Posts Tagged ‘izakaya’

Kona Kai Sushi – The Izakaya for Locals

October 1, 2012

Call me Jiro because I always dream of sushi. And in those dreams, I typically envision a small, dark, packed-to-the-brim hole-in-the-wall with a certain “je ne sais quoi” aura. Behind the sushi bar stands a stoic, elder sushi master who earned that title of “master” by working his way up the sushi making ranks for decades. With an air of arrogance, he’ll take his time with your order, giving off the impression that he’s doing you a favor by serving his food.

Local sushi chef James Matsukawa takes that visual and completely flips it on its head. Barely 30, he is the energetic owner of Kona Kai Sushi, a somewhat undiscovered sushi restaurant on Coyne Street, that just celebrated its 1 year anniversary in July. And although Kona Kai does give off that appealing, hole-in-the-wall vibe, Matsukawa is anything but old and stoic.

A look inside Kona Kai Sushi
A look inside Kona Kai Sushi

Matsukawa grew up in Kealakekua on the Big Island where his love for fishing began early when, at the ripe old age of 10, he started hanging out with the old timers, regularly fishing for menpachi, akule and papio.

Years after moving to Oahu, he worked as a line cook at Kabuki Restaurant before moving behind the sushi bar under master chef Yoshio Kazama. He continued his practice at countless other Japanese restaurants like Kohnotori, Jimbo’s, 808 Kapahulu, Shigezo, and Sushi Izakaya Shinn until a stint at Sushi Sasabune changed his life forever.

“It was like sushi boot camp.” describes Matsukawa. “I think it was the hardest place to work, both mentally and physically. Long hours at a frantic pace. I basically lived there, but it has been the most influential experience to this day by far.”

Under master chef Seiji Kumagawa’s careful tutelage, Matsukawa was taught to be extremely disciplined and to respect the fish. It was not about how to do things, but why.

He then moved on to the popular izakaya Tokkuri Tei, which influenced him in an entirely different way.

“Tokkuri Tei showed me a more casual way of doing sushi. The clientele atmosphere had a lively, easy going energy typical of an izakaya (in Japan).”

After Tokkuri Tei, he felt that he was ready to open his own restaurant in the form of Umi no Sachi on 11th Ave in Kaimuki. Unfortunately, due to inexperience and poor business relationships, it closed after only three months. Matsukawa then took an 8 month hiatus, regrouped and was ready to sushi again.

James Matsukawa
James Matsukawa

Enter Kona Kai. Named after his roots (Kona) and his love for the ocean (Kai), Kona Kai brings the best of Matsukawa’s experiences and serves it to his highly targeted clientele.

“We don’t advertise and we really don’t want to. Sasabune taught me that word of mouth (advertising) is the most important.”

On a recent trip with the boys from Lawai`a (the Fishing magazine I write for), we went omakase style and here is what we were served:

Seared Canadian Tombo (albacore tuna) with ponzu
Seared Canadian Tombo (albacore tuna) with ponzu

Baby Calamari stuffed with Blue Crab
Baby Calamari stuffed with Blue Crab

2 types of Washington Oysters: 1 baked & 1 fresh with Alaskan King Salmon Caviar
2 types of Washington Oysters: 1 baked & 1 fresh with Alaskan King Salmon Caviar

Spanish Bluefin Sushi
Spanish Bluefin Sushi

Red Snapper from Southern Japan (Kyushu) with Canadian Rainbow Trout Caviar with reduced shoyu
Red Snapper from Southern Japan (Kyushu) with Canadian Rainbow Trout Caviar with reduced shoyu

Shimaaji from Shikoku (background) & Golden Eye Snapper with Shiokara on top (foreground)
Shimaaji from Shikoku (background) & Golden Eye Snapper with Shiokara on top (foreground)

Hokkaido Tako, simmered with shoyu, massaged by hand with daikon for 45 minutes (background) & Aji (Japanese Akule) with ginger and green onions (foreground)
Hokkaido Tako, simmered with shoyu, massaged by hand with daikon for 45 minutes (background) & Aji (Japanese Akule) with ginger and green onions (foreground)

Russian King Crab with Kani Miso (background) & Prawn from New Caledonia with black Flying Fish Caviar (foreground)
Russian King Crab with Kani Miso (background) & Prawn from New Caledonia with black Flying Fish Caviar (foreground)

South African Rock Lobster tail from the Tristan da Cunha islands
South African Rock Lobster tail from the Tristan da Cunha islands

Matsukawa wants to create an atmosphere where his clients become his friends. His main goal is to continually top his customers’ last visit.

