Teppanyaki And Sake At Kai

Jo McGarry
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Friday - July 02, 2005
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If you’re out looking for a happening spot this weekend and want to make sure that the food is as good as the drink, the allimportant atmosphere and some live music, then check out Kai.

Hidden away (aren’t all the best places?) off Keeaumoku Street and almost overshadowed by Wal-Mart, this bar/restaurant just oozes sophistication and style.

Husband-and-wife team Isamu and Motoko
Kubota offer an extensive array of teppanyaki
dishes at Kai

Owned by husband-and-wife team of Isamu and Motoko Kubota, Kai is one of those places you’ll love showing off to foodie friends.

Owners of four successful bars and restaurants in Japan, the Kubotas have brought style and some serious teppanyaki substance to the table in this, their first Honolulu venture.

Along open bar plays host to both the teppanyaki grill and a fabulous sake selection. Here, chefowner Isamu creates some of the most unusual teppanyaki dishes in town.

“We don’t do lots of tricks and flashing of knives,” says Motoko, laughing, “but we do concentrate on the food. Maybe it’s the new kind of teppanyaki,” she adds.

Maybe it is. I asked chef to choose some of his favorite dishes from the extensive menu and was just bowled over by the grilled garlic chicken with onion and asparagus with yuzu pepper paste on the side.

Motoko is on a permanent search for the perfect ingredients, and her homemade tofu is a testament to how far these two will go in the pursuit of perfection. I’ve never had tofu like it — snow white and smooth as silk. It’s used in a variety of dishes and works well stir-fried in dishes such as Kyofu Obanzai Udon, where udon noodles in broth are flavored with fried tofu, ginger, sesame, gobo and cabbage. Atender wafu steak comes with a fabulous wasabi oroshi (one of the many house specialties) and you just have to try the Big Island ogo and shiso-plum jellyfish.

You’ll find most teppanyaki favorites on the menu, but it’s far more interesting to sit at the bar and watch what Isamu is cooking.

The wine list doesn’t have much to recommend it, but sake and beer are well-matched with the food — not too many restaurants with Chimay, Kriek Lambic and Orval on the menu. Décor is very 21st century, and the whole atmosphere is conducive to having a good time.

Open for dinner from 5 p.m. until midnight, Tuesday through Sunday, Kai offers something for those looking for a different dining experience, and everything for those looking for a really cool place to hang, including valet parking for those who treasures such details. But do make a reservation — it’s destined to become busy, busy, busy.

The owners have the dedication it takes to run a restaurant, combined with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm.

Oh, and Isamu has the essential ingredient needed to work with your partner — diplomacy. When I ask the charming Motoko how it is working as husband and wife, she grins and says, “it’s very natural. Very easy.” When I turn to Isamu and ask the same, he pauses for a moment, thinks a little and then smiles broadly — “It’s very natural, “ he says playfully, “very easy.”

1427 Makaloa St.
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