Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Akira Japanese RestaurantRestaurant Insider
July 3, 2022
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE speaks with Akira Japanese Restaurant executive head chef/owner TAIKI KAWAI
I recently headed back to Akira Japanese Restaurant to visit Taiki Kawai, executive head chef and owner. One of the best things about this restaurant is the special seasonal menus that he offers, giving patrons new dishes to try in addition to ordering their favorites off the regular menu.
Alongside his wife, Itsuko, Kawai and Akira Japanese Restaurant will be celebrating four years of business in August. This local favorite eatery was able to endure the impact of the pandemic, bringing takeout options to the next level and allowing grateful customers to order Kawai’s special bentos for lunch.
I was able to sample some of the summer menu items, and we talked about the dishes and the expansion of the restaurant. Now, there are even more reasons to come to this popular establishment.
AL: What is unique about the restaurant expansion?
TK: The space was previously occupied by Palama Express. Last July, we were able to take over the space, which was a blessing as our restaurant capacity was maybe 30 max. With the social distancing, it was nearly impossible for us to open for dine-in. Now, we can still offer takeout during the day and dine-in options for the evening. If you do reserve the upper area, we offer a BYOB option. You can also buy a bottle of sake or wine from the restaurant below, and then bring it your table to enjoy with your dinner. This upper area can also be reserved for private functions; the maximum capacity would be about 25 comfortably.
AL: Tell us more about the special bento menu takeout options. TK: Due to popular demand, we still offer takeout options from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, and 3:30 p.m. to close Saturdays and holidays.
There is our signature Akira Bento Box, various other bentos, donburi/bowls, sushi and sides, and we have special options that are only on our takeout menu. The Akira Tasting Plate ($48) is a generous portion of many different items that we offer (order one hour in advance); the dine-in price is more, so this is a very good value. The Naraman Junmai Sake & Special Bento Set ($28) is handpicked by sake sommelier Yoko. This includes a 300-milliliter bottle of Naraman Junmai sake, chirashi, miso butterfish, chicken karaage, beef tataki, agedashi tofu in ginger sauce, eggplant yuzu miso, tamagoyaki and hajikami ginger. There is also the special bento and nori bento (deluxe and regular) only offered on the takeout menu.
AL: What seasonal specials can we expect on the menu?
TK: Japanese Style Red Shrimp Caprese ($11.50) is a very popular dish. I wanted to make a Japanese version with miso ponzu sauce (changed the basil to shiso) with mozzarella and tomato.
The Tristan Lobster Tempura ($18.50, two pieces) is from the remote island chain of Tristan da Cunha, and many feel that this is the best in the world. It’s sweet, clean and firm.
Mehikari Tempura ($5.50) is a Japanese green-eyed deep sea fish and rare to find. You can eat all the bones, and it’s high in calcium.
The Prosciutto Papaya Salad ($10.50) is a Japanese-Italian version that I brought back on to the menu. It’s a nice summer dish.
Finally, the Horse Mackerel Tataki ($11.50) is famous dish in Japan. Ours is mixed with salt and vinegar, onion, shiso and shoyu, and mixed sashimi style.
AL: What are your special menu hours and options?
TK: Happy hour is 4:30-5:30 p.m. and 8-9:30 p.m. We have beer, wine and sake on special, as well as discounted food options.
The Dinner Teishoku Set is available 4:30-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays. Choose any one item for $18, or two items for $25 (there are other items that you can order for a small upcharge). These sets all come with appetizers, salad, pickles, rice, mini udon or miso soup.
There is our famous kaiseki-style Omakase ($100) with three kinds of chef’s choice appetizers, three kinds of chef’s choice sashimi, a steamed dish, four kinds of chef’s choice sushi, a grilled dish, a simmered dish, a fried dish, four more chef’s choice sushi options, soup and dessert.
Our kaiseki-style Tasting Menu ($55) is another favorite. There are three kinds of chef’s choice appetizer, two kinds of chef’s choice sashimi, a steamed dish, a grilled dish, a simmered dish, a fried dish, a special dish, sushi, soup and dessert.
AL: What can we expect for your four-year anniversary in August?
TK:We have done an all-day happy hour in the past. That may happen again, but we are working on something special — stay tuned!