Many of the dishes from our night were brok’ da mout’ amazing. Creative, yet fundamentally sound. If he is planning on topping that the next time around, sign me up!

(Previously published in Lawai`a Magazine)

Kona Kai Sushi
2535 Coyne Street
Honolulu, HI 96822
Tue-Sat: 6pm-12am
Sun: 5pm-10pm
(808) 594-7687

VH07V
VH07V Gear
The latest in Hawaii lifestyle apparel. Check it out!

Tokkuri Tei – Revisited

January 1, 2011
Tokkuri Tei – The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For | Tokkuri Tei – Revisited

Whenever anybody asks me where my favorite restaurant is, I always say “Tokkuri Tei” without any hesitation. Some will nod in approval because they’ve been, while others are curious because they haven’t. For the latter, I usually like to send them a link to an article I wrote about them several years ago: Tokkuri Tei – The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For because it contains the food “pr0n” that everybody gets excited over.

Recently, I was re-skimming the article and noticed that there were only 8 photos in it and I asked myself “Is that it!? Just 8 photos!?”

I’ve been to both of Tokkuri Tei’s locations dozens of times. Heck a single search for “Tokkuri Tei” on my computer box thing yields 296 items! Almost three hunny, and all I could muster up for that article was 8 measly photos? Must’ve been my rookie food blogging days. LOL!

Tokkuri Tei - The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For
Tokkuri Tei – The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For

Needless to say, an update was long overdue… So when co-owner Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi informed me that they would be moving to a new location (their 3rd in almost 22 years), I thought it would be the perfect time to update their story (and my photo count).

On Tuesday, December 21st, I answered Santa san’s call. They needed help moving the “heavy stuff” after spending the entire previous day moving the “small stuff” over (guess he knew about the “gun” show *grin*). The plan was to move the entire Tokkuri Tei operation from their 611 Kapahulu location to their new 449 Kapahulu location and be ready to launch in one week! Whaaaat? One week!? Fo real? No can! Can! Although just 0.2 miles away, moving an entire restaurant, enormous refrigerators and all, is not an easy task as I was about to find out.

I arrived that morning to this:

Dining area inside the old Tokkuri Tei
Dining area inside the old Tokkuri Tei

Kitchen and sushi bar at the old Tokkuri Tei
Kitchen and sushi bar at the old Tokkuri Tei

I gotta admit, I got a little misty. OK, not really, but there were so many memories made there!

Then, it was time to move one of the HUMONGOID refrigerators. Lucky thing this one had wheels!

Moving the refrigerator. Why am I not helping? :P
Moving the refrigerator. Why am I not helping? 😛

With the “heavy stuff” loaded up, we headed over to the new spot (the old Sam Choy’s/Sergio’s/Ranch House above Hee Hing). I’ve honestly never been here since it was Sam Choy’s Restaurant, so I was particularly interested to see what kind of space we were working with.

Partially furnished dining area inside the new Tokkuri Tei
Partially furnished dining area inside the new Tokkuri Tei

Tokkuri Tei's other owner Kazu "Kaz" Mitake checks out his kitchen with Santa
Tokkuri Tei’s other owner Kazu “Kaz” Mitake checks out his kitchen with Santa

As you can see, it’s a fairly large blank canvas for which to paint. Thankfully, some familiar izakaya trimmings were brought in to spruce up the joint.

Japanese lanterns (chochin) waiting to be put up
Japanese lanterns (chochin) waiting to be put up

Santa went right to work putting them up.

Santa putting up the lanterns
Santa putting up the lanterns

Less than a week later (Sunday, the 26th), Santa invited me to their soft-launch party. The guest list was only around 20, but we had a very important role. We were there so that the staff could get their bearings and do a dry run before going live to the public the very next day. Here are some shots from that night.

The sign is up!
The sign is up!

Tokkuri-Tei's new interior
Tokkuri-Tei’s new interior

Hilarious display. Great photo opp location!
Hilarious display. Great photo opp location!

Most of the shikishi (signed cards) are back up!
Most of the shikishi (signed cards) are back up!

The new sushi bar. So colorful!
The new sushi bar. So colorful!

