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Order of the Day

YuZu Keeps It Unique

Story By Kelli Shiroma Photos By Nathalie Walker
February 19 - 25, 2012

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Upon entering YuZu, customers will immediately notice the uniqueness of the Japanese eatery/bar. For starters, three subdivided sections make up the eatery, designed to provide different dining experiences for its customers.

“Customers can drink at the bar, eat dishes made with fresh ingredients in the dining section or relax, drink sake and eat sushi at the sushi bar,” explains manager Tats Otake.

  • Lotus Root Pizza ($8.95)
  • Temari Sampler ($14.95)
  • Lobster Bisque Udon ($18.95)
  • Sushi chef Ena Otake
  • Shrimp Tempura ($13.95)
  • Veggie Sampler ($14.95)
  • Yuzu Mojito ($10)
  • Guava Sake Martini ($8)
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Besides the atmosphere, the concept behind creating YuZu is the eatery’s distinguishing factor. YuZu — a citrus fruit resembling a small grapefruit often found in East Asia — can be found in a variety of foods, seasonings and beverages. iSam Kubota, president and owner of YuZu, decided to open the eatery last November and features foods infused with the citrus flavor.

“He (Kubota) named the restaurant ‘YuZu’ because he wanted to make dishes using the citrus,” says Otake. “In our sushi, we use citrus vinegar instead of sushi vinegar, so you can enjoy the taste of citrus. It’s quite different from other sushi. It’s a light citrus taste; it’s not too strong.”

The YuZu menu comprises many unique dishes, including Lotus Root Pizza ($8.95) — a popular appetizer — and Zelda Choco Banana Crepe ($6.95), and Acai No Dairy Rare Cheesecake ($3.95), two of the most popular desserts.

“For the Lotus Root Pizza, we cut up the lotus root really thin, put five different cheeses on top and grill it,” says Otake. “It looks like pizza, but it’s actually not; we don’t use bread. For our dessert, the Acai Cheesecake and the Green Tea Ice Cream with Sweet Bean ($4.95) have no dairy, so vegetarians can eat it.”

When it comes to YuZu’s signature dish, Otake names the unconventional Temari Sushi (two pieces per order). The sushi earned its name from temari balls, explains Otake, which are made from leftover scraps of kimono fabric and used by Japanese school-children (“te” = hand; “mari” = ball).

“Although Temari Sushi has a ball shape instead of rectangular sushi, the size is about the same as the regular sushi,” Otake says. “A popular dish is Temari Sampler ($14.95) that comes with seven pieces of sushi — salmon, yellowtail, eel, ikura (salmon roe), tuna, shrimp, snapper. All of these have the sauce already on, so you don’t need shoyu.”

Shrimp Tempura (10 pieces for $13.95) is a popular request at YuZu because of the quantity and price. Another YuZu classic is the Veggie Sampler ($14.95).

“The Veggie Sampler comes with seven pieces also — eggplant, carrot, eringi mushroom, tomato, shiitake mushroom, lotus root and yuba,” Otake says. “We try to make the vegetables look like fish … for example, tomato looks like tuna (in the sushi); the lotus root looks like eel.”

YuZu also offers Yakitori dishes and udon, of which the most popular are Kakiage (shrimp and gobo fritter) Udon ($10.95) and Spicy Sukiyaki Beef Udon ($9.95).

“It’s (the udon) freshly made and we cut the udon up after you order, so it’s very fresh,” Otake says.

YuZu provides different lunch and dinner specials every day; a different menu is provided for Late Night Specials (10 p.m.-1 a.m.). Customers can expect to pay an average of $25, including drinks. Popular cocktails include Guava Sake Martini ($8), YuZu Mojito ($10) — shiso, yuzu and ginger — and the Coco Ginger Splash ($10), a combination of lime, coconut water and ginger.

While the eatery is enjoying increased popularity, another YuZu location is coming soon.

“We are going to open a new restaurant in Ko Olina,” states owner iSam Kubota. “It’s going to be pretty similar to this (Ala Moana location). We should open in the summer.”

YuZu

  • Where
    • Ala Moana Hotel, Kona Tower (Main Floor)
    • 410 Atkinson Drive
    • Honolulu, HI 96814
  • Call
    • (808) 943-1155
  • Hours
    • Lunch (Daily)
    • 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
    • Dinner (Monday – Saturday)
    • 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.
    • Dinner (Sundays)
    • 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
    • Early Bird Special: 5-6 p.m.
    • Late Night Specials: 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.
  • Website