Baku is awash in hues of blues, with booths framed in natural wood and Asian parasols dangling overhead. Honolulu's newest izakaya is bright and whimsical, with food and staff to match.
The last restaurant in the lineup at International Market Place's third-floor Grand Lanai, Baku soft-opened last week and grand-opens this Friday, Sept. 22. It claims the largest robata grill in the city (it's eight feet long) and uses only Japanese binchotan charcoal, which gives their grilled dishes a signature smoke and flavor. We were lucky to be invited to a recent dinner.
An izakaya, if you're unfamiliar, is a pub-style eatery where food is ordered and served in waves. Sharing is always encouraged. A general rule of thumb is to start with cold and raw items before moving onto hot dishes. Save the starches for last — that way you won't fill up too fast, too soon.
We started with the Ho Farms Tomato Salad ($10), hiding under sesame crackers and fresh and clean with firm tofu and lightly dressed pea shoots. I have a soft spot for pea shoots, so I may be biased, but this is yum. The wafu dressing, made with soy sauce and onion, added another dimension without drowning out the vegetables.
Tuna Tataki ($17) was perfectly seared and sitting in a light pool of sweet soy with hints of yuzu and garlic. All the dressed sashimi and sushi were fresh and presented meticulously.
Highlights from the robata grill: Sake Glazed Chicken Wings ($9) were sweet, smoky and full of deep flavor. With a squeeze of fresh lime adding a nice brightness, these were unanimously declared the winners of the night.
The Spicy Filet of Beef ($45 for 8 ounces) was super oishii as well. It was served medium rare with a monster piece of bone marrow and a deep bowl of sukiyaki sauce with a fresh (read: raw) yolk for dipping.
Vegetable sides that stood out included the grilled Sweet Corn ($8) with sansho salt and lime, and Satsuma Sweet Potato ($10) with nori butter.
We ended the night with a hearty pot of Wild Mushroom Kamameshi ($18), infused with black truffle to add richness and accentuate the earthiness of the mushrooms. Here's a tip: Carefully mix the rice together with the mushrooms, then press the rice along the walls of the pot. This will crisp the rice slightly, adding a toastiness and textural dimension. We practically fought over who would get the last bits of crusty rice, it was so good.
If you're wondering about the name, Baku are Japanese spirits who devour nightmares. If that translates to coming here to have your troubles go away, it worked for me.
International Market Place
2330 Kalakaua Ave.