Restaurant Ko’s Nine Courses to Happiness
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Most likely you have driven past Restaurant Ko many times, perhaps even hundreds of times without realizing the culinary magnificence that lies behind its crisp, white walls. Replacing what was formerly Ninniku-Ya in Kaimuki, Restaurant Ko successfully elevates traditional Japanese kaiseki with a modern panache.
Dating back to centuries ago, kaiseki offers a traditional Japanese dining experience, consisting of a series of dishes meticulously and thoughtfully put together. While still remaining true to authentic Japanese-style fare, Restaurant Ko’s delectable menu also boasts hints of European fusion.
“Where I come from in Osaka as well as in other parts of Japan, people are embracing foods from other lands,” says Nariaki Nakano, executive chef at Restaurant Ko.
Diners looking to experience Nakano’s contemporary take on kaiseki may choose from either the Ko Course ($55) or the Asahi Course ($40). Similar in style, the Ko Course offers eight to nine dishes comprised of a number of popular menu items. The courses, which vary slightly from month to month, utilize fresh seafood from both Hawaii’s local fish market as well as the famed Tsukiji market in Japan.
Included in the course menu is Lotus Root Manju ($7), which features sliced lotus root with ginko nuts and savory crab gravy generously seasoned on top. Customers also frequently order Salmon and Ikura Kamameshi ($12) and Unagi Kamameshi ($13), which are beautifully set atop a steaming bowl of kettle rice.
“Instead of using an electric rice cooker, we cook all of our rice using an iron pot,” explains Nakano. “It allows the rice to be juicier and hold more flavor.”
In addition to plentiful seafood and vegetable options, diners also will enjoy Restaurant Ko’s unique take on meat dishes. The popular Prime Beef Steak ($18) infuses the meat overnight with a fermented rice mix of shoyu and koji, a traditional seasoning that allows the meat to stay tender when grilled.
By utilizing European-style cooking components with his Japanese-influenced expertise, Chef Nakano successfully blends the two cultures. The much praised Ahi Carpaccio ($11), which features slices of fresh ahi soaked in a mix of shoyu, wasabi, dashi and sesame oil, is a prime example.
“It looks like an Italian dish, but the flavors are very true to authentic Japanese custom,” he says. “We like to employ different, more out-of-the-box cooking techniques that really add depth of flavor to the ingredients.”
Restaurant Ko is also available for large parties, both indoors as well as outside, on its picturesque lanai space.
Restaurant & Bar Ko
3196 Waialae Ave., Honolulu
Sunday, 5 p.m.-midnight
Monday and Wednesday-Saturday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.