Cheers to Summer Beer Fest, Japanese CuisineCover Story Features
July 5, 2015
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Anthony Consillio
Anyone who travels to Japan this time of year is likely to find rooftops buzzing with beer gardens and merriment, as residents partake in the local custom of cooling down, relaxing and having fun with ice-cold brewskis in hand. Right here at home, diners can tap into this culture and more at up-and-coming eatery Gokoku Sushi in Hawaii Kai.
Opened in December 2014 by Japanese restaurant group Pierthirty USA, the hot spot continues to evolve its refined menu while gearing up for its exciting Gokoku Summer Beer Festival set to run July 21-Aug. 31.
“In Japan, summertime is famous for beer festivals and beer gardens, so I wanted to bring that tradition to Hawaii,” explains executive chef Katsuhisa Inoue. The monthlong celebration falls in line with the restaurant’s mission to give island patrons an authentic Japanese dining experience as well as to serve contemporary fusion cuisine.
Under the direction of Inoue, a team of 10 chefs, including executive sushi chef Takeshi Matsumoto, presents both upscale fare fit for the most special of occasions and budget-friendly selections for those casual evenings out with the whole family. Everything from kaiseki (elegant traditional multi-course meals) and teishoku (meal sets) to freshly prepared sushi is presented in a setting that not only stuns with a glistening turquoise view of Koko Marina and the Koolau mountains, but also impresses with a captivating interior decor scheme that gleams with modern lighting, posh finishes and a lounge-inspired ambiance.
During the highly anticipated beer festival, for the price of $35, customers will have the opportunity to choose five beers to sample (5 ounces each) from a variety of specialty brews that include bottles from Japan — the likes of Okinawan beer Orion and Echigo Stout from the city of Niigata. European and Mainland U.S. brews as well as local Kona Big Wave also will be offered.
Guests may get a feel for Chef Inoue’s cuisine in the process, as he has prepared a pupu menu perfectly suited to these refreshing golden beverages. As part of Gokoku Summer Beer Festival, patrons may choose three appetizers to accompany their beers, with options including potato salad, edamame, karaage and french fries, cocktail shrimp, spring roll, garlic hamaguri, tataki cucumber, soup gyoza, assorted pickles and salted kelp with cream cheese.
The beer festival is just one of many thrilling celebrations Gokoku has in store for diners in the coming months. The restaurant currently is in the tail end of offering Tanabata star festival dining specials, which are available until July 7, and it plans to continue rolling out festive events in the future, including recognizing Japan’s “Respect for the Aged Day” in September.
“Every month, we’re going to do at least one celebration, and it will always be tied to Japan. The celebrations are really about bringing the community in to learn about Japanese culture, eat good food and enjoy some real value,” says restaurant manager Waki Shimada.
Also central to Gokoku is the presentation of Inoue’s creativity, which manifests itself in a style of fusion cuisine completely unique to the chef. Using traditional Japanese fare as his base, Inoue finds boundless inspiration anywhere and everywhere to build his imaginative bites. These eats, of course, are absolutely delicious as well. “I want to create cuisine, or food styles, that anyone can enjoy,” shares the chef, who prior to leading the culinary team at Gokoku had worked extensively in his native Japan and in New York City at former trendy spot Megu.
Inoue combines his signature cooking style with the element of surprise in popular daily lunch specials, available for $14.50. The specials change every day and stem from his bursts of inspiration, whether they be from a seasonal vegetable or a new culinary idea he’d like to try out. One day, customers may enjoy an original Beef Tomato lunch special, and the next they’ll be reveling in the comforts of a Tonkatsu set. Guests may not always know what to expect, but they can rest assured that each lunch special will bring satisfaction to the max.
When it comes to Gokoku’s regular menu, budget-conscious lunch and dinner offerings have reeled in customers since the eatery added them to its repertoire earlier this year. Tendon ($22, lunch menu) — featuring fish, shrimp and veggie tempura varieties on top of rice — is among the must tries, as is Bento Box ($20, lunch menu, only 10 available each day) showcasing mini kakiage (mixed tempura), roast duck, kobachi side dishes that change daily and more. Last but not least, Misoyaki Teishoku ($36.50, dinner menu) delights with fresh Hawaiian catches cooked divinely with miso flavors.
Koko Marina Center
7192 Kalanianaole Hwy, Hawaii Kai
Tuesday-Sunday, Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner: 5-10 p.m.