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A Traditional Taste Of Japan

Cover Story Features

June 30, 2019

Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO

Head chef Taiki Kawai holding Chirashi ($35), and a grand spread in front (top left to right): Tomato Poke ($6.50), Omakase (Deluxe) for $45, Eggplant with grated Daikon Ponzu ($7.50), Miso Butter Fish ($12.50) and Chilean Sea Bass with Grated Radish ($11.50) at center.

Exquisitely good things sometimes come in small, simply-wrapped packages. That’s certainly true of Akira Japanese Restaurant, which opened last August.

With its unassuming facade, handsomely austere furnishings and decor, and spectacular kaiseki-style cuisine, the upscale bistro has taken Honolulu’s dining community by storm.

“I will continue to pursue perfection every day,” says Chef Taiki Kawai in his bio, and his passion for his quest can be tasted in every dish. Born in Japan in 1977, Kawai launched his culinary career at age 18 at the prestigious Tokyo Kioicho Membership Club, and came to Hawaii a decade later as chef for New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. He opened Akira last August, applying his vision and skill to the creation of traditional Japanese cuisine using the finest island ingredients.

Located in the old Atlas Building at 1150 South King, now renovated with an up-scale new name (Eleven50), Akira is a little tricky to find, but the unforgettable experience more than compensates for the effort. Enter the garage on Young Street — it has a blue sign that says Eleven50 — for validated valet parking that’s just $2 for 3 hours. In the evenings, there’s often plentiful street parking.

Akira Tasting Menu (Kaiseki Style; $48)

The restaurant is modest and low-key from the start. A tiny bar seats four, and handsome wood chairs and padded benches seat another 30. Big windows provide plenty of natural light during the day, illuminating the beautifully presented food.

Simply put, Akira’s Happy Hour offerings are incredible. Early Happy Hour takes place between 4 and 5:30 p.m.; late-night from 8:30 to10 p.m. Pupus and plates like Raw Oyster Ponzu ($2.50, one piece), Ahi Poke ($6.50), Steamed Abalone Tataki ($14) and Deep Fried Lobster with Arare ($9.50) are tempting, and one cannot go wrong with the Omakase Chef’s Choice of Sushi or Sashimi ($45/Deluxe; $69/ Special). Enjoy Suntory Premium Malt on draft ($3.50), glasses of Conundrum white or red for $6, or a couple of nice sakes (Junmai Muroka Naraman and Kikusui Nigori Perfect Snow) for $13.

Available during both early and late Happy Hours, Akira’s Dinner Set offers Option A ($15 for one entree) or Option B ($25 for two entrees). Choose from a list that includes Beef Filet Dice Steak, Unagi Kabayaki, Lobster & Vegetable Tempura, Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab Arare and more. Each Dinner Set is served with an appetizer, salad, pickles, mini hot udon and rice.

Other notably tasty items from Akira’s menus include Tomato Poke ($6.50); Eggplant with Grated Daikon Ponzu ($7.50; $5.50 on happy hour); Miso Butterfish ($12.50); Simmered Chilean Sea Bass with Grated Daikon Radish ($11.50); and Chirashi ($35), a lovely bowl with ahi, salmon, hamachi, omelet, shiso, ginger and more.

You’re all ‘set’

For a pau hana treat, Akira’s Kaiseki-Style Tasting menu ($48), limited to 10 sets per day, is only available during early Happy Hour (4-5:30 p.m.) Enjoy an elaborate chef’s selection of various appetizers, sashimi and sushi, plus a steamed dish, grilled dish, simmered dish, fried dish, and more, as well as miso soup and sorbet. Or spend a little extra time and cash on Akira’s Kaiseki-Style Omakase meal ($85; available till 9 p.m. by reservation) for the ultimate indulgence.

Fired up for fried chicken

Each year on July 6, Americans observe National Fried Chicken Day with heaping platters of the delicious treat, prepared in a variety of creative ways. Various culinary experts, including the late Anthony Bourdain, have said that Japanese karaage is one of the tastiest versions of fried chicken on the planet. Celebrate the day with a delectable serving of Akira Japanese Restaurant’s Chicken Kaarage ($7.50, regular; $5.50, happy hour).

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