Hakkei, Honolulu

February 5, 2008

On February 2, 2008, I went to Hakkei, Honolulu with Galen and Timothy. It was not an ordinary night at this country-style Japanese restaurant hidden in a parking ramp.  Seiya Masahara, recent winner of the Japanese Iron Chef contest, had come here a few days before to prepare Kaiseki dinners for those who had reserved well in advance, but, by chance, he was still in Honolulu helping prepare tonight’s meal with his student chef. So there was no menu; it was some Kaiseki, plus Oden. Chef Masahara is the Executive Chef at Hakkei, an onsen ryokan (hot spring inn) located in the town of Yubara, Okayama Prefecture (Japan). The inn is famous for its menu items that feature 50 regional vegetables from nearby farms. The Honolulu spinoff was established to feature ” Japanese comfort-food,” featuring Oden. Masahara oversees both kitchens and has trained 28-year-old protégé, Kouji Kuwa, to take charge in Honolulu. The General Manager is Masao Kawamura.

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The décor was rustic Japanese with an opening to the kitchen along one wall. Here you can see General Manager Kawamura on the left and Chef Masahara by the big pot on the stove. Hakkei only seats 27 diners.

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We ordered glasses of sake which were filled just over the top.
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A beautiful plate of appetizers was brought, along with a bowl of sesame tofu custard with a dried cherry on top. There was also a little glass of fugu, the legendary pufferfish or blowfish of Japan which is fatal if not prepared in the right way. But I lived to blog the tale. The fugu was chewy, more like shark or octopus than a white fish. It had a nice flavor, but did not blow me away.  Surprisingly, the deep fried smelt was very tasty.

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After the appetizers we got up to look at the choices in the bowl by the kitchen for our Oden. We each picked three from the ample selection. Oden is truly Japanese comfort food, simmered in a broth of hearty dashi made from konbu (dried kelp), shoyu, dried bonito and mackerel. Ingredients vary but include items such as turnips, pumpkin, tofu, eggs, aburage, mochi, Japanese fish cake, daikon (radish), konnyaku (gelatinous cake made from a tuber called devil’s tongue), stuffed cabbage, assorted meatballs made from chicken, shrimp, goboten (deep-fried fish paste and burdock root) and soft, melting gyuusuji (beef tendon).  A person eating in Oden in Japan will reminisce, “How mom used to make it at home.”

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The next course was sashimi of ahi and kampachi (amberjack) with julienned vegetables that had been dressed lightly in what seemed to be rice vinegar. It was a superb dish.

The burner for the Oden was put in the middle of the table.

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Next came young duck with chunks of wintry vegetables in a light broth.

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A pot with our nine Oden choices in broth and vegetables was put on the burner. (You can just see the flame underneath.)

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Then we were served two little sandwiches of Kahuku shrimp between half-moon slices of lotus root. This was accompanied by a slice of squash and a mild green chili.

More broth was added to the Oden pot.

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My three choices for the oden were a thick round chunk of daikon radish, gobo (burdock) and a seaweed dumpling. There was a little bowl of citrus sesame paste and one of hot mustard to enhance the dish.

Then came the “ginger chicken.”  It was rice in a particularly flavorful chicken broth. (No photo.)

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Dessert was black roasted tea ice cream in a sweet red bean sauce.

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Student chef Kuwa and Executive Chef Masahara with Galen and Timothy. 

The whole meal had been very interesting and satisfying in the way that a meal at a little old country inn in France or Italy might be.

http://www.hakkei-honolulu.com/html/eng_top.html

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Rabbits are a favorite with Manager Kawamura.

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