Thursday, 2 August 2012

Tokkuri Tei Honolulu, Oahu - Tasty Japanese food from an Izakaya with a twist

Rating 7.5/10, Service 7.75/10We were in the mood for casual lazy kind of evening, so we poked our heads into Tokkuri Tei, one of the earliest Izakayas on the island.  Its grown from humble start as a food truck, into a restaurant today.  Its known to be an odd combination of family friendly and noisy bustling Izakaya (bar!) that locales head to for a beer and down to earth Japanese food with an island fusion twist. I'm up for that!

Perched on the second floor of a little strip mall, its easy to miss if you're not looking for it! In a larger location than their original spot, it has a family restaurant feel to it with plenty of seating in a large open dining area, rather than a cozy Izakay feel. Ah well, onto the menus! Its an huge menu.. with so many choices, its almost overwhelming. Love the cheeky and sometimes not too descriptive descriptions.  Sounds like Chef Hideaki "Santa" Miyoshi and his staff may have been having a glass or three when they were making the the descriptions on the vino selection :)

the FOOD
We we given moist towelettes and complimentary smooshy boiled salty peanuts to go with our amusing menu after we were seated promptly by our waitress.  I sampled a few before we snapped a pic

The first item up was our vege pick.  Hey - eating enough fruits and veges is important when you're travelling to keep the plumbing happy! The steaming hot Horenso Tamagotgi is simple and tasty, this was just spinach lightly cooked in a light broth with an egg stirred in. The egg whites flash cook, while the yolk gives a rich creaminess to spinach.

The Sakekawa Tofu Salad was described as a BBQ salmon skin salad. It was a large heaping pile of sprouts, greens, shredded crunchy cabbage, maguro, a bit of tangy dressing and small little pieces of crisp charcoal grilled BBQ salmon skin tossed in. There was a bit of finely chopped up toasted nori as a garnish which we mixed in. My boyfriend found the flavors too messy and muddled, but I enjoyed it, though we both agreed the salmon skin would have fared a lot better if it was served as a larger pieces atop of the salad rather than have it go mushy and hidden as little bits throughout the salad.

The Toro Yaki came out next, and we were a bit disappointed. The little pad of bland sushi rice also fell apart as we tried to pick it up. They need a bit of work before their seared toro comes up to the quality served at Gaku. The saving grace note- the charcoal grill gave it a nice smokiness.

The clams in the Asari Sakamushi were cooked to a just right tender. Its sweetness was diluted a bit by the amount of water in the sake tinged broth. Cut out about a half a cup of water and these would have been stellar.

They had a few award wining menu items, and the Ahi Tartare Poke was one of them. Winner of the 1997 Sam Choy's Poke Contest, the traditional poke of raw cubed tuna in a sesame based dressing is the basis of this dish. Sort of.  This unconventional poke is just like the chef's style - Santa showed up at the competition in sweatpants and a t-shirt and was initially asked to leave the Che'fs area lol!  Starting with a slightly crisp toasted sushi rice base on a plate swirled with terriyaki sauce and a dynamite-like mayo, a smooth tartare of ahi tuna with a hint of sesame oil is mounded up and topped with maguro, green onions and slivered toasted nori. Nom!

the Tan Shio or Gyūtan was our fav of the night. Thin strips of beef tongue is lightly seasoned and grilled to a tender savory perfection with a light hint of charcoal. I can eat these all night.

My boyfriend gravitated towards the Ika Yaki. This traditional savory pancake is studded with small diced pieces of fresh tender squid, and topped with generous squirts of brown yaki sauce, Japanese BBQ sauce and a pile of bonito flakes that waved and curled as they rehydrated in the sauce.  The crisp exterior, soft eggy interior and savory toppings makes it almost a comfort food. Mmm.  

Given we were a bit disappointed with the seared Toro Yaki, we we're surprised when the toro sushi nigiri came out. The quality of the toro left a bit to be desired. Instead of rich, fatty, melt in your mouth... it well, looked like it was already doing a great job disintegrating on the plate before we even touched it.  Hmmm.

the DESSERT
Being pretty full tasting through all those dishes, we opted to try the Cherry mochi. Instead of a sticky rice based dough wrapped around icecream or sweetened red bean paste, Tokkuri Tei's version turned out of be Sakuramochi imported from Japan. A large fragrant cherry leaf is wrapped around pressed sticky rice subbing out as the dough, encasing a centre of slightly sweetened red bean paste. While we both loved the fragrance the cherry leaf imparted to the mochi - we removed it, though you can eat it if you really want to - we weren't a fan of the granular texture of the pressed sticky rice.

Overall, though things were a bit hit and miss, its clear Chef Santa likes to flip convention the bird with his take on Hawaiian-Japanese fusion.

Tokkuri Tei
Address
449 Kapahulu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815
Phone (808) 739-2800
Hours Mon-Fri 11am-2pm, 5:30pm-midnight, Sat 5:30pm-midnight, Sun 5 pm-10pm
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