Fusion Is Fun At Bistro Sun

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - July 12, 2006
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Manager Michael Franzen and owner Mieko Usami of Bistro Sun
Manager Michael Franzen and owner Mieko
Usami of Bistro Sun

I wouldn’t say I am picky when it comes to food. I’ve eaten my share of unusual ethnic dishes - everything from natto to mountain oysters to sea urchin and pig’s ears. I don’t mind hot stuff on salads, moi over tofu or even garlic ice cream. But I’m just not crazy about restaurants that meld Japanese and Italian food together. I look at spaghetti and I just don’t imagine a perfect pairing in miso sauce and ogo. I like Italian food to taste like the food of Italy. Japanese food? I love the clean, sharp flavors and perfectly balanced purity.

But together?

It took a trip to Bistro Sun last week to change my mind. Bistro Sun was founded in Osaka more than 35 years ago and has a menu that features hundreds of “fusion” dishes.

“We thought this was a perfect fit for Hawaii,” says restaurant manager Michael Franzen. “Our chefs have trained in Italy, and of course they are trained in Japanese cooking too.”

Franzen is a big part of Bistro Sun’s success. He is as passionate about taking care of his customers as anyone I’ve seen. When I was there for lunch last week, a couple of Japanese tourists hesitantly approached the door. Franzen spotted them and immediately grabbed menus from a table and rushed to greet them in fluent Japanese. They looked relieved and relaxed as he showed them to a table. Minutes later a group of elderly local guys arrive and seat themselves. They each have a small cooler and proceed to take out beer and sake to sip with lunch.

Franzen cheerfully greets them and then smiles at us: “They come to see the owner, I think,” he says. Sure enough moments later, the owner, Mieko Usami ,appears from the kitchen, and the old guys light up like the Christmas tree lights hanging on the wall.

The Japanese tourists order a teishoku lunch and the local guys, amid sips of beer and contagious laughter, order lunch specials.

I’ve already forgotten that I’m expecting not to like the food, because I love the place. The décor is pure kitsch. The tiny restaurant seats about 35 people and the walls are full of mismatched artifacts from Japan, Hawaii and who knows where. By the time the food arrives I’ve been having such a good time watching this neighborhood restaurant come alive that I’m hungry and curious about the food. At lunch there’s an inexpensive set meal that comes with soup, salad and a choice of entrees. We chose the tomato soup and were impressed with the simple clarity of the chicken base and lightly cooked vegetables. I ordered the Italian onion soup too. They’re both delicious. The onion soup doesn’t have the layers of cheese and crusty bread on top as a traditional French soup would, but if this is their version of fusion then I love it.

Next we had the house salad, which was delicately dressed with a simple, tangy, homemade dressing. And then came the irresistibly named Gorgeous Antonio Pilaf. There’s fusion here indeed, but it’s more a combination of Italian, French and German styles than just Japanese/Italian. Whatever the background, the pilaf is terrific, and deserving of its charming name. At night there’s a fun pupu menu and a more detailed dinner menu, and you can BYOB for a $5 corkage fee. Regulars already know this little gem, and evenings can get busy.

At Bistro Sun you’ll find passion, perfection and a little bit of everything.

Bistro Sun 2751 S. King St. Honolulu 946-7580

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