Leading The Way In Farm-Fresh CuisineCover Story
December 3, 2017
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Anthony Consillio
In these last few weeks before the holidays, many will find themselves at Ala Moana Center, pushing through the crowds to find that perfect gift.
If the prospect of a food-court dinner seems unappealing after a long shopping expedition, head for Tsukada Nojo, less than a mile away. What a spectacular reward! Though it’s located on Kalakaua Avenue, this serene, delightful restaurant seems far removed from the madness of the mall.
There’s a nicely sized parking lot in front of Tsukada Nojo, and even more parking in back, with access on Kalauokalani Way. The entrance is tiled, the floor painted cement, and the place has high neo-industrial ceilings, and heavy steel and aluminum light fixtures. But thanks to all the gorgeous warm wood — great rough-hewn slabs of it serving as tabletops — it feels a bit like a modern, state-of-the-art barn that’s been converted into something fresh and new.
And that’s only appropriate for this uniquely lovely farm-to-table restaurant. “‘Tsukada’ is a region in Japan; ‘nojo‘ means ‘farms,'” says general manager Ed Mailoa. “At all our restaurants, we source as many local ingredients as we can. Here in Hawaii we get local chicken from Punachicks Farm on the Big Island; we get produce from Ho Farms. We get our noodles from Sun Noodle.”
Every dish is an adventure in preparation and presentation. For a trio of Chicken Veggie Tacos ($7), served on a wooden platter, the chef has forgone traditional tortillas in favor of gorgeous magenta radish discs, stuffed with curried chicken, tomatoes, cilantro and red onions. Nori Avocado ($6) is sliced on a rustic stone plate and garnished with horseradish, seasoned seaweed paste and shredded nori, with a striping of sesame seeds.
Possibly the most inventive presentation on the menu, ingredients for Bijin Nabe ($40; serves two to three) arrive in a sweet wooden gardener’s box with a shovel to scoop them up. The chicken-based nabe broth is cooked for eight hours, chilled and gelled, then delivered in a pot with a little tabletop hot-plate burner. When it begins to cook, it melts and becomes a collagen-rich, delectable soup base. The gardener’s box includes tsukune (ground chicken meatballs), tofu, enoki mushrooms, watermelon radish, zucchini, Romaine lettuce, Chinese cabbage, watercress, and aburaage (fried tofu) to toss into the nabe pot.
Few restaurants can claim a dessert with its own reputation, but Tsukada Nojo has a winner on its menu. “People actually come into the restaurant just to try the Polar Bear!” says Mailoa. At $8.50, the shave ice bear features mixed fruits, mochi, black beans, milk syrup and vanilla ice cream, and it’s big enough to share.
Texture is an essential part of Japanese dining. There are a variety of intriguing textures everywhere at Tsukada Nojo — not just in the taste of the food, but in its presentation, and indeed in the very surroundings in which you’ll experience it. Tanoshinde! the menu exhorts in Japanese. Enjoy!
Did you know?
Owned by Japan’s AP Company, Tsukada Nojo has more than 200 locations in Japan, plus restaurants in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and three in the U.S. “Every restaurant has a different theme. Some are okazuyas, some feature sushi, and the newest concept features yakiniku-style dining,” says general manager Ed Mailoa, who describes the Honolulu location as “nabe/izakaya.” Locals will find a delicious trio of soup options — nabe, shabu-shabu and ramen — on the Honolulu menu.
Bring your post-shopping thirst to Tsukada Nojo! “Farmer’s Hours” begin nightly at 9 p.m., with $3 draft beers, 30 percent off select appetizers, and $2 off specialty cocktails. Highlights include Kale Beer — Maui Brewing Co.’s Bikini Blonde blended with cold-pressed kale — as well as sodas and cocktails made with mango and hyuganatsu citrus, both from Miyazaki Prefecture. If you’re dining on nabe, Tsukada Nojo’s signature dish, go for Nojo Hi-ball ($10), featuring oolong-infused Kikori whiskey.