Authenticity At Its FinestCover Story
July 15, 2018
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
When you enter Japanese Restaurant Aki in Kaimuki, don’t be surprised to hear a chorus of friendly voices call out, “Irasshaimase (welcome in Japanese).”
Along with a warm greeting, you will find a menu filled with mouthwateringly authentic pleasures such as curries, yakitori, hot pot, agemono (fried foods), grilled fish, assorted rice dishes, sushi and sashimi. And all are masterfully prepared and presented.
If you catch a glimpse of the chef responsible for this fantastic fare, try not to show your astonishment at his relative youth. Executive chef Shoichi Kosaka, whose future was clear at an early age, is the gifted culinary architect in Japanese Restaurant Aki’s kitchen.
“Chef knows almost everything about traditional Japanese food,” says Eric Rogers, manager of the 11th Avenue eatery, adding that Kosaka began working right after high school at one of Kyoto, Japan’s best restaurants, learning authentic techniques over a decade in the country’s finest traditional izakayas (Japanese pubs).
A deep knowledge of his country’s complex culinary history and practices, combined with fresh, high-quality ingredients, makes Kosaka a chef whose creations draw Japanese nationals, the island’s best sushi chefs, and knowledgeable locals to his cozy, serene restaurant.
Presented in a rich dashi, Fried Baby Octopus Broth Sauce ($7.50) is a tender treat in its thickened, savory Japanese broth. Motsu Teppan ($12), a sizzling hot platter of stir-fried beef with intestines, is another rustically authentic dish, both satisfying and truly ono.
One of Aki’s most popular dishes, oden — the classic Japanese winter stew — has become a true comfort food, available year-round in many restaurants, including this one. The 5 Oden Assortment ($11.50) begins with a delicately flavored, piping-hot dashi, and your choice of a list of traditional ingredients like egg, hanpen (fishcake), konnyaku, mochi pouch, and gobo maki (burdock root and fishcake).
Even Aki’s Original Salad ($10.50), made with fresh greens, fried onions, wonton chips, and a delectable house dressing, shows the chef’s deft touch. And in a delectable demonstration of Kosaka’s skill, 9-Piece Sushi Assortment (market price), a special platter not found on the regular menu, includes whatever is freshest and finest — customers may be presented with uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), ika (squid), tako (giant octopus), salmon, shima aji (striped jack), hotate (scallops), hirame (olive flounder) or maguro (tuna).
“Our fish is flown directly from (Japan’s) Haneda Airport a couple times a week; they get a fish and send it to Hawaii the same day,” explains Rogers. “It’s kind of expensive but it’s the same quality as is used in Japan, and it’s worth it.”
From deep-fried agedashi tofu to yakitori skewers loaded with tender morsels of prime meats and vegetables, Japanese Restaurant Aki delivers one savory surprise after another.
By day, Eric Rogers is manager of Japanese Restaurant Aki. By night, Rogers, who trained as a yakitori chef in Tokyo for five years, grills mouthwatering meats and vegetables over imported Binchotan charcoal for Aki’s lucky dinner customers. Since Japan’s Edo Period three centuries ago, Binchotan charcoal has come from ubame oak trees in Wakayama Prefecture. Burning at lower temperatures than ordinary charcoal, the white charcoal produces clean, almost odorless smoke — ideal for yakitori.
Oishii (delicious in Japanese) is the word you’ll want to learn before you eat dessert at Japanese Restaurant Aki, as oishii should be a textbook description of this restaurant’s Green Tea Creme Brulee. Under a beautiful green topping of caramelized sugar subtly flavored with matcha, there’s rich, velvety custard just waiting for discovery. You might share, but you’ll wish you had your own!