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Japanese-style Dining Just Got Better at YuZu

By Yu Shing Ting Photos By Nathalie Walker
September 1, 2013

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YuZu Ala Moana has been open since November 2011, but I recently got to try it for the first time, and let’s just say that I really wish I visited sooner.

Hidden in the lower back corner of the Ala Moana Hotel lobby, YuZu is one of those hole-in-the-wall eateries that you don’t just stumble upon, but rather have to know about to find it. And once you’re there, it’s like finding the secret garden, except that the restaurant looks more like a tree house with a spacious interior, and simple wood furniture and decor.

Known for its delicious, organic and healthy Japanese cuisine, YuZu also offers the perfect setting for just about any occasion, be it a business lunch, date night, an outing with friends, a birthday get together or family dinner.

The lunch and dinner menus feature many original dishes not commonly found at other restaurants, including its signature starter Lotus Root Pizza, famous Maguro Kama (tuna jaw meat) and my personal favorite, Locally Grown Avocado Tempura ($8.95, dinner menu only) served with a daikon tempura sauce and yuzu salt.

For dinner, there’s also a sushi bar offering a nice assortment of nigiri sushi, sashimi, sushi rolls and temari sushi (ball-shaped sushi). Among the popular sushi dishes is Soft Shell Crab Oshi Sushi ($11.95) made with spicy tuna tempura, jalapeno and chirashi rice, yuzu pepper and a teriyaki eel sauce. The restaurant also offers organic Tamari House soy sauce, which is wheat free, and its sushi is accented with yuzu vinegar and organic cane sugar.

For lunch, diners are encouraged to take advantage of a monthly special available for dine-in or takeout. September’s lunch special is Lobster Curry Udon ($12) served with a side of organic greens and edamame, and choice of soda or iced tea. The udon noodles are prepared fresh daily and cut-to-order, and the curry consists of a light, yet flavorful homemade veggie stock, and real lobster meat. Customers also can take home their wooden chopsticks (for $5) which are from Japan and designed perfectly for eating udon noodles.

As for dessert, (which are all homemade), be warned that it may be difficult to choose just one. Among the favorites is Kamiya Papaya A La Mode ($7.95) featuring half of a Kamiya papaya with soy ice cream, whipped cream, blueberries, strawberries and lime. There also are some dairy-free options, and the always popular crepes.

There’s also a full bar, and happy hour runs from 5 to 6 p.m. daily featuring $3 draft beef (Kirin, Kona Longboard Lager, Kona Big Wave Golden Ale and Bud Light), $4.50 house sake (Sho Chiku Bai extra dry, hot or cold), and a special pupu menu. Starting this month, there will be live music during happy hour on Wednesdays.

The restaurant is owned by Isamu Kubota and wife Moco, who moved to Hawaii from Japan in 2004. They also have three restaurants in Tokyo, as well as Sushi YuZu in Ko Olina (which has a different menu from YuZu Ala Moana) and Kai in Wailea on Maui. “When I was a college student in Japan, I would come to Hawaii for vacation and always thought that one day, I want to live here,” says Isamu on their move to the Islands. “I like the weather here, and the people are nice and warm.”

YuZu

410 Atkinson Drive, Honolulu
943-1155
Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily
Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 5-11:30 p.m.
Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m.
yuzuhawaii.com
Note: Parking is available at Ala Moana Hotel. There also is metered street parking on the Ala Moana Center side of the hotel.