Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Travel Dish: Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar (Honolulu)

I’m in the home stretch of my posts from my recent vacation in Honolulu. Gosh, I didn’t realize how much I ate during this trip until I started blogging about it. But don’t worry, this vacation slide show is definitely coming to an end. The following is one of four final posts that should wrap up my Hawaii vacation posts this week.

Fun and Wacky Dishes with Friends or Family
1585 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu
Ground floor of Ala Moana Pacific Center near Ala Moana Shopping Center
Open Sun.–Thu., 11:30 a.m.–1 a.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–2 a.m.
PH: 808.941.3701
Reservations recommended, major credit cards accepted
Validated parking behind the restaurant

Most of my vacation was spent with my mom and family, but I saved one Friday night for a mini reunion with some high school friends. I told them I wanted to go to someplace new and fun and that’s how we ended up at Shokudo Japanese Restaurant a few yards down from the new Nordstrom parking structure on Kapiolani Boulevard.

Shokudo has actually been open for more than two years, but it was new to me (and my friend Margaret who suggested the place). Its name means “dining room” and shouldn’t be confused with “sudoku,” which is the Japanese mind puzzles. (For some reason, I had “Sudoku” on my mind and I kept telling my family that’s where I was going that night. They were completely confused.)

When I arrived, the restaurant looked like a ramen noodle shop with its bright colors and somewhat tacky letterings. Sitting outside was my friend Leslie, who got there early because her optometry office is just a few steps away. (BTW, if you’re looking for an optometrist in Honolulu, you should check out my friend Leslie. She’s really nice and her new place is centrally located on Kapiolani Boulevard near Ala Moana and, of course, Shokudo. Tell her Chef Ben sent you!)

We went in to claim our table at this bustling place and ordered some drinks and a couple of pupus (Hawaiian for appetizers) while we waited for the rest of the gang. Leslie says she comes here often with her young kids, and I can see why. The place is loud, so kids could scream and no one would bother. Since this was a Friday night, however, I saw mostly young people at the bar ready to kick off the weekend with some specialty drinks. I got the specialty cucumber mojito, and the drinks totally remind me of a place like T.G.I.Friday’s where everything is colorful and crazy. (One of my friends later ordered something called “Lava Flow.”)

The place was splashed in red, including this huge red-cloth lantern in the center of the dining room. The servers were all young and dressed in black. They were all very friendly and fun to chat with.

Leslie and I ordered the Seafood Dynamite ($9.95) because I remembered how fun it was when I had it at Nihon Whisky Lounge in San Francisco. Leslie also ordered the Tofu Salad ($8.95) because that’s her favorite. By the time we placed our orders, the rest of my friends arrived: Margaret, Bertha and Gordon. Let the party begin!

Shokudo is a place where the menu has photographs of the food, so it’s definitely not like eating at someplace like Nobu. But the prices are more reasonable, and my friends ended up ordering a lot of food. Here’s a look at everything that came that night:

First up was the Seafood Dynamite. This didn’t come flaming like it did at Nihon in San Francisco and the taste didn’t compare either. I like the version at Nihon better. Shokudo’s Seafood Dynamite, served with pieces of bread, were OK but without any distinguishing flavors.

The Tofu Salad is probably really healthy for you but it was a bit boring. It was like they just cut up some greens and put the tofu on top, then dressed it up a bit. While it tasted all right, I didn’t exactly love it.

Hamachi Carpacchio ($12.95). This was one of the really beautiful dishes that came out that night. The hamachi (yellowtail fish) was pounded flat like carpacchio, giving it a super tender texture and elegant taste. Again, the arrangement on the plate took advantage of the beautiful coloring of the raw hamachi fish.

Mochi Cheese Gratin ($6.95). This is one of Leslie’s favorite and I had a lot of reservations about it. Basically it’s mochi, which is the steamed Japanese sticky rice, combined with cheese baked into a gratin. In my mind I just thought it would be a big plate of goo. But when it arrived, I took my first bite and was totally transformed into a supporter of this dish. The chef was smart to balance the cheese and mochi with the saltiness of the thinly sliced seaweed on top. The seaweed combined with the mochi and cheese created a wonderful umami flavor. I loved it. (Not recommended for old people who may choke, though!)

Chicken Karaage with Spicy Tartar Sauce ($8.95). I told the gang that I wasn’t into fried foods, but they could order one dish if they wanted to. So of course they went for the chicken karaage, which is the traditional Japanese-style fried chicken. The plate looked really big but I can’t vouch for the taste because there were so many other dishes that I passed on trying it.

Oh, they sneaked in another fried dish. This is a big plate of fried calamari. Pretty standard stuff. Again, didn't try it. I'm not into grease.

We had two orders of sushi rolls. One was the Tempura Roll ($10.95) and the other was the Spicy Tuna Roll ($9.95). Both were done really nicely. The tempura roll didn’t really have a strong greasy flavor that you sometimes get from the fried tempura, and the tuna roll was nice and fresh. (BTW, this is the kind of wacky place that serves sushi pizza.)

We got two kinds of ishiyaki dishes. Ishiyaki is the cast-iron rice dishes that get their influence from Korean cuisine. The dish comes to the table in a hot cast-iron bowl, and the server asks if she can mix it for you. Of course, I’m always in for dinner and a show so we had her mix up the Ishiyaki Unagi ($9.95) that we ordered. The barbeque flavor of the unagi (broiled eel) contrasted nicely with the slightly burned rice. We also got the Ishiyaki Garlic Shrimp ($11.95), which was also good but I liked the unagi better. (For some reason, I didn’t get a shot of the shrimp ishiyaki, I think because I was too busy eating the unagi rice.)

Old-fashioned Yakisoba Noodles ($8.95). This was our final dish and it’s supposed to be yakisoba noodles, which are the pan-fried noodles. But in this picture you can hardly tell they’re noodles because they garnished it with a wee bit too much bonito flakes. Some Japanese restaurants like to garnish with bonito flakes, which are shavings of the dried bonito that’s made with shrimp and other seaweed flavorings and used for broth, because when the thin shavings are placed on top of something hot, the heat makes the shavings do a little dance. You just have to take my word for it (or go to a Japanese restaurant where they serve a dish with bonito garnish and see for yourself).

Shokudo’s diverse menu will certainly make anyone satisfied. And despite the fact that it looks and acts like a T.G.I.Friday’s (the crew comes out to sing if it’s your birthday), the food is surprisingly good. It’s creative, fresh, hearty dishes that’s part comfort food, part crazy creations. Definitely a fun place to spend with friends while reliving your childhood days.

Single guy rating: 3.25 stars (wacky good)

Explanation of the single guy's rating system:
1 star = perfect for college students
2 stars = perfect for new diners
3 stars = perfect for foodies
4 stars = perfect for expense accounts
5 stars = perfect for any guy's dream dinner

Shokudo on Urbanspoon

Drunken dessert: Cherries Jubilee
My friends and I were full from all the food at Shokudo, but we still wanted dessert. We decided to go someplace else, but for some reason we all ended up at Gordon’s house and we forced him to make cherries jubilee for us. We were all slightly drunk (or maybe it was mostly me) so this is what happens when you make cherries jubilee while under the influence. I, for one, was just glad I didn’t have to cook in the kitchen while on vacation. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

I've really been enjoying these Honolulu food reviews, Chef Ben. We usually go to Maui, but are considering tacking on a few days on Oahu next February. Your visuals are making it all seem like a very real possibility.

As for the video, well...I'm with you -- that looked like a LOT of cinnamon!

Good friends, good times, good memories :-)


Anonymous said...

mmm shokudo looks pretty good, I want some of that mochi gratin!

Anonymous said...

mochi cheese gratin is all i think about yum