Bringing A Taste Of Japan To YouCover Story
January 27, 2019
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
From the moment one approaches the entrance to Akasaka, it is clear that the restaurant is quite different from others in the neighborhood — and indeed, on this island. A visit to Akasaka seems like a step back in time, and a world away in tone.
“Same place, same owner, same island, for 40 years,” says owner and president Yuko Yoo with pride. It’s been almost four decades since Yoo and her late husband, Thomas, built Akasaka. Inspired by Japanese design magazines, the couple managed to create an oasis of serenity in the heart of the big city.
Inside, the restaurant is intimate and welcoming. Akasaka’s sushi bar seats 10 comfortably, with a fine view of chef Kinjo Masashi, who has made sushi here for 35 years, against a backdrop of wooden sushi trays and white ceramic plates. A graceful tatami room with two chabudai (low tables) offers an unforgettable traditional dining experience, and there are a few tables of standard Western height for those who prefer them. On the second floor, a small room accommodates parties, meetings and family dinners.
Perfected over four decades, Akasaka’s diverse menu begins with pupu selections like abalone butteryaki, tongue shioyaki, and mozuku, the Okinawan seaweed thought to have health benefits. It continues with mouthwatering varieties of tempura, sunomono (cucumber salads), udon and soba, nabemono, donburi, and chazuke. A dozen varieties each of sashimi and maki sushi, and two-dozen types of nigiri make Akasaka competitive with Honolulu’s better-known Japanese restaurants.
“We have the best sushi in town,” claims Yoo with a smile. “Our fish is mostly from Hokkaido, and we have excellent tuna from the Philippines. Our sushi and sashimi are highest quality.”
One of the restaurant’s most popular maki is a shrimp tempura roll stuffed with avocado and topped with spicy tuna for $19.95. “It’s called the Akasaka Maki,” says Yoo. “We gave it our own name.”
Nigiri offerings include Tokujo Combination ($35.95), a spicy tuna maki cut into six pieces and a chef’s selection of nine other pieces, and Matsu Combination ($27.95) featuring a spicy tuna roll and a selection of seven other pieces. From the sashimi menu, the restaurant’s Otoro consists of six pieces of buttery bluefin tuna belly from the Philippines for $45.95.
For groups of four or five very lucky diners, Yoo recommends Nigiri Combination Special ($99.95), with two rolls and 22 pieces, handcrafted by Akasaka’s master chefs.
“We have our Sashimi Combination Deluxe Special for the same price,” she adds. “There’s so many pieces we cannot even count them.”
Guests rave over Scallop Butteryaki ($22.95), butter-soft morsels brought sizzling to the table on a small grill. Akasaka’s fine selection of teishoku (set meals), with entrees from Ahi to Unagi, includes a perennial favorite, Butterfish Misoyaki Teishoku ($28.95) accompanied by rice, miso and tsukemono.
A delicious oasis evoking old-world Japan in the urban heart of Honolulu, Akasaka is a delightful surprise.
Many island restaurants boast of sushi and sashimi with ingredients from Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market, but the markets of Hokkaido yield some of Japan’s most prized catches. Akasaka gets the fundamentals for much of its menu from Hokkaido. Cold, plankton-rich seas around this northern island attract high-quality fish and seafood. Try Akasaka’s Aji sushi for a taste of Hokkaido’s magnificent bounty — two lovely pieces of horse mackerel, served with special ponzu sauce for $12.95.
Change Is On The Horizon
Locals who stumble upon Akasaka purely by chance often express astonishment that it’s been around for so long without their awareness of its existence. Located in a humble strip mall between Kapiolani Boulevard and Ala Moana Center, it’s been a favorite with neighborhood sushi addicts and Japanese expats for decades. With the new transit-oriented development planned for Ala Moana, Akasaka will lose its location in about a year and a half. The search for a new home for this unique Japanese restaurant is underway.