And then came the food. There was no ordering involved. It was a set menu as decided upon by the kitchen.

Enoki Bata (Enoki mushrooms sautéed in butter)
Enoki Bata (Enoki mushrooms sautéed in butter)

Yaki Tori Kushi Yaki (chicken skewers), Geso Kara Age (deep fried squid legs), and the Enoki Bata
Yaki Tori Kushi Yaki (chicken skewers), Geso Kara Age (deep fried squid legs), and the Enoki Bata

Samples of the California Roll, Unagi Cali Roll, and Baked Alaska Roll
Samples of the California Roll, Unagi Cali Roll, and Baked Alaska Roll

Asupara Bata (Butter asparagus)
Asupara Bata (Butter asparagus)

Shake (salmon) sushi
Shake (salmon) sushi

Chicken Kara Age (fried chicken)
Chicken Kara Age (fried chicken)

Bintoro Tataki (flash seared albacore tuna)
Bintoro Tataki (flash seared albacore tuna)

Ebi (shrimp) sushi
Ebi (shrimp) sushi

Yaki Nasu (Eggplant)
Yaki Nasu (Eggplant)

I gotta be honest. At first, I was a little worried. With a space that much bigger, I wasn’t sure if they would be able to keep the “hole-in-the-wall” izakaya vibe/feel. I also thought that the taste might change. Well, I’m happy to report that neither has occurred. You still feel at home in their new digs and the YUM factor was still alive and well. The true test was when I went home and shmall kine kanak attacked! All pau!

The next day (Monday, the 27th), the Official Grand Re-Opening was set to happen, but it didn’t come without some drama. Santa and crew had to wait for the health inspector to come and deliver their health permit and that didn’t happen until around 2pm, just a few hours before opening! Yikes!

But with that outta the way, Tokkuri Tei was ready for lift off! I invited a bunch of (new and old) friends to join me. Here are some sights from that night.

Well hello again Enoki Bata! :P
Well hello again Enoki Bata! 😛

There's a Spider in Da Poke
There’s a Spider in Da Poke

(Off the menu) Sugimoto Risotto, er, Seafood Risotto 8)
(Off the menu) Sugimoto Risotto, er, Seafood Risotto 8)

Note: This is my all-time favorite dish from Tokkuri Tei, hands down (it even took First Place in the “Rice-ipe” Contest – Professional Division, at the Rice Fest this past year). Problem is, it’s not on the regular menu to order. In fact, Santa is the only one who knows how to make it! With that said, I have been petitioning (ok, begging) Santa to rename it from the mundane “Seafood Risotto” to the more catchy, and, dare I say, exciting “Sugimoto Risotto“! Ahahaha! While we’re at it, maybe we can convince him to make it a regular item on the menu. Muhahahaha! A fella can dream right? But fo’ real, I think this one would seriously sell like hotcakes! Or should I say Sugimoto Hotcakes? 😛 Guess that doesn’t have the same ring to it…

Stuffed Portobello
Stuffed Portobello

Packed house
Packed house


Here’s an artsy panoramic video Clayton Wakida shot from his iPhone

Group shot: Jason Kim (@turkeyboy808), Lee Kojima, Leanne Nakamura, Matt Duffy (@Shogunai_Tacos), Mai Sugimoto, me, Santa Miyoshi, Kelli Nakama, Rick Nakama (@RickNakama), Clayton Wakida (@jarofclay73) and Mari Taketa (@NonStopMari)
Group shot: Jason Kim (@turkeyboy808), Lee Kojima, Leanne Nakamura, Matt Duffy (@Shogunai_Tacos), Mai Sugimoto, me, Santa Miyoshi, Kelli Nakama, Rick Nakama (@RickNakama), Clayton Wakida (@jarofclay73) and Mari Taketa (@NonStopMari)

What an awesome night with great friends and ono eats…

But wait! *screeeeech* You think it’s ova don’tcha? No way Jose! I still get choke photos fo’ share! 🙂

Teriyaki Cream Tofu
Teriyaki Cream Tofu

Ama Ebi (raw shrimp) with deep fried head
Ama Ebi (raw shrimp) with deep fried head

Cajun Ahi Salad
Cajun Ahi Salad

Salmon Skin Salad
Salmon Skin Salad

Sunagimo Kara Age (Deep Fried Chicken Gizzards)
Sunagimo Kara Age (Deep Fried Chicken Gizzards)

