I’m a regular at KuruKuru's Pearl Kai location. The servers recognize me and even know my typical order. Of all the sushi options around the island, KuruKuru for me embodies comfort.
So when Oh! Sozai by KuruKuru opened quietly in Kakaako on Nov. 1, I had to check it out. The big surprise is that there’s no sushi here, though fresh spicy ahi ($3.95) and ahi sashimi ($3.95) are available a la carte. Instead, an assortment of sozai (small dishes in Japanese) plays the starring role. If you're familiar with Japan, you may have heard of sozaiya, which refers to shops selling popular side dishes.
When you enter, you’ll see a refrigerated section with an assortment of pre-packaged side dishes, beverages and desserts. The main counter holds hot dishes and donburi rice bowls. I get caught up with all the different options for sides, which mostly are in the $2 to $3 range.
The donburi options are promising and come with two scoops of rice. The helpful guy behind the counter recommends the hamburger don ($9.25) or the omurice don (omelet rice, $8.80), complete with scrambled eggs and a demi-glace sauce. Then he sees the side dishes I'm clutching in both hands and says, “For your next visit.” Hai.
The spicy ahi donburi’s on the smaller side, which works to my advantage — it leaves me room to try a few of the sides. The fresh ahi’s taste and texture is consistent with the spicy ahi donburi I usually order at KuruKuru. And the rice is top notch — Oh! Sozai uses premium rice from The Rice Factory, which makes it taste like quality sushi rice. With the November promotion, customers are limited to two donburi each (it’s currently the most popular order.)
I love Japanese-style potato salad because it’s laden with hearty potato chunks without the mayo overdose, so this version doesn’t disappoint. But highlight of the side dishes for me is the salmon ponzu — I love salmon, and this dish has a refreshing taste because of the light, citrusy topping.
There’s a small dining area within the shop, but Oh! Sozai is better suited for takeout. As for parking, there are a few metered spaces on nearby streets and the SALT garage offers an hour of free parking without validation. It’s nice to have a Japanese deli not too far from my downtown office when I want something quick and convenient. The only downside is that with both donburi bowls and a slew of small, affordable side dishes on offer, it's way too tempting to go a little overboard.
400 Keawe St.
Monday to Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.. closed Sunday