Experience the Cream of the Crop in Japanese FareCover Story Features
February 24, 2013
Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel
Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant transports your senses to Japan with its hori gotatsu style of seating — floor seating where you let your legs dangle into a pit for ultimate comfort — with a table before you. Soothing tunes of jazz harmonies float through the air along with intoxicating aromas, which trace themselves to an assortment of Japanese nabe (a term referring to an array of Japanese steamboat or one-pot dishes), sukiyaki, shabu shabu and more.
When asked to simply describe the cuisine here at Ichiriki, founder Issei Kazama is quick to respond with “comfort food.”
“We wanted to introduce the people of Hawaii to nabe, which is generally eaten in Japan during the winter to warm you up. However, we thought, why not serve it all year long here? We broke the stereotype of nabe being a winter dish,” he says.
Kazama, along with co-founder Riki Kobayashi, opened the doors to Ichiriki’s initial location on Piikoi Street in 2006, and followed it up with the addition of a second location in Westridge, Aiea. Currently, plans are in the works as another restaurant is set to pop up some time next month in Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center.
Nothing is masked here. Each and every dish boasts authentic tastes made with all-natural ingredients and pristine flavors. Take shabu shabu, for instance, in which you whisk beef and vegetables through a pot of boiling water. The sheer minimalism of this dish, in which the unmarinated morsels of meat are cooked in plain water, allows an austere purity and deliciousness only achievable by utilizing the highest quality ingredients. When the beef is good, the dish is perfect.
“USDA Choice Short Rib Shabu Shabu ($18.95) will be added to our new menu starting March 1, but we will serve it as a special for Dining Out readers,” Kazama says. “This dish includes 6 ounces of tender USDA choice short rib along with an assortment of vegetables, rice and ramen noodles.
“This dish was added to give our customers a very good beef shabu shabu at a very reasonable price. We didn’t want to create a cheap shabu shabu full of low-quality beef, so we worked closely with our vendors to come up with this particular shabu shabu without sacrificing the quality we like,” he adds.
The restaurant is always bustling with customers putting the finishing touches on their hot pot creations. Yet, stop by during happy hour and there’s a certain energy engulfing the establishment that can’t go unnoticed.
“We’ve expanded our happy hour menu at both locations to include not only our Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu ($16.95), but also a handful of appetizers and drinks,” Kazama states, noting the upcoming happy hour time change. “Next month, the Aiea restaurant’s happy hour runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., 4 to 6 p.m. and from 9:30 p.m. to closing. Times for our Piikoi location will be from 2 to 6 p.m. and from 9:30 p.m. to closing.”
If there’s one reason to partake in an Ichiriki dining adventure during happy hour, Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu is it. You are brought a platter of 5 ounces of top-grade Kobe beef (which has a nice amount of marbelization, fat and flavor) and a basket of vegetables, in addition to two dipping sauces: goma (creamy sesame sauce) and ponzu (citrus soy sauce, which can be garnished with grated radish, spicy grated radish and green onions).
If spice is what you’re after, Kazama recommends Angry Goma Nabe ($23.95), Ichiriki’s spiciest nabe, all thanks to jalapeno, habanero and chili peppers and a hint of sesame, which swim in the broth.
“It’s not just spicy, it’s rich with flavor and comes together nicely when all of the nabe ingredients are added to it,” he explains. “We call it ‘angry’ because the first time we tasted it, I thought Chef Andrew was mad at me and gave me a broth he knew was too spicy. Angry Goma Nabe has been on our secret menu for about a year now with almost a cult following. We thought it would be a good time to put it on the regular menu since so many people have been asking for a spicier nabe.”
Ichiriki’s more than accommodating staff will instruct you in the intricacies of the art of hot-pot dining, yet the restaurant also offers a variety of intrinsic fare as well, including Ahi Katsu ($6.95) and Mushroom Medley ($6.95). Ahi Katsu features a marinated strip of ahi that is deep-fried to perfection and served with a tonkatsu sauce. Enoki, shiitake, shimeji and eryngi mushrooms, cut up and lightly sauteed in butter, take the spotlight in the Mushroom Medley, garnished with green onions and black pepper.
“Every decision we make at Ichiriki is based on one simple concept: Make our customers happy,” Kazama says with a smile. “We work hard to come up with things we feel confident in serving to our customers. I’d like to thank our customers for giving us the opportunity to serve them.”
Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant
510 Piikoi St. #102, Honolulu
Lunch: 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4 p.m. – midnight
98-150 Kaonohi St. #C216, Aiea
Lunch: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Thursday 4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4 p.m. – midnight, Sunday 4 p.m. – 10 p.m.