(Off the menu) Lilipuna Poke
(Off the menu) Lilipuna Poke

Ika Yaki (Squid Pancake)
Ika Yaki (Squid Pancake)

Ahi Tempura Poke
Ahi Tempura Poke

Nori-chos (Nori Nachos)
Nori-chos (Nori Nachos)

Soft Shell Crab Kara Age
Soft Shell Crab Kara Age

Salmon Dynamite
Salmon Dynamite

Hideaki Santa Miyoshi invites you to visit their new location
Hideaki Santa Miyoshi invites you to visit their new location

Wow! 40 photos this time around… Take that 8 photos! 🙂

Tokkuri-Tei Restaurant
449 Kapahulu (the old Sam Choy’s/Sergio’s/Ranch House, above Hee Hing)
Honolulu, HI. 96815 (Street View)
(808) 732-6480 <— NEW Telephone Number!

P.S. Happy New Year Everyone!
P.P.S. Omedetou Santa san!

Tokkuri Tei – The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For | Tokkuri Tei – Revisited

Great Catch! Izakaya Tairyo Reels Hawaii In

August 1, 2010

If you’ve driven anywhere near the vicinity of Piikoi Street recently, you’ve probably noticed a rather peculiar looking building fronting Hopaka Street. Covered with large kanji characters, big blue waves, and bright red fish, it’s hard to miss. And if you’re anything like me, your mouth probably started to salivate (along with your imagination) at the sight of such flamboyancy.

Izakaya Tairyo Exterior [Photo Credit: Dale Yasunaga]
Izakaya Tairyo Exterior [Photo Credit: Dale Yasunaga]

In Japan, the more nigiyaka (busy/cheerful/bright) the izakaya, the better (… at least in my experience), so seeing such a building come up in the heart of Honolulu, to be quite honest, excited me. So off my friend and I went to check it out shortly after they opened.

Literally translated, tairyo means great/large catch. When fishermen have a good day, they usually say they had a “tairyo”. As we explored in a past article, izakaya is a specific style of Japanese dining, usually consisting of small dishes of various items. So the Izakaya Tairyo name makes a lot of sense. Nigiyaka exterior – check, fitting name – check… So far so good! Let’s check out the interior.

Izakaya Tairyo Interior
Izakaya Tairyo Interior

Wow, if you thought the exterior was flashy, check out this interior. Bright lights, fishing nets, and the familiar oshinagaki (menu items) adorned the roof and walls.

Bright lights, fishing nets, and oshinagaki to the right, inside Izakaya Tairyo
Bright lights, fishing nets, and oshinagaki to the right, inside Izakaya Tairyo

Adding to the ambience, some patrons get to sit on old school, Japanese style seating made of upside-down beer crates. Wins!

Unique seating at Izakaya Tairyo
Unique seating at Izakaya Tairyo

On to the food!

At the top of their “Rice and Noodles” section was #55 on the menu: Tairyo Fisherman’s Bowl (assorted sashimi over rice) for $9.75. That sounded like a great place to start.

Tairyo Fisherman's Bowl: Assorted sashimi over rice ($9.75)
Tairyo Fisherman’s Bowl: Assorted sashimi over rice ($9.75)

The dish comes with a teapot-like container filled with dashi-flavored tea so you can opt to mix it in and eat it chazuke style. I’m a purist, so I started by eating just the fish and the rice, but gave the flavored tea a chance and ended up using it all up. Really good flavor!

One thing that we complained about was that what we were served looked nothing like what was pictured in the menu. There were key pieces of fish that were definitely missing. They did however, make good by offering us sashimi on the side (served on a chilled plate) at no additional cost.

Sashimi from Izakaya Tairyo
Sashimi from Izakaya Tairyo

The next thing that sounded interesting was the Grilled Chicken Meat Ball with Tairyo’s Secret Sauce. We picked that one up for $7.25.

Grilled Chicken Meat Ball with Tairyo's Secret Sauce ($7.25)
Grilled Chicken Meat Ball with Tairyo’s Secret Sauce ($7.25)

As before, it looked nothing like the picture in the menu, but we shook it off and figured it was just a part of their growing pains as a new restaurant.

The next two fried dishes actually did look somewhat like their menu photo (LOL!). First up was the Japanese-Style Fried Chicken Thigh.

