A perfect pairing

Cover Story

October 25, 2020

Story By: Paige Takeya | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Akira Japanese Restaurant executive chef/owner Taiki Kawai and his wife Itsuko showcase some of the restaurant’s new menu items.

Sometimes, simplicity is the secret to success. It’s a fact that Akira Japanese Restaurant knows quite well.

Ask what makes the little izakaya on South King Street stand out from the pack — the area itself home to no small amount of comparable little izakaya — and owner and executive chef Taiki Kawai modestly says, “Akira has many varieties of Japanese cuisine with a wide (selection) of flavors that locals like, and is also flexible with customers’ special requests.”

The truth, of course, is in the kitchen.

Naraman Junmai Sake & Special Bento Set ($28)

Consider Akira’s newest addition to the menu: the Flavored Karaage Chicken set ($6, ala carte).

Karaage chicken — crispy deep-fried chicken that has been marinated and lightly battered in flour or starch — is a Japanese restaurant staple. An avid diner would be hard-pressed to find an izakaya that doesn’t serve this classic dish.

And Akira has made its take on the plate a must-have with just a few simple, classic flavors.

Black Pepper Flavored Karaage Chicken ($6)

“Since our karaage chicken was a big hit for most people, I decided to make varieties of different-flavored fried chicken. I try to put in several Japanese wafu flavors to see if the chicken flavor combines with it,” Kawai says.

The result is a five-flavor set that includes classic Japanese sauces and seasonings like miso garlic, ume shiso, spicy mayo, curry and black pepper.

As Kawai said, nothing about those flavors is particularly unusual. They, too, are staples of the Japanese culinary experience. Everyone likes these flavors. You can find variations of them just about everywhere.

Spicy Mayo Flavored Karaage Chicken ($6)

But the fact remains that no other izakaya is combining the classics quite like this.

The Flavored Karaage Chicken set can also be ordered in bento form ($9), where it comes with rice, tamagoyaki (grilled egg), a cold appetizer and pickles.

Bento are something Akira has become intimately acquainted with over these last few months. COVID-19, says Kawai, has not been easy for the restaurant to endure.

“We decided to do takeout bento to see if it works for us,” Kawai explains, admitting that things have not been and still aren’t easy for the restaurant. “Many customers actually like our bento, so we will continue takeout for now, until further notice.”

Miso Garlic Flavored Karaage Chicken ($6)

Kawai, in fact, decided to create a special Bento Box ($18.50) for customers that was inspired by sake.

“I got this idea from a Japanese sake sommelier offering to do a bento set with a small bottle of sake. I thought it was a good idea, so I made a bento putting in most of our popular appetizers.”

The Bento Box includes bara chirashi, miso butterfish, karaage chicken, tamagoyaki, agedashi tofu (battered and fried tofu in broth), beef tataki, nasu yuzumiso (miso-glazed eggplant) and hajikami ginger (pickled young ginger).

“Instead of plain white rice, we switched (it) with chirashi rice, which is sushi rice topped off with scattered slices of fish, tamagoyaki, shiso and cucumber,” Kawai explains.

The set can be enjoyed alone or with a special Sake Set ($28), selected by sake sommelier Yoko Suganami. Quantities are limited, so call in advance to reserve your order.

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