendors continue to pop up at events, farmers markets and on the streets, serving up all kinds of dishes, desserts and drinks. Last week’s Eat the Street welcomed five new vendors, and more newcomers are expected at this month’s Honolulu Night Market.

One of the trends we’ve noticed is a move toward healthier offerings, including cold-pressed juices, kombucha and more. Here are seven new vendors we spotted in recent weeks:

Nani Kore Hawaii

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Nani Kore Hawaii is a gourmet kimchi vendor making appearances at farmers' markets around town. Using locally grown Hawaiian produce, Nani Kore makes small batches of their signature kimchi and adds them to local dishes.

The kimchi is crunchy and packed with flavor. Unlike store-bought varieties, you can expect a full-bodied, slightly spicy product that can be used as a side or ingredient to enhance your home cooking.

Follow @nanikorehawaii on Instagram for their market schedule that currently includes Windward Mall, Kapolei High School, HMSA (Keeaumoku), Waianae Mall and Windward Mall.

Ask Frolic: Double date night

IMG_3861Ever since I started posting my eating adventures on Instagram, people around town have been asking me for restaurant recommendations for all kinds of occasions.

I figure some of the information might be useful for others, so we decided to start a regular feature on Frolic, where readers can ask us questions about dining, nightlife, events, entertainment, fashion, and we’ll do our best to offer suggestions. So if you have a question or need a recommendation, email us at editor@frolichawaii.com or me directly at grant@frolichawaii.com. You can also hit me up on social media at @chuggy_bear (Twitter and Instagram). We’ll keep things anonymous if you prefer. So here goes with the first question:

Hungry Harry “Chuggy, I need a nice place for a double date. Preferably a restaurant where we can sit, relax and have a great meal. We would prefer a place with nice ambiance since we’re wanting to get to know each other better.”

IMG_3851Harry, my favorite spot for a nice meal where you can open a few bottles of wine and catch up is La Cucina Ristorante Italiano. Chef Don Truong makes the most delicious house-made pastas each day and has a deft hand in creating memorable dishes. Call ahead and make a reservation; the restaurant is small and is always packed. This hidden gem is a hot commodity in Honolulu, and those who have tried the food always return.

My recommendation would be to share each dish family style and sample a variety of flavors throughout the night. Be prepared to enjoy a lengthy meal, about two hours, for a table of four. Start off with the mushroom crostini, toasted slices of bread topped with fresh mozzarella, diced mushrooms and drizzled with a touch of truffle oil. The aroma of the truffles is right on top and makes your mouth water and crave more.

IMG_3603Next, order three to five entrees based on the appetites of your party. My personal favorite is the risotto funghi, a creamy, rich, risotto that melts in your mouth. This is easily one of my favorite dishes of all time and I could polish off a bowl all to myself.

I also like to add in the trenette norcina, a ribbon-edged pasta like a thinner lasagna with a hearty house-made spicy sausage. The fennel in the sausage gives it some bite and balances well with the tomato based sauce. The special pasta clings onto just enough sauce in each bite.

IMG_3616For something more delicate, the carbonara is prepared Roman-style, a lighter version that isn’t weighed down by heavy cream. Bites of pancetta are land mines of flavor hidden in the coils of al dente pasta.

And save room for dessert. The tiramisu is some of the best I’ve had. Light, fluffy layers contain decadence that you need to end your meal with. Get two orders for the table and share or if you’re all dessert lovers, get one for each person.

La Cucina Ristorante Italiano
725 Kapiolani Blvd.