Creating Masterpieces With a Blank Canvas of Tofu

Columns Ono, You Know

April 10, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

While I completely adore all types of cuisine from across the world, there’s one food item that I absolutely cannot and will not live with out.

Drum roll, please.

I am a complete sucker for tofu! You may be surprised to hear such a thing, as tofu may be categorized as the simplest of foods. But there’s something about it that is so fresh and pure, like an empty canvas waiting to be created into a masterpiece.

This week, I took it upon myself to see what some of our Island’s best chefs, aka artists, are creating with tofu. All were works of culinary art in their own right — some simple and classic, while others remarkably eclectic. So get your appetites ready, readers, because there’s more to tofu than meets the eye.

Azure Restaurant

  • The author shows off a few of Azure Restaurant's fabulous tofu dishes, including a whole snapper (market price) with tofu salad.
  • Azure Restaurant's chef Jon Matsubara prepares a tantalizing fish with a refreshing tofu salad.
  • Guests can specially request for the Truffle Tofu at Azure.
  • Azure's Blackened Tofu ($25) is a popular appetizer among vegetarians.
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The freshest of catches are found at Azure Restaurant, a specialty island seafood restaurant led by chef de cuisine Jon Matsubara. Located at The Royal Hawaiian a Luxury Collection Resort, Azure offers a menu, hand-crafted by Matsubara, that pays homage to succulent island fish and fruits de mer. Fresh fish are selected each morning from the Hawaii fish auction, so patrons know they’re receiving only the best from Hawaii’s waters.

Knowing that tofu was what I was after this week, Matsubara had a few exquisite tofu dishes up his sleeve that were both uniquely appealing and utterly onolicious.

“We have vegetarians who come in all the time and we highly recommend the Blackened Tofu appetizer ($25),” Matsubara says. “One of the ideas was to take a piece of tofu, roast and butcher it like a piece of fish. So we cut it to look like a filet of fish and put the same spice mixture on it, roast it and serve it with a vinaigrette and vegetables.

“We took a very classical blackening spice (Cajun style) and added a bit of Indian spice, along with the traditional Japanese flavors of furikake,” he adds. “It works really well together.”

And I have to say, this is one of the most tantalizing tofu dishes I have ever come by, second only to Matsubara’s Whole Fish Preparation (market price). The latter dish features a dramatic presentation of a whole deboned fish, such as a snapper, perfectly fileted and deep fried to a crisp, and accompanied by Sumida Farms’ Watercress and Tofu Salad.

“This is another local favorite for people who love to eat the whole fish. It’s served with a ponzu sauce drizzled on the tofu and the cherry tomatoes and a wasabi soy vinaigrette,” Matsubara explains.

For the fine diner, tofu connoisseur in you, Azure showcases a remarkable Truffle Tofu (contact restaurant for price) soon to hit the menu. Matsubara and his talented culinary team will currently create this stuffed tofu creation upon request, utilizing Italian black truffles, pureed with tofu and topped off with pepeiao mushrooms. It’s extravagant, to say the least, and your taste buds will be begging for much more of this simple elegance.

Azure Restaurant
The Royal Hawaiian a Luxury Collection Resort
2259 Kalakaua Avenue
(808) 921-4600
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On On at McCully Chinese Restaurant

  • On On's Mabo Tofu ($5.95) is savory in flavor and spice.
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This family-owned establishment serves up mouthwatering Cantonese cuisine, with a hint of Northern Chinese flair that has been drawing loyal diners in for decades. Owners Cowan and Faith Wong first opened the doors to On On in Kapahulu in 1980, before relocating to its current location 20 years later.

And while the menu is vast here — more than 200 items, to be exact — truth be told, it’s quite easy for me to pick a premier entree of choice. The Mabo Tofu with Rice (imagine a large portion of rice served with house-made mabo tofu) has been a weakness of mine since childhood.

“For those who aren’t too familiar with this Chinese dish, it’s chopped tofu with a delectable red sauce and ground pork,” says restaurant manager Norman Wong. “We sell order after order on a regular basis.”

Mabo Tofu ($5.95) is proof that when you pair the simplest of foods such as tofu with an assortment of amazing spices and gravy, it’s a match made in heaven!

On On at McCully Chinese Restaurant
1110 McCully Street
(808) 946-8833
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Sumo Ramen

  • Sumo Ramen's Mabo Tofu ($6.25) is a winner among guests.
  • Cold Tofu ($3.50) at Sumo Ramen is an appetizer featuring fresh tofu soaked in a special shoyu sauce and garnished with dried fish flakes and chopped green onions.
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With six locations islandwide, Sumo Ramen is one of my faves when it comes to comfort food. Enter two of my longtime favorite Sumo selections: Mabo Tofu Ramen ($6.25) and Cold Tofu ($3.50).

“The Mabo Tofu Ramen has been on the menu for a while now and it features ground pork, stir-fried with tofu, garlic, chili pepper and other seasonings, then garnished with green onions. After we cook the ramen, we top it off with the Mabo Tofu,” says Ken Wong, who owns the Market City Shopping Center location, along with his wife, Cindy.

Dining enthusiasts like myself are enthralled by the thrilling taste of this dish — the zesty spices and the smooth texture of the tofu is what it’s all about. However, if you’re not hot on spice, the chefs here are more than happy to prepare your order mild.

Experiencing a gigantic appetite? Opt for the Mabo Tofu Ramen Combo ($8.50) that comes complete with ramen, fried rice and four-piece gyoza. Delicious!

Sometimes it’s the simplest things in life that mean the most, and the Cold Tofu is an irresistible option when you want to take a break from rich, island cuisine.

This modest appetizer is your best bet when craving something light and refreshing. This classic starter showcases a fresh block of tofu sitting in a special shoyu sauce and garnished with dried fish flakes and green onions.

So what are you waiting for? Go out and get a mouthful of tofu at Sumo Ramen!

Sumo Ramen
Market City Shopping Center
2919 Kapiolani Boulevard #104
(808) 737-1868
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