Japanese-Style Fried Chicken Thigh ($6.50)
Japanese-Style Fried Chicken Thigh ($6.50)

These were fairly tasty.

We also got the Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Mayonnaise.

Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Mayonnaise ($6.25)
Sweet Potato Fries with Honey Mayonnaise ($6.25)

I wasn’t a big fan of this dish, especially with the odd honey sauce combination, but can definitely appreciate the creativity. The sweet potato fries by itself wasn’t all that bad.

An overall reasonable first experience in my opinion. I think we can mostly attribute the ups and downs to them being a new restaurant and still in, like I said, their growing phases. I am definitely interested in returning later to see how they’ve grown. Hopefully, it’ll be a definite “tairyo” then! 🙂

Izakaya Tairyo
514 Piikoi St
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 592-8500

Don’t forget… next month…

===========================================
Rice Fest
Diamond G Rice presents the 1st Annual Hawaii Rice Festival
Waterfront at Aloha Tower Marketplace
September 11, 2010 from 12PM-8PM
For more info:
Ricefest.com / Twitter / Facebook
To RSVP:
Twtvite / Facebook Event
===========================================

EATS! – Zen Shu

March 3, 2009

First of all, I’d like to send mad love to errryone who posted comments to yesterday’s “You Know You’re Local If…” blog. It garnered a world Honolulu Advertiser World Wide Ed record setting 100+ comments. First time evah! The record befo’ dat was a whoppin’ 42 (which was also a record at the time). You guys are da bes’! Appreciate.

Not sure when the next triple digit action goin’ be, but I can now die a happy man… Hehe!

OK, so this weekend we went to check out the (somewhat) new izakaya on Kapahulu called Zen Shu (opened back in November where the old Harpo’s Pizza used to be – across Rainbows). I wen’ rush to put the photos together so I could be the first bloggah to write about it up in hurr, but then my bubble was bursted (is that even a word?). I did a search and saw that aunty sistah Melissa already dropped some knowledge on all y’all. Das alright. I’ll present the updated, 2K9 version I guess.

Parking’s pretty much non-existent. Just gotta find um on Kapahulu or Kanaina if can.

Zen Shu - Sake Sushi Sports - Sign
Zen Shu – Sake Sushi Sports – Sign

The interior is off the hook! You can tell they’ve spent big bucks to bring the old Harpo’s look up to speed to the year 2000. 😛

A glimpse of the sushi bar when you first walk in
A glimpse of the sushi bar when you first walk in

The dining area is on the smaller side, as the other half the establishment is reserved for the sports bar type.

View from the dining area
View from the dining area

And then there was the EATS!

Seared Seafood Summer Rolls - Seared Hokkaido Scallop and Shrimp with Alii Mushroom and Sweet Aioli - $9
Seared Seafood Summer Rolls – Seared Hokkaido Scallop and Shrimp with Alii Mushroom and Sweet Aioli – $9

Probably one of our favorites of the night. Nice, rich, flavor.

Garlic Dusted Sake Scented Edamame - Sake Steamed Edamame (soybeans), Garlic Panko Dust - $4.50
Garlic Dusted Sake Scented Edamame – Sake Steamed Edamame (soybeans), Garlic Panko Dust – $4.50

Kinda bland, but ok to munch on while waiting for the rest of our grub to arrive.

Sake Dill Nage Manila Clams - 1 lb. Steamed Manila Clams in Sake Dill Nage - $16
Sake Dill Nage Manila Clams – 1 lb. Steamed Manila Clams in Sake Dill Nage – $16

These clams had an odd taste to them. Couldn’t put a finger on it.

Double Stuffed Portobello Mushroom - King Crab, Shrimp, Enoki, Shimegi, Shiitake Stuffed Portobello Mushroom - $12.75
Double Stuffed Portobello Mushroom – King Crab, Shrimp, Enoki, Shimegi, Shiitake Stuffed Portobello Mushroom – $12.75

One of the better choices of the night. Liked the little tease of tobiko.

Wok Fried Lemongrass Pork Chops - Wok Fried Thin Sliced Pork Chops - $12.50
Wok Fried Lemongrass Pork Chops – Wok Fried Thin Sliced Pork Chops – $12.50

Very unique. Never had pork chops prepared like this before. The flavor was really good, but kinda wished there were more “good” pieces and that they weren’t so burnt.

Steak & Eggs - Pulehu Ribeye, Ikura, Wakame Daikon Salad, Yuzu Soy Batablanc - $18
Steak & Eggs – Pulehu Ribeye, Ikura, Wakame Daikon Salad, Yuzu Soy Batablanc – $18

A let down. You would think it would be a winnah. Steak = good. Ikura = Good. Steak and Ikura… didn’t translate well for me.

Hamachi Zukepacho - Marinated Hamachi with Goma, Negi, and Roasted Nori - $12
Hamachi Zukepacho – Marinated Hamachi with Goma, Negi, and Roasted Nori – $12

Hard to ruin raw Hamachi. Was pretty good. Kinda wished they used flavored nori.

Ama Ama Ebi Ebi Apua`a Roll - Amaebi, Ebi Tempura and Shiso - $16.50
Ama Ama Ebi Ebi Apua`a Roll – Amaebi, Ebi Tempura and Shiso – $16.50

Liked the idea of ama ebi and ebi tempura together.

Overall, a decent dining experience. It’s hard because when I think Izakaya, I compare everything to the best one: Tokkuri-Tei. There really is NO competition. I like the ambience however and I like their concept of a sports bar on the side. I would probably come back for that, as well as try stuff from their sake collection. Their bathrooms were clean too, and for those who know me, that’s up there…

Leonard's Bakery Sign at night
Leonard’s Bakery Sign at night

You know we had to go for dessert at Leonard’s aftahwards.

The posse outside Leonard's Bakery
The posse outside Leonard’s Bakery

Good weekend with good friends.

Talk to me!
* Did you eat anywhere special this weekend?
* What did you think of the food (photos) at Zen Shu?
* Interested in trying it out yourself?
* Got any other suggestions for places to grind?

Happy Girl’s Day (and Tuesday) y’all!

Tokkuri Tei – The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For

May 1, 2008
Tokkuri Tei – The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For | Tokkuri Tei – Revisited

Our company recently completed a weight-loss competition, in which we – depending on how serious you were – stripped ourselves of the bare essentials. For some, these “essentials” included cake, pork chops, deep fried foods, or a combination of the three. For me, it was sushi!

Twenty one “out-of-thin-air” pounds and many, luscious, raw fish dreams later, my stomach was ready to eat itself, but I maintained and did what my momma told me: I finished what I started. So when it was time to treat myself to my “first meal” of sorts, the first (and only!) place that came to mind was Tokkuri Tei, a small, izaka-ya type Japanese restaurant off Kapahulu Avenue.

Tokkuri Tei Sign
Tokkuri Tei Sign

Tokkuri Tei is, by far, my favorite “treat yourself” place to eat. With the most authentic tasting food and most realistic feeling izaka-ya vibe, it is as close to Japan that you can get without the hefty airfare.

I’ve mentioned the word izaka-ya a few times now, including in my title. Some of you are probably scratching your head asking yourself “what the heck is that buffoon referring to?” Loosely translated, the term izaka-ya in Japanese is a sake store/shop. In Japan, the term usually refers to a bar/pub that, in addition to sake (and other alcoholic drinks), serves up food, and good food at that. It’s always a popular pau hana stop for the hard working Japanese population because it’s casual and cheap, and sometimes carries unique, adventurous dishes you don’t often see anywhere else.

Teriyaki Cream Tofu - $7.50: Tofu got a French Twist
Teriyaki Cream Tofu – $7.50: “Tofu got a French Twist”

Tokkuri Tei is no different. They’ve been serving up some of the most innovative, imaginative and irresistible dishes since opening their doors at their initial location on Sheridan Street in 1989. Like their izaka-ya counterparts in Japan, when they were at this location, only a select number of us “in-the-know” knew of this relative hole-in-the-wall hot spot. Since moving to their more spacious Kapahulu location in 2000, the word has gotten out.

Tokkuri Tei’s humble beginnings started when Hideaki “Santa” Miyoshi, former manager of a Japanese restaurant named Shiruhachi, and Kazu “Kaz” Mitake, former sushi chef for Yanagi Sushi met and started a lunch wagon in Campbell Industrial Park in 1987. (Editor’s note: “Santa” explains that his nickname has nothing to do with Santa Claus. It is a Japanese name that means three times fatter than the others.)

“We were always talking about opening an izakaya type restaurant,” said Miyoshi. “In 1989, we got an investor from Japan and started Tokkuri tei. Originally we tried to name this restaurant ‘Izakaya Non’ literally ‘drinking’, since our corporation name is N.O.N. enterprises, too, but Izakaya Nonbei was open just before us. Kaz’s wife came up with this name “Tokkuri tei”. The logo represents the top view of the sake bottle in ‘masu’ (traditional square sake container).”

Too bad “Scrumptilicious” was already taken because that’s what the food here is. OK, so there’s nowhere actually named “Scrumptilicious,” but ya get the point.

Ika Yaki - $7.50: Squid pancake taste like pumpkin pie (not quite)
Ika Yaki – $7.50: “Squid pancake taste like pumpkin pie (not quite)”

It’s easy making a “drinking” place with decent tasting food, but Tokkuri Tei has taken things to another level. Part, or I should say most of the reason for their success in the kitchen is the strength of both Kaz and Santa’s culinary background.

“Kaz is a very experienced chef. He is in (the) line of cooking for 30 years and also understands (the) importance of customers’ feedback,” says Santa. “He started working at Zippy’s, Furusato, Marushin, Torigin, Ohortsuku, then Yanagi. I was working for a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo before I came here as a (restaurant) manager. But we had trouble with our chef, so I had to start cooking to maintain the restaurant. Several friends taught me how to cook including Kaz. After I left the restaurant, I worked for Kengo’s for a year as a sashimi cutter. I dealt with 400 pounds of ahi every day. Then I worked for Shogun for little while. Then we started the lunch wagon.”

Santa has won awards in the Aloha Shoyu cooking contests, placed multiple times in Sam Choy’s Poke Contest (1st in 2000, 2nd in 2001), and was a top ten finalist for Tabasco’s cooking contests. At the Kapolei Uncorked event last year, he, alongside of Alan Wong, D.K. Kodama, and other top chefs, was a featured “Culinary Star.” The restaurant was featured in the New York Times, Elle Décor, Travel & Leisure and Sunset Magazine and is one of Oahu’s 100 Best Restaurants as named by the Honolulu Advertiser’s readers.

But don’t take my word for it. Feast your eyes on the shots below of the more popular dishes served here.

Ahi Tar-Tare Poke - $15: 1997 Sam Choy's Poke Contest Winner
Ahi Tar-Tare Poke – $15: 1997 Sam Choy’s Poke Contest Winner

There's a Spider in Da Poke - $16: 2000 Sam Choy's Poke Contest Winner
There’s a Spider in Da Poke – $16: 2000 Sam Choy’s Poke Contest Winner

Stuffed Portobello - $9.50: Portobello stuffed with sticky rice - yes it's half eaten!
Stuffed Portobello – $9.50: Portobello stuffed with sticky rice – yes it’s half eaten!

If you’re a butter fan, try something from their Bata Itame section on the menu. My favorite is the Tako! Imo! (Octopus! Potato!) choice.

Tako! Imo! - $6.50: Potato & Octopus
Tako! Imo! – $6.50: Potato & Octopus

One of the more amusing things you’ll notice about the menu is the descriptions of the dishes. It’s one thing that many of the dish titles are Japanese, but when you see things descriptions like “You Do Who! What?” (Yu Dofu), “I can’t explain. Can you?” (Kanpyo Roll), “It tastes better than worm” (Caterpillar Roll) or my personal favorite “You’ll never know till you try.” (Anago Yanagawa), it doesn’t help much.

Funny, vague dish descriptions
Funny, vague dish descriptions

Thankfully, you can go omakase (“leave it up to them”) if they like you and they’re not too busy. This is when you tell them what kinds of ingredients you like, and they’ll concoct dishes based around those interests. You can rest assured though that whatever comes out of their kitchen, omakase or not, will be top notch!

So what’s next for Hawaii’s best Izaka-ya? Believe it or not, they are planning to publish a cook book. You can be sure that I’ll be the first in line to pick up that puppy. After all, I’ve got 21 sushi-filled pounds to put back!

Tokkuri Tei
611 Kapahulu Ave, Suite 102
Honolulu, HI 96815 (map)
(808) 739-2800
Mon-Fri 10:30am-2pm
Mon-Fri 5:30pm-12am
Tokkuri Tei – The Izaka-ya to Die-ya For | Tokkuri Tei – Revisited