Minato serves up tasty cuisine in casual setting
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
The old adage about the 3 L's ("location, location, location") does not apply here. It's more like, "If you build it, they will come." The restaurant is just off King Street, a stone's throw from Sanoya.
A brisk lunch service begins at 11 a.m. The staff is friendly and efficient, preparing carryout orders while patrons dining in enjoy their meals.
At $6.50, Minato's gourmet lunch boxes are a very good deal. All come with a large portion of sliced, flame-broiled teri chicken, tasting of smoke tender and flavorful, the restaurant's specialty. The lunches include a mixed green salad with the excellent house special dressing ($2.50 for 16 ounces, if you want to bring some home), looking and tasting like a creamy miso dressing. But when I asked, they told me the dressing's key ingredients are shoyu, toasted sesame oil and pineapple. Good stuff.
The unagi kabayaki plate features a large, perfectly grilled piece of eel, with a just-right drizzling of that familiar sticky-sweet teri glaze.ÊPickled ginger and spinach rounded out the plate.ÊThe king salmon lunch features a grilled fillet, a bit of grated daikon and cool spinach.ÊChicken karaage (mochiko chicken) has a nice peppery flavor and a thick coating. It's not difficult to make mochiko chicken, but the meat requires marination overnight before it's coated in the mochiko flour and deep-fried. This very generous portion was tender and grease-free, served with tangy dipping sauce.
There are other choices at lunch, such as chicken katsu with donburi sauce, chicken katsu with curry, a hamburger steak, and what is called a "mac pac," which comes with saba (mackerel, a bit too dry the day I tried it), chicken karaage, and of course, the teri chicken.
At dinnertime, the place fills up early. The appetizers we tried were especially good. They have a subtle and creative hand with seasonings at Minato. Even familiar items tend to taste unique here. The steamed clams ($6.95 for about a dozen) were hot, plump and juicy in a clam broth touched with butter. The gyoza ($2.95 for six pieces) were chewy and browned, the way potstickers should be.ÊThe filling tasted of minced pork and chicken, and the dipping sauce was a shoyu-vinegar mixture.
The takoyaki ($3.95) was very good, even though the menu understates their deliciousness by calling them "hard to explain."ÊI would describe these as a cross between a very creamy croquette and a puff, with a piece of chewy tako (octopus) inside. The presentation was lovely, drizzled with mayo, brown teri sauce, red pickled ginger and a dusting of powdered green shiso leaf.ÊThis is an inventive appetizer worth trying.
The spareribs with teri sauce ($4.95) were two large country-style ribs, browned and braised, creating a tender and meaty experience with a flavor balance that falls between sweet and savory.
I loved the New York steak ($11.95, teri- or ponzu-flavored) cooked to my preference and sliced into strips that were easy to handle.ÊShrimp katsu ($10.95) is an interesting choice because you would expect shrimp tempura.ÊBut these babies were hot, crunchy, deep-fried treats.ÊