Restaurants


I know you

Aki-no-no serves familiar food with an extra big smile

Honolulu gets another izakaya spot in the form of Aki-no-no, a warm wood-and-bamboo room that sequesters diners from the bustle of King Street. Owners Aki and Lisa Ito ran the downtown take-out spot Itochan Sushi, which they closed to move up the dining ladder.

Enter 6-month-old Aki-no-no and you’ll find a low-key buzz as groups gather around plates of food and glasses of beer, sake and shochu. At the back of the eatery is a 12-seat sushi bar, where Aki does his thing.

You can order ‡ la carte small dishes, such as vinegary mozuku (seaweed salad), fried squid and grilled eggplant; sushi; set dinners; and a whole bunch of specials, including grilled hamachi collar and fugu prepared four different ways.

So what sets Aki-no-no apart from competition like, say, Mr. Ojisan’s? Where the Kapahulu joint has almost an haute edge to its food, with everything, no matter how basic, crisply presented, Aki-no-no’s offerings take the homey route one would expect from a mom-and-pop establishment, looking a little limp, but fresh and with taste highlights nonetheless.

Grilled scallops in a butter-and-shoyu sauce still have the chewy lips attached, ginger pork could use a little more of the root and potato croquettes are textbook examples. Less familiar dishes include a tuna burger rendered slightly creamy by avocado and topped with wasabi mayonnaise. You can have fugu grilled, fried, in nabe or ‘ankake’ style–fried pieces swimming in a bowl of vinegary sauce that tastes like Szechuan hot-and-sour soup.

The sushi selection is standard, the good fish cut in oversized pieces that drape over the edges of the morsels of well-cooked, not-too-moist rice.

The food may not break new izakaya ground, but what makes regulars out of customers is the service. Lisa leads a small army of young women who serve you as if you’re a good friend over for dinner. Aki-no-no, besides being a play on the owner’s name, means autumn field–words that evoke an image that’s warm and fuzzy, which is how you’ll probably feel after an evening of eating and drinking here.

Aki-no-no

2633 S King St (947-1001)

Hours: Mon-Sat 5pm-2am
Small dishes: $2.50-$9.50
Big dishes: $9.50-$25

Recommended dishes: Maguro-avocado patty, sushi, grilled fugu
Payment: AmEx, Disc, JCB, MC, V


Fish nirvana

Tokyo’s world-famous Tsukiji market inspires a new Ala Moana spot

Tsukiji market, Tokyo’s fish mecca, could be the eighth wonder of the modern world. It’s a mammoth refrigerated universe where the highest-grade tuna goes for five figures. In the wholesale-market complex are a number of eateries, including the famous Sushisay. Japanese hotelier Ken Mitsusune took inspiration from Tsukiji (and obtained use of the name) to open an opulent 14,000-square-foot seafood emporium and restaurant at Ala Moana early next year.

‘At Tsukiji, you can get all kinds of fish. At the same time, some little sushi and noodle stands are in there–that’s how I got the idea. I thought I could do a fusion of market and restaurant,’ explains Mitsusune, a graduate of the prestigious Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne, Switzerland, who is a former director of Los Angeles’ Hotel Bel-Air. For the past six years he has managed hotels in Australia and New Zealand. ‘I sold my shares and came to Hawai’i last year to open my business.’

On sale at Tsukiji Fish Market and Restaurant will be catches from local waters, Japan’s Kyushu Island (’That’s where most fresh fish comes from’) and beyond (such as New Zealand). In charge of the market will be Masateru Nakazato, a 32-year veteran of the local fish biz who’s closing his Oahu Market operation. ‘He says local tuna is better than Japanese tuna,’ says Mitsusune.

If you don’t cook, you’ll have a choice of a sushi bar, yakitori bar and a cook-while you watch buffet. Mitsusune has already lined up six chefs from Japan because ‘I like to offer authentic Japanese food, rather than localized.’ In charge of sushi (edomae style) will be chef-partner Yukio Furukawa, who owned a handful of restaurants in Japan.

In charge of design is international star Yukio Hashimoto, who arrives at the end of the month to present his model to Ala Moana. With dozens of Tokyo hot spots under his belt, Hashimoto is poised to deliver what could be Honolulu’s most exciting restaurant–even if it is in a mall. –L.G.