Yataimura Is A Big Hit At Shirokiya

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - June 29, 2011
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The crowds on Yataimura’s opening day even surprised Shirokiya’s staff. Jo McGarry photos

I respectfully declined an invitation to a media tasting at Shirokiya’s new food court because I wanted to witness opening day in the company of Shirokiya’s customers. The opening of yataimura has been so highly anticipated, I guessed that there’d be lots to see on the first day of business.

I wasn’t disappointed. and while I might not have eaten as much as those invited to dine privately days before the opening, I benefited from being in the throes of real-time restaurant opening chaos. I wonder if any other city appreciates a new restaurant opening like we do. It was marvelous. I never would have guessed how little Japanese ladies would be wielding walking sticks to get through the crowds. at one point I watched as three elderly ladies took down a barrier blocking them from an easier path to the food. Seeing old ladies cut in line as they race for a bento box was completely worth the trip.

The crowds even surprised Shirokiya’s staff, and they’ve been fielding phone calls and inquiries for weeks.

“We’ve been getting so many phone calls,” says Eddie Wakida, director of food operations, “so we knew that people were kind of excited about the opening.”

But not even Wakida expected lines reaching out to both sides of ala Moana center.

It was the yatai that caused all the fuss. There are 21 of the traditionally inspired food stalls at the spacious new food court on the second floor of Shirokiya, the idea being to imitate the kind of street food scene you might find in Japan. although I’m guessing that in Tokyo you’d have to put in a few miles before you had the opportunity to eat 200 different dishes at one time.

“It’s to try to give people a sense of traditional bentos and noodles,” says Wakida of a menu that will be ever-changing. “We don’t want to do the same thing every day, so every week we will be changing menus, changing specials, using different ingredients.”

There’s a yatai at the entrance to the food court that’s labeled “Happy corner.” of course, I had to ask. “It’s the place where we will offer discounted bento, special plates - different ways of cooking,”

Wakida explained, “some-thing that will make people happy to try.”

The sheer logistics of Shirokiya’s food court are impressive: Thousands of dishes from dozens of small cooking stations make it one of the most interesting food destinations in Honolulu. If you’re a foodie under the misapprehension that you’ll not find anything interesting within a department store, I suggest you hot foot it to the second floor of Shirokiya’s for a couple of hours of culinary and cultural discovery. It might not have cool food trucks and feisty young chefs, but it does have ginger pork bento, yakitori chicken livers, sirloin steak plates, abalone sashimi, buttered scallop bento, fried oysters, clam chowder, grilled whole squid bento, octopus, ahi, salmon and butterfish, to name a very small part of what’s on offer. There are dozens of noodles, including 16 different kinds of udon, alongside tempura, homemade tofu and an entire section devoted to fried food.

The priciest bento is around $12.50 and offers a huge amount of food. Even the seemingly delicately portioned chicken teriyaki bento ($9.50) that I grabbed to go had a hidden compartment of rice, ground beef and delicately diced omelet to accompany three sticks of barbecued chicken and a colorful assortment of vegetables.

Those who love the seasonal food festivals at Shirokiya need not worry that Yataimura has taken their place. “We will still celebrate Hokkaido, Kyushu and Jiraya,” says Wakida. amid oversized tropical floral arrangements and lines of hundreds of people, Yataimura opened to an extremely happy audience.

Even Kahu Cordell Kekoa, giving a gracious Hawaiian blessing, seemed pleased that the focus had changed from retail to restaurant. “Housewares is good,” he noted, somewhat seriously, to the enormous crowd, “but food is better.”

Happy eating!


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