Combating Hunger with Down-home ‘Cooke’-ing

Columns What's for Lunch?

February 9, 2014

Story By: Rachel Breit | Photos by: Rachel Breit

A meal doesn’t have to be fancy to make an impact. It’s the old-school, family-style recipes that promise tried-and-true grinds. Ken Akazawa, owner of Cooke Street Diner, understands this. KCC-trained, Akazawa delivers local fare via French culinary techniques.

His cozy eatery, open for 12 years, seems an extension of his home. He and his staff offer a generous dose of hospitality along with their food. “We get to know our customers. We do a lot of laughing and story telling,” Akazawa says. “It’s like talking to your friends.”

Try talking to Akazawa about jiujitsu. He practices the martial art five days a week. It was actually one of his regular customers who got him hooked on it.

If you’re grappling with your options for what to order for lunch, Korean Chicken ($8.75) will put a hold on you. Leg pieces are lightly coated in batter, fried and dipped in teriyaki sauce, green onions, a touch of red chili flakes and sesame seeds.

“This recipe is what we are known for.” With a crispy exterior, tender juicy interior and coating of sweet, salty satisfaction, a swift submission to this chicken is certain.

Another dish, locked onto the menu by customer’s approval features a plentiful portion of flaky pink Salmon ($11.75) — packed with good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids — with a choice of four sauces: miso, lemon, teriyaki or butter gravy.

Akazawa honed the butter gravy recipe during his culinary training at KCC. Brown butter makes the base of the French-style gravy. Never heard of brown butter? The Internet is alive with food blogs waxing poetic about its wonders, and for good reason.

“It has a nutty flavor,” says Akazawa.

Hazelnuts, in fact. It’s sometimes referred to as beurre noisette, which translates to hazelnut butter. Applying heat and constantly stirring butter until its water evaporates off turns butter brown. Sound effortless? It’s not.

“There’s a fine line between brown and burnt,” explains Akazawa.

It’s this brown goodness that blankets the salmon. Fresh tomatoes and capers top it off.

Not afraid to get your hands messy? Move aside for Teri Burger with Kim Chee ($7 with fries). Dripping with saccharine teri sauce and kicked up with local kim chee, the hand-made burger is a revival of one Akawaza enjoyed as a kid.

Another welcoming dish is Cooke Street Diner Chili ($6.50 mini). “It’s homey,” says Akazawa, who uses a couple of different chilies to achieve the “round flavor” that’s not overly spicy. Served with a hot dog, “it’s really simple,” he says.

Dining Out readers are invited to check out Hot Deals Hawaii (simply log on to HotDealsHawaii.com), where diners can purchase a $20 voucher for just $10 to be redeemed at Cooke Street Diner. The sizzling deal is available now through midnight Feb. 13, and is valid from Feb. 14 to July. 31. As a reminder, the Hot Deals certificates may not be combined with any other specials or discounts, cash or credit is not returned for any unused certificates, and tax and tip are not included when using the certificates for meal purchases.

Lunch is served from 10 a.m., and if you’re short on time, call your order in. Street parking may be limited, so carpool or take a jaunt if you’re in the Kakaako area. Akazawa says new menu items are on the horizon — something to look forward to.

Cooke Street Diner

605 Cooke St., Honolulu
Monday-Friday, 5:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
Saturday, 6:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Closed Sunday

Honolulu, HI 96813

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best