Keeping Up With Kaiseki
When we go out for a traditional meal — be it for a special occasion or otherwise — we’re doing much more than merely satisfying hunger pangs. There’s an intangible, but very special, nourishment that comes from connecting with time-honored cooking techniques and cultural meanings that link us to generations past.
I get a strong sense of tradition when I partake in kaiseki dining, which has exemplified artistry, craft, quality and presentation throughout its evolution in Japan since the 16th century. When chefs today prepare the elegant, multiple-course meals of small plates that showcase the best in seasonal ingredients, they’re at once paying tribute to the long history of kaiseki, but also becoming part of that story.
At some of Honolulu’s finest Japanese restaurants, executive chefs are using their culinary creativity to manifest a new kaiseki menu every month, gorgeously balancing its signature elements of color, taste, texture and appearance. As you’ll see, the results are worth savoring.
At Koko Marina Center’s budding eatery Gokoku Sushi, customers may sink their teeth into a full array of Japanese fare inspired by executive chef Katsuhisa Inoue — from sushi and teishoku sets to contemporary fusion fare.
When the mood for an utterly authentic dining experience strikes, only Inoue’s kaiseki selections will do. In addition to six kaiseki menus served at lunch, patrons may enjoy the exquisiteness that is Kago Kaiseki ($58) for dinner. Named Mahina, the plentiful meal is presented in a round kago basket and holds 10 divine offerings.
Rather than Gokoku’s kaiseki courses, which are presented in multiple phases, Kago Kaiseki relays a feast of every plate at once. “If you want to try tempura, sushi and sashimi, then you can have it all in one,” says manager Waki Shimada. “First-time customers usually order kaiseki because they can taste everything little by little.”
The dinner is best started with an aperitif of plum wine and Champagne. Many of the meal’s staples — including the appetizer, kobachi side dish, fish and meat — change regularly, and during August, mouthwatering monchong, beef and tofu sukiyaki and sesame-coated ceviche enlivened the menu.
Kago Kaiseki also features sushi with salmon, tuna and white fish, sashimi, shrimp and vegetable tempura, miso soup and fresh dessert. In September, diners may look forward to many of the same enticing bites as the August menu, but with the additions of panko-fried Hawaiian fish with yuzu cream sauce, winter melon with mushroom ankake sauce, and seafood in vinegar jelly.
Koko Marina Center
7192 Kalanianaole Hwy., Hawaii Kai
Perched on the second floor of The New Otani Kaimana Hotel overlooking gorgeous turquoise waters, kimono-clad servers enlighten diners to traditional kaiseki experiences at Miyako Restaurant.
At this oasis of Japanese cuisine, Ono, You Know became privy to the brand-new September menu for its Monthly Kaiseki ($50). True to tradition, the menu is served over the course of the evening in multiple stages, giving patrons time to treasure each one.
While every course is worth highlighting, some of the standouts are beef sirloin topped with executive chef Yuta Anzai’s own sea urchin and miso sauce, as well as eggplant marinated in seasoned vinegar, and “agedashi-style” monchong presented with Japanese omelet.
Anzai says he enjoys sharing kaiseki menus so that guests may be able to appreciate, understand and enjoy the authentic culinary art form. He also aims to use ingredients that are available seasonally and locally, as well as specialty items sourced from Japan, when possible.
This September, Anzai underlines the entrance to autumn through the use of ginko nuts — which are commonly enjoyed during the transition into fall — prepared with fried whelk (sea snail). He also grills seasonally appropriate maitake mushrooms in his seasoned rice with burdock.
To get a taste of the rest of this must-try kaiseki meal — bursting with maguro and kampachi, soymilk tofu with mushroom sauce and more — you’ll just have to venture to Miyako and enjoy it yourself.
The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel
2863 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu