Archive for the ‘Japanese’ Category

YuZu splashes into scene

November 8th, 2011

Nadine Kam photos

Motoko “Moco” Kubota shows YuZu’s lotus pizza.

YuZu Hawaii hosted its grand opening party Nov. 3 at its location on the ground floor of the Ala Moana Hotel. The casual bar concept described as “not your grandmother’s Japanese cuisine” is the latest project of Isamu Kubota and Motoko “Moco” Kubota—following Kai Okonomiyaki, Kaiwa and Hale Macrobiotic—who continue to feed us in novel ways.

The couple still lean healthy, using veggie-based mayo, gluten-free tamari, housemade dashi and focusing on locally grown produce.

In spite of their having done this countless times before, the restaurant wasn’t quite ready when guests arrived, only to be left standing outside while the room was being set up. Food and drink were also slow to materialize and when platters did arrive, there was so little food on them that a mere six people could clear a whole tray if they merely grabbed two skewers of yakitori chicken.

It got to a point where people stood around the table and swarmed the minute a plate landed. I called it a fish feeding frenzy and Yelper Thomas Obungen corrected that it was more like watching piranha!

One of the restaurant’s pieces of food-related artwork.

Photographer Travis K. Okimoto took this shot over my head, with lots of hungry people patiently waiting for us to get our shots before closing in like zombies after brains! You can see all his yummy photos of the evening on his Facebook page.

I have to admit it was a bit scary, like being in the center of a mosh pit at times when I was just trying to take a photo, surrounded by an immediate circle of photographers, and outer circle of hungry people armed with chopsticks and forks. In those moments, I looked for a gap in the human wall to slip through, without risking grabbing a bite. It made no sense to try to grab a plate either, because by the time you got back, every scrap would be gone.

What I did sample was simple fare of french fries with yuzu aioli, garlic and regular soy beans, and tender yakitori that also paired well with the aioli. There was also a lotus-cheese pizza which could also be doused with Yuzu-It!, a bottled yuzu-pepper sauce.

One big selling point is that most of the menu items are priced at less than $10.

After I left, others who were there tweeted me about the udon I missed. When they’re running up to speed, three kinds—(hoso, thin round), (gokufuto, wide flat) and (futo, thick round), will be prepared fresh daily and cut to order. I look forward to trying it without battling a crowd.

YuZu is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and dinner service  from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m., with full bar service, and parking is free at Ala Moana Hotel, or just walk over from Ala Moana Center after one of your holiday shopping tours.

Organic french fries can be dressed with a housemade ketchup or yuzu aioli.

Garlicky soybeans.

Tender yakitori, umm-umm good! Get them teriyaki style, or spicy. Both are salty, made for the bar set.

Ball-shaped temari sushi are named after the temari balls crafted from kimono fabric. Featured here are hamachi with jalapeño and sake sushi.

Now open: Japengo at Hyatt

November 2nd, 2011

Nadine Kam photos
A sashimi boat was one of the attractions at the grand opening of Japengo at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa on Oct. 19.

It’s been a big year for the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort & Spa, which oversaw a revamping of its restaurants this year. I would say it was a must in light of all the renovations and new restaurant introductions to Waikiki in the past two to three years, and considering the Hyatt’s former concepts where born in the time of big hair, decades ago.

So the opening of Japengo was well worth celebrating with a huge party that took place Oct. 19 on the third floor of the Hyatt. Guests were greeted on the Swim terrace with cocktails and the sight of IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre performers in the pool and on the deck, floating past guests before doors to the indoor Swim space opened. Guests passed taiko performers en route to Japengo, where a lavish buffet awaited.

In front of the room, there was a station set up for butteryaki scallops sauteed on the spot, but many headed for the bar and its beautiful array of sushi and sashimi.

The kitchen was also resplendent in its farmers market-style display of fresh produce. People could line up for prime steak with mushrooms and visiting chef Brian Yang’s delicious specialty fried rice. Yang is Chef de Cuisine of the International Food Warehouse at the five-star Park Hyatt Beijing.

The restaurant, with a menu created by executive chef Sven Ullrich in consultation with Yang, reflecting the flavors of Japan, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and China, opens just in time to welcome APEC members to its mini version of an Asia-Pacific food summit.

I don’t think chef Ullrich stopped talking all evening. It’s pretty obvious he’s passionate and excited about the restaurant and ingredients that go into each dish. During dessert time at Swim, he took time to cut open various exotic fruit, almost handfeeding guests to pass on his love for the puddinglike black sapote and cheesey mabolo.

I can’t wait to try the full menu with more extensive starters ranging from duck pot stickers to Korean seafood pancakes, specialties like Singapore chili crab, and wok-fired entrees of Vietnamese-style Kurobuta pork and Chinatown Chow Fun filled with scallops and New Caledonian prawns.

The restaurant is open for dinner 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. Call 237-4180.

Arnold Higa serves Kai Lychee Vodka martinis.

The doors to Swim and Japengo open.

Greeting guests at the entry was Hyatt general manager Jerry Westenhaver, left, with Hyatt senior vice president, resorts, Carlos Cabrera and his wife Lynn Cabrera.

Hyatt executive sous chef Jeff Szombaty gets help from Kelvin Kawata finishing butteryaki scallops with caviar in a demo space set up for the grand opening. Below, the scallops start in the skillet.

Salmon and cucumber sushi.

The kitchen held a display of fresh produce including chili peppers, eggs, eggplant, ginger, mushrooms and more.

The very enthusiastic executive chef Sven Ullrich volunteered to get down on the ground to be photographed with the produce.

Nigiri boats and platters lined the sushi bar.

One of the special guests was Mai Tai Sing, who managed Trappers at the Hyatt during the clubs heydey in the 1970s and ’80s. The jazz club was known for bringing in such luminaries as Freddie Hubbard, Joe Sample, Wynton Marsalis, Stan Getz, Herbie Mann, Mose Allison and Gil Scott-Heron, as well for its scantily clad Trapperettes. She’s with Lyle Badka.

Hamachi and crab roll. Tootsie Roll

IONA Contemporary Dance Theatre performers, clad to represent aquatic flora and fauna, added color to the festive reception that preceded dinner.

A taiko performance also greeted diners.

An array of fresh fruit was on display and available for dessert in the Hyatt’s Swim poolside indoor/outdoor bar.

Jackfruit was cut for tasting.

Chef Ullrich was most excited to share slices of mabolo, or velvet apple, a fruit native to the Philippines and related to persimmons, though with a pliant, cheesy texture and flavor. The skin is rough and not for those who can’t even stomach peach fuzz.

Other fruit available included rambutans.

Although fresh fruit was a perfect finale to a meal of sushi, those who require chocolate were offered Kona coffee chocolate cake with macerated berries. It’s only now that I look at the photo that I realize the “table” was chocolate as well!

Sago and pandan leaf pudding with mango.