Doraku Sushi has opened in the Pacifica Honolulu building, making it more accessible to diners who swear they never drive into Waikiki and have never been to Hawaii’s first Doraku, which opened nearly five years ago at the Royal Hawaiian Center.
With an empire stretching from his first Doraku Sushi in South Beach, Fla., to Malaysia, owner Kevin Aoki (also see "The Weekly Eater Bite Size: Blue Tree Cafe offers health food including treats organic and raw") is well on his way to perhaps one day rivaling the reach of his late father, Hiroaki "Rocky" Aoki, founder of Benihana of Tokyo, now with 72 restaurants in the United States and five in Latin America.
While his father catered to a generation of postwar baby boomers by delivering a quasi-Japanese menu that wouldn’t scare anyone in the West, the younger Aoki is exerting his own identity, addressing Generation Y and millennials, with a contemporary revamp of the sushi bar and izakaya and a fusion of Japanese and Latin American flavors.
|DORAKU SUSHI KAKAAKO
Pacifica Honolulu, 1009 Kapiolani Blvd. >> 591-0101
Hours: 4 p.m. to midnight Mondays to Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays; happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to closing daily
Prices: About $35 to $45 for two without drinks Note: $3 valet parking before 6 p.m.; street parking after
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This is not your dad’s restaurant either. Walking out, I overheard one Boomer grouse, "I can’t eat that way. I need a meal, not all this kind small plate." If you’re looking for teishoku or the classic Hawaii meal of rice and a huge slab of meat, Doraku Sushi may not be for you, but for a generation growing up with diverse choices and a global worldview, the restaurant’s timing is perfect.
It’s beautifully designed, boasting a bar up front with a backdrop of noh masks, and a side bar with walls lined with sake barrels. The barrels emphasize the restaurant’s extensive sake menu, which includes artisanal jizake from Japanese microbreweries.
Young bar hoppers start filing in from 4 p.m., the start of early happy hour (happy hour reboots from 10 p.m. to closing). Find a good selection of $5 plates, including Asari clam sakamushi steamed with sake and garlic butter, eggplant with miso sauce, and ginger chicken karaage, which isn’t very gingery after all. Regular prices for these dishes are $9.95, $5.75 and $6.95, respectively, and many of the hot and cold dishes are priced lower than at the Waikiki restaurant.
The regular menu offers anything izakaya you could want and then some. Due to the Latin influence, Doraku brings the fire starting with kampachi tiridito ($14.95) marinated in yuzu and soy sauce, with each sliver of fish topped by a slice of jalapeño.
The chili peppers also top the restaurant’s kagu-tsuchi or "God of Fire" roll ($11.50), a spicy tuna roll with the extra heat of spicy garlic aioli and habanero tobiko. Slices of cucumber in the roll cut some of the fire, which I didn’t find overwhelming, though I believe I love chilies more than most local people.
Also worth trying is the Peruvian seafood ceviche ($10.95), a mound of swordfish, crab, shrimp, ika and octopus tossed with crunchy Japanese cucumbers, cilantro and heavy on the onions, in a bright yuzu-lemon sauce.
You’ll find a number of specialty sushi rolls, nigiri and sashimi selections. For those who need more heft, there’s a beautiful dish of panko-crusted hamachi ($13.95) embellished with king oyster mushrooms, asparagus, mango salsa and lemon butter ponzu sauce, as well as eight ounces of garlic rib eye ($15.95) topped with sautéed mushrooms, bean sprouts and onions, a melange that comes closest to anything off the Benihana menu.
The steak, clams, seafood ceviche and tiridito were my favorites, along with grilled king oyster mushrooms ($8.95). You could dip them in the accompanying spicy ponzu sauce, but they’re also delicious solo, with fresh-off-the-grill flavor.
In addition to regular shrimp tempura ($10.95), you’ll find lobster, rock shrimp and calamari versions. I thought I’d give the lobster tempura ($11.95) a try. It was flavorless, with a shrimp-meets-whitefish texture that had me imagining some kind of Frankenfish. It’s not something I’d order again, though our waiter gushed it was one of his favorite dishes.
Tempura choices did not end with the entrees. Desserts include a brownie tempura ($6.95), comprising Twix-like sticks of brownies, deep-fried in crunchy batter and topped with chocolate syrup and macadamia nuts, with the batter canceling out some chocolate flavor. There’s also banana ice cream flambé ($7.95), which had me wondering whether you could really call it a flambé if the flame doesn’t arrive at your table. Still, with caramelized banana slices, ice cream, mac nuts and chocolate syrup — yum!
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.