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On a Sweet Road to Savoring Sukiyaki

Columns Ono, You Know

November 10, 2013

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Leah Friel

A giant scoop of kettle corn … glossy strips of candied bacon. Or how about the first bite of a teri burger fresh off the grill? It simply doesn’t get better than sweet and savory food combinations. I can’t explain the science behind it, but there’s something so utterly pleasing about this contrasting mixture of flavors that my taste buds have rendered it absolutely necessary for survival.

My obsession of late in this department has been sukiyaki, a Japanese dish that follows in the country’s long tradition of mastering the delicate balance of salty and sweet ingredients. Most commonly served in large, shallow pots, sukiyaki gains richness from a hearty host of meats and vegetables that simmer away in a sweetened shoyu broth.

Not surprisingly, I found a number of amazing renditions of sukiyaki around the island. Imperative to the experience was learning about one of the key ingredients of the dish, a raw egg served on the side that diners stir up and use as a dipping sauce during the meal. I admit it took me a while to warm up to the idea of eating raw egg, but trust me, they don’t call it traditional for nothing!

Let’s take a closer look at sizzling sukiyaki at the following Ono, You Know hot spots.

Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant

When it comes to Japanese style hot-pot dining, Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant is known islandwide for its selection of meats, vegetables and seafood that patrons cook away in sumptuous bowls of broth at each table. At the Piikoi location, I got a taste of another type of dish it popularly serves up, Sukiyaki with USDA Choice Beef Short Rib ($18.95 per person, minimum two orders).

Ichiriki’s dish presents two broths: one a blend of soy sauce and sugar and the other a dashi broth, both of which diners can use to find the right balance of sweet and savory to customize their sukiyaki experience.

“It is like teriyaki, but more on the sweeter side,” says assistant manager Stacy Kung, when describing the sumptuous soup that transforms into a rich sauce for the ingredients as the cooking process develops. “But we have the mixture of meats and vegetables in it to add more flavor to it all.”

In addition to short rib, Sukiyaki may be served with USDA Choice Beef Ribeye ($21.95), USDA Prime Beef Ribeye ($28.95) or Berkshire Pork ($21.95). It also heats up with tsukune, Ichiriki’s signature chicken meat balls, as well as Chinese cabbage, bok choy, enoki, shiitake mushrooms, tofu, shirataki and more.

On the side, enjoy rice, udon noodles and raw egg for dipping. Since I wasn’t quite ready to dunk my items into raw egg yet, I opted to cook it in the pot, per Kung’s suggestion, as a satisfying alternative.

As a bonus to chowing down on Sukiyaki or other dishes at Ichiriki, you have the chance to help the community as well. During November, when customers bring in canned foods, the restaurant will donate them to Hawaii Foodbank while patrons receive a discount on their total bill (10 percent discount for one to three cans, 15 percent off for four to seven cans, 25 percent off for eight or more cans). Kung also suggests inquiring about the eatery’s gift card specials available Nov. 11 to Dec. 8.

Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant
510 Piikoi St.
589-2299

Sekiya’s Restaurant & Delicatessen

Growing up, I was first introduced to sukiyaki at Sekiya’s Restaurant & Delicatessen, and it’s there I fell in love with the dish. This local mainstay, which has had a place in Hawaii’s dining scene since 1935, presents an excellent Beef Sukiyaki ($14.95).

The eatery’s chefs bring this dish to life with shiitake mushrooms, tofu, onion, Chinese cabbage, green onion, gobo, ito konnyaku (yam noodles) and beef. Serving as yin to these savory ingredients’ yang, a marvelously sweet shoyu broth unleashes flavor perfection.

“The sukiyaki’s actually pretty rich. It’s like a soy-sauce broth and it’s very filling for one person,” says owner Joy Morihara. “A lot of people will just share it with whoever they’re with.”

The establishment also offers my personal favorite version of this classic — Beef Sukiyaki Udon ($15.95), which showcases the same ingredients, but is presented with watercress and udon noodles instead of ito konnyaku. I just love how each comforting, thick strand of udon soaks up every luxurious drop of the soup.

Both dishes are served with rice, soup, tsukemono and hot tea. They’re also available with chicken or pork, but Morihara recommends going with beef, as it’s the most traditional and makes for a more flavorful meal. And, of course, it wouldn’t be sukiyaki if patrons didn’t have the option of dipping each bite into a touch of raw egg on the side.

Sekiya’s Restaurant & Delicatessen
2746 Kaimuki Ave.
732-1656

Gyuta

Since Gyuta opened on Kapahulu Avenue less than a year ago, I’ve been meaning to check out the newest shabu shabu eatery. From spicy miso broth to soy milk and curry broths, as well as combinations in which diners can choose two varieties, Gyuta features hot-pot style dining at its best.

I ended my journey there with a Premium Beef & Pork Sukiyaki ($26.80, 15 years and up; $9.80, ages 6-14; $3.80, ages 3-5) from the all you can eat menu. Endless amounts of pork loin, pork belly and chuck eye beef, as well as vegetables such as mushrooms and cabbage are ready to be devoured.

Premium Beef & Pork Sukiyaki ($26.80, 15 years and up; $9.80, ages 6-14; $3.80, ages 3-5) course from Gyuta's unbeatable all-you-can-eat menu.

Premium Beef & Pork Sukiyaki ($26.80, 15 years and up; $9.80, ages 6-14; $3.80, ages 3-5) course from Gyuta’s unbeatable all-you-can-eat menu.

The best part of the dish is when sweet meets savory in a gorgeous broth prepared with soy sauce, sugar and mirin, coating each ingredient with bejeweled sweetness. As manager Masataka Takeshita points out, the pot’s enticing aroma fills the entire room as it begins to cook.

It was at Gyuta that I couldn’t resist trying the infamous raw egg dipping sauce. With great encouragement from Takeshita, who enjoys the customary side dish himself, I finally dipped away to sukiyaki fulfillment. I tend to be picky about eggs, so I couldn’t believe it, but I actually loved the accompaniment! The yolk lends a mildness that is lovely in contrast to the richness of the broth, and as a whole, the egg adds another layer of flavor to the dish.

Takeshita says Beef & Pork Sukiyaki course ($21.80, 15 years and up; $9.80, ages 6-14; $3.80, ages 3-5) with brisket, Sukiyaki lunch set ($10.80) and Premium Sukiyaki lunch set ($13.80) are other great options to try.

It’s often said that opposites attract, and when you taste the sweet and savory contrast of these restaurant’s sukiyaki creations, you’ll understand why it’s a true statement.

Gyuta
758 Kapahulu Ave.
737-2900