Uncovering A Hidden Gem
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One recent afternoon, a Japanese food writer sat at the sushi bar at Honolulu’s Sakura Terrace Japanese Cafe and finished his lunch with delight.
The writer, who spoke little English, said he was working on a book about Hawaii’s sushi restaurants for readers in Japan. Through a translator, he explained that this was his first time visiting Sakura Terrace — but it wouldn’t be his last.
“Not many Japanese tourists know about this place, because it’s not in Waikiki,” he added. “If they knew about it, they would love it.”
It’s easy to believe that Sakura Terrace is on the verge of “discovery” by waves of Japanese visitors and expatriates. After a recent renovation, this little gem of a restaurant has a new elegance that beautifully frames the plates on its tables.
Warm blonde wood dominates the refreshed look, with graceful new seating and an updated ceiling whose dark color accentuates the wainscoting at its borders. The remodeled sushi bar’s simple backsplash is framed by ceramic sake flasks and a small selection of exceptional Japanese whiskies. Recessed lighting and handsome wooden lamps cast a soft glow over the place.
The look isn’t the only thing that has been updated. Upon reopening, Sakura Terrace began making its sushi with Nanatsuboshi rice from Japan’s Hokkaido prefecture. Renowned for gloss, texture and balanced sweetness, Nanatsuboshi (“Seven Stars”) is milled on order, just before shipment. The result is exceptionally fresh rice.
On the afternoon of our visit, chef Yoji Kon bustled about behind the renovated sushi bar, pulling slabs of raw fish from a case. As we watched, he assembled the Yaezakura & Shrimp Tempura Set ($38). This set includes 14 scrumptious pieces of nigiri in a presentation that features ama ebi, sweet shrimp whose tail is eaten raw, and whose head is deep-fried and gently expanded with air for added drama. The set beautifully showcases the Nanatsuboshi rice.
For those who’d like to try the rice in a donburi, Hamachi Ahi Don ($18) is a great option, with fresh, thick slices of hamachi garnished with bright green onions.
Sakura Omakase Set ($48 per person for a minimum of two diners) is served only at the sushi bar. “That’s because it’s such a bargain!” says Chihiro Kitagawa, who handles Sakura’s publicity. The feast includes 10 pieces of nigiri, sashimi and a trio of grilled and hot dishes — all selected from the day’s most delicious offerings, in the tradition of omakase. “Because our chefs are from Japan, the food is very authentic,” Kitagawa adds.
Diners craving a surf-and-turf experience will enjoy the Premium Sakura Special ($80 for two), which includes Washugyu steak, Maine lobster, King crab and more. And at the meal’s end, ask for a Sakura Parfait ($5.50) to share with the table. The dessert features ice cream, warabi mochi, azuki beans, strawberries and cornflakes.
It’s just a matter of time before hungry kamaaina and homesick expats alike find their way to this tranquil oasis of authentic Japanese cuisine.
Sakura Terrace Japanese Cafe
1240 S. King St., Honolulu
Lunch: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner: Tuesday-Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m.; closed Monday