Japanese Food And Wine

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 31, 2007
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Kai owner Isamu Kubota opened Kaiwa recently in Waikiki
Kai owner Isamu Kubota opened Kaiwa recently in Waikiki

Late last year I saw plans for new restaurant Kaiwa in Waikiki, and talked at length with Kai owner Isamu Kubota about his dream of being part of the Beach Walk project. Even on paper the restaurant looked beautiful, with a waterfall running the entire length of one wall, design by noted Japanese designer Ken Numatani, and decor complete with fiber-optic curtains and color-changing bar lights. It’s a remarkably sophisticated-looking restaurant and one where the dining experience is enhanced by both food and design. Perfect, really, for Mr. Kubota’s modern Japanese cuisine.

I’ve long admired Mr. Kubota’s delicate touch with Japanese dishes since I first discovered Kai hidden away on Makaloa Street a couple of years ago. He cooks some of the most imaginative and truly delicious Japanese food in Hawaii - and he does it all with an admirable blend of style and humility. If I mention that one of his dishes is akashi tako, imported from Japan, served with “a distinctly textured shellfish” in an intense basil garlic sauce, then you’ll have an idea of how innovative and exciting this food is.

Kaiwa opened Wednesday evening for a small group of invited diners, and is open to the public for lunch and dinner. Entrees start at about $10. Be sure to try the homemade silken tofu (made by Isamu’s wife, Motoko), the renkon cheese raki and eggplant wrapped in kurobuta pork.


three star

My favorite line from last year’s “cult” winemaker event at Vino came from a gentleman who was asked if he was standing in line for Jim Clendenen’s wine. “No, I’m just enjoying standing while I can,” he said, swirling his glass.

Not to give the impression that the Nov. 9 benefit for Hawaii Lupus is one big party, but when you get some of the most-talented winemakers in the country to come together for one evening in two restaurants, then you can expect a sensational event.

Last year I spent some time talking with winemaker Mia Klein of Selene wines (you can hear her interview at wineanddinehawaii.com), and she told me that the winemakers were as happy to make this trip to Hawaii as people seemed to be to see them.

“We all love catching up with each other,” she said, adding, “I’ve known some of these guys for 20 years, but sometimes you have to fly a few thousand miles to get to hang out with people you love.”

Klein makes the most incredibly elegant, beautiful wines, and she can singlehandedly change your impression of Merlot if you still believe it’s a boring wine. Other guests on Nov. 9 will include Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat (a guy who’s attained something of a rock star status among oenophiles) and Steve Clifton, who’s making some of the most outstanding Italian-style wines in America. Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas and Vino will both close for the evening, allowing the crowds to spill between the two restaurants, and food stations by the d.k group (Sansei, Vino, Hiroshi’s and d.k’s Steak House) will be served. Tickets are $100. If your wine enjoyment is as much about winemakers as it is about wine, then make a reservation quickly. Last year there were a lot of disappointed winos who just couldn’t get into the standing-room-only event (524-8466).

You’ll rarely find a group of winemakers who practice their art with more passion, dedication and sheer joy.

Happy eating!


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