PREMIUM SELECTION | Sushi Izakaya Gaku
On my first visit to Gaku my party sat next to a young woman on her own. She was on vacation from California in search of good sushi, and had read the online reviews. She ordered the chef’s choice omakase set, communed alone over the morsels and was, she said, completely satisfied.
So were we, although we communed as well with eggplant wrapped in Wagyu beef (delish), tofu with a dashi gelatin and salmon roe (a revelation) and an uni shooter (oh so luscious), the sea urchin both briny and velvety rich.
Gaku is a destination for Japanese nationals who know their stuff, for locals in search of an experience deeper than that of an average sushi bar, and for true sushi lovers, like our new friend from California, who’ve done their research. The chefs here have a sense of exploration, seeking out what’s new, fresh and unusual.
Bottom line: A meal at Gaku is a series of exquisite bits and bites, all a matter of your choice, delivered with artistic precision. The excellent sushi is only the beginning.
Come in a group and share, or come alone and keep it all for yourself. Both ways work.
1329 S. King St.; 589-1329. Dinner. $$$
Mission Social Hall & Cafe
When planning a visit to Mission, don’t over-plan. Don’t study the menu and parse all the Yelp reviews. Just show up. Have faith.
Many of us regulars make on-the-spot ordering decisions based on Mission’s daily salads, displayed in a deli case up front. These antipasti — colorful, creative and crunchy — usually include some kind of kale salad, and something starchy, like kalo or breadfruit. The others might be roasted beets with noodles, or lightly dressed whole baby turnips, with local farm sources always cited. Pair one salad with soup or a sandwich, or get a sampling of all of them.
This smart little cafe at the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives has a tiny menu with only a few regular items. This way the kitchen can work with whatever local fishers and farmers offer on a given day. There is a nobility in this devotion to all things fresh and local — but it’s not a preachy nobility that puts cause above craft. Mission delivers consistently and tastily every time.
Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, 553 S. King St.; 447-3913. Lunch $-$$.
This is not a fancy-pants restaurant. It’s an unpretentious, family- friendly place set in a strip mall between a bead shop and a Chinese restaurant. Chef-owner Adam Gilbert says he designed it to be affordable and comfortable, “so you can come in here in a construction outfit or on a date.”
Between ambience and menu, Gilbert has done just that. Check out the room on an average night and you’ll see couples, families, extended families, gals in groups, guys in groups.
The menu is plantation- inspired, with traditional Korean, Chinese, Hawaiian, Portuguese and Filipino dishes all prepared in today’s farm-to-table spirit. Dishes here are designed for sharing. Start with a salad (the grilled romaine is a good choice, or the giant mound of a poke salad). Add an entree of Chinese-style steamed fish, perhaps, or Sunny’s Shrimp (head-on Kauai shrimp with a succulent sauce of crab roe and coconut milk). And don’t forget the garlic fried rice, a Filipino side that’s particularly well done here. Share everything.
You’ll eat well and you’ll be treated well. No, this is not a fancy- pants place, but a meal here does feel like a special night out.
Kapolei Marketplace, 590 Farrington Highway; 888-4299; plantationtavern.com. Lunch, dinner, late night. $$