Freewheeling Adventures With Ultimate Unagi

Columns Ono, You Know

January 21, 2012

Story By: Dining Out Team |

I‘m a huge, as in huge, fan of the infamously grumpy, quick-witted Anthony Bourdain and his Emmy Award-winning Travel Channel series No Reservations. Bourdain explores every corner of the globe and comes face to face with foreign foods, eclectic personalities and exotic places that help define the international cultural landscape we live in. What a job!

I’ve always had the urge to discover my inner-Anthony Bourdain and delve into the colorful and vibrant foods here at home and around the world. Therefore, this week I decided to explore the somewhat outlandish cuisine that’s part of our ethnic melting pot. My first assignment: Tackling into onolicious morsels of unagi aka fresh-water eel. While some may believe it to be slightly unappealing, when prepared the right way, unagi is divine!

Unagi is a common ingredient used in Japanese cuisine, and special unagi restaurants are widespread in Japan as well. Not only is unagi Ono, You Know worthy in flavor and taste, it’s also high in protein, vitamin A and calcium, thus making for a guilt-free meal. With that said, come along with me, and let’s explore some of the best establishments around town that are making their way into the unagi universe.

Sushi Ichiban

  • The editor digs into Sushi Ichiban's onolicious Unagi Avocado Maki.
  • Sushi Ichiban's Unagi Avocado Maki ($8)
  • Sushi Ichiban's Unajyu ($15)
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Sushi Ichiban is on a roll when it comes to providing sushi enthusiasts with the highest-quality creations. Head chef Marc Kusaka, who previously worked at Morimoto Waikiki before leading the pack at the Waialae Avenue restaurant, makes it priority to ensure that freshness is key.

Hungry for some authentic Japanese dishes, I was pleased to know that Kusaka obtains a good portion of his fish directly from Japan. And no matter what you’re in the mood for, Kusaka will exquisitely create a perfect meal for any sushi fanatic — whether it be California Rolls, Spicy Tuna Rolls, Inari or a plethora of sashimi, including tobiko, ikura, maguro, tako, ebi and more.

On my most recent visit to the restaurant, I had an intense craving for unagi — Unagi Avocado Maki ($8) and Unajyu ($15), to be exact.

“Unagi is fresh-water eel. It’s on the fattier side, which gives it a lot more taste,” Kusaka says.

Chef Marc delicately prepared the delicious Unagi Avocado Maki right before my very eyes at the sushi counter, and I was thrilled to have two of my favorite sushi essentials (unagi and avocado) in one roll, enhanced with nori, sushi rice and sesame seeds on the exterior. The Unajyu also is a favorite of mine. It features a whole piece of unagi drizzled with unagi sauce and sprinkled with a bit of sansho (mild pepper) atop a bed of hot rice. Unajyu is the heartier dish of the two, and my top pick when I’ve worked up an appetite.

“We make our own sauce, in which we dip the unagi in,” Kusaka explains. “The sauce isn’t overpowering, but yet it intensifies the natural unagi flavor.”

So, the next time you want to immerse yourself in a world of unagi, think Sushi Ichiban for No. 1 unagi delights.

Sushi Ichiban
3579 Waialae Ave.
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Genki Sushi

  • Genki Sushi's Dragon Roll ($3.80)
  • Genki Sushi's Unagi ($2.80)
  • Genki Sushi server Cami Silva and supervisor Kristine Corpuz
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The sushi addict in me can never get enough of Genki Sushi! As Hawaii’s premier kaiten-style sushi establishment, and with 14 locations in the Islands — nine on Oahu, two on Maui, one on Kauai and one on the Big Island — this popular sushi eatery is always here to serve you.

Kaiten is the signature style of Genki, meaning all 60 of your sushi favorites are easily accessible via a revolving conveyor belt. This form of sushi dining is based on the idea promoted to create a “fast-food sushi of sorts.

What’s my immediate must-have or “must-grab,” you may ask? That would most certainly be Genki Sushi’s Dragon Roll. Priced at $3.80, the Dragon Roll is most fitting being that it is the year of the dragon, according to the Chinese zodiac.

“Dragon Roll (four pieces) is a popular pick among our customers,” says director of purchasing, David Moon. “It’s very good!”

With the very first bite, I would describe it as an unagi lover’s take on the classic California roll, as it consists of crab, mayo and avocado wrapped ever so tightly in nori and rice, and topped with a flavorful piece of unagi seasoned in a special sauce.

“Our unagi is always very tender,” Moon adds. And you’ll indeed notice that when biting into Genki’s prime Unagi (2.80, two pieces), broiled and sliced atop Genki’s onolicious sushi rice, wrapped with a strip of nori and accented with the eatery’s scrumptious unagi sauce.

While you’re at it, make room in your tummy to feast on plates upon plates of Spicy Tempura Roll, Ahi Poke, Spicy Tuna Roll, Inari, Teriyaki Chicken Bowl and more. It’s evident that the possibilities are endless at Genki Sushi.

Genki Sushi
430 Kamehameha Hwy.
(and various locations)
View the Map

Curry King

  • Curry King's Unagi Bowl ($9.55)
  • Shane Yang with Curry King's Ungai Bowl.
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At Curry King, the crowning moment is when you are presented with a piping hot bowl of paitan ramen or savory Japanese curry — just a couple of the many alluring entrees to come out of this establishment.

Located in the food court at Ward Warehouse, Curry King opened its doors this past September, and according to manager and chef Shane Yang, his philosophy is to offer high-quality cuisine at an affordable price.

“We specialize in paitain ramen,” Yang says. “Paitan is pork-based soup, and we leave it to simmer until it turns a natural white. You can order ramen or udon with paitan soup.”

Yet, with a name like Curry King, it’s only proper to ask about the curry dishes offered here. Yang presents diners with a Japanese curry (with rice or ramen), which he says isn’t too spicy, and in fact gives off a sweeter flavor.

Is your stomach growling yet? Mine is. However, being that my appetite was geared to everything uniquely unagi, I just had to ask Yang about his unagi special.

“We do have an Unagi Bowl ($9.55), featuring barbecue teriyaki fresh-water eel,” he says.

Diners are greeted with a bowl full of rice topped with 5.5 ounces of delicious unagi smothered in a homemade teriyaki sauce. A side of mixed greens and tsukemono complete the dish.

“Unagi is a favorite with locals and the meat is very tender,” Yang explains. “When you mix the teriyaki unagi with the hot rice, it’s very delicious. We sell about 10 to 15 orders of the Unagi Bowl per day.”

Yang oversees the 30-item menu at Curry King and is looking to add more items in the near future.

“It’s always exciting to come up with new ideas and see how our customers like it,” he says.

Curry King
Ward Warehouse
1050 Ala Moana Blvd. #1400
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