POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 22, 2011
I always liked the options presented to me at Shirokiya’s food court at Ala Moana Center.
If I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, I could always circle the many food stations, eye all the selections and pick up a single bento, tonkatsu sandwich or small entree, combining it with side dishes such as kim chee, sweet potatoes or fried noodles.
It’s the equivalent of a bustling marketplace, and I never expected more from the communal experience.
Recently, a colleague was in need of a quick 20-minute lunch and I recommended he stop there. Later, I asked him how it was and he made a sour face, saying, “I don’t usually go to that kind of place. It’s so crowded and noisy.”
YATAIMURAShirokiya, Ala Moana Center
Hours: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Cost: $10 to $20 per person
There’s no guarantee that Shirokiya’s new Yataimura will be any less crowded or noisy, but for snobs among us, it does move toward a more upscale menu than what’s available at the regular food court.
Set to mark its 350th anniversary next year, Shirokiya is getting an early start on upgrading its store to meet demands of the next 350 years. The Yataimura (accessed via elevator or the third-level parking lot entrance) marks the first innovation, comprising 21 “yatai,” or “shop stands” offering an array of hot foods, sashimi, oden, tempura, house-made tofu and more, plus hard-to-find draft beers from Japan, and sake, shochu and wine.
The stations seemed to have sprung up overnight, taking over the area that once featured packaged foods, teas, toiletries and small housewares.
Of course, with more food comes more tables, with a 90-person capacity. A wisteria trellis offers a bit more ambience than the cluster of densely packed tables on the other side of the court, and trellis decor will reflect the change in Japan’s seasons, from spring’s cherry blossoms to autumn’s red-yellow leaves.
JUST AS at a sushi bar, you could end up spending a lot here if you’re the sort who eats with your eyes, snatching up every dish that appeals to you. You will get an eyeful with temptations like grilled abalone ($9); tempura by the piece ($1 to $3.95) or by bento ($8.50 to $10.50); hot or cold udon ($6.50 to $12); and impressive sashimi, from salmon ($5.50) to abalone ($9). There are more than 200 selections, so you can imagine all the possible combinations. You’ll definitely want to stroll the marketplace before making choices. Inevitably, you’ll miss something. For instance, on an initial pass during a media preview Friday, I got caught up in the beauty of stuffed bell peppers and tomatoes and missed the oden on the opposite side of the room.
At $6.50, a seafood-stuffed tomato filled with one piece each of salmon, shrimp and calamari, plus asparagus and soybeans, makes a nice light meal, though most people will likely be attracted to more traditional offerings like the sashimi, grilled butterfish ($7.50), kalbi ($4.50 for a side dish), pork kakuni ($5.50 for a side dish) and teriyaki chicken ($9.50 in a bento).
For the oden, you can fill your bowl with shumai, fishcake, stuffed cabbage and konnyaku, offered at $1 to $2.50 per piece.
There are a couple of styles of shrimp tempura, and I preferred one with a batter coating over a drier version coated with panko.
One of my favorite dishes of the day, because I was in that sort of mood, was a comfort dish of shoyu butterfish and tofu ($7.50). No doubt I’ll find other favorites over time, but it’ll take quite a while to eat my way through the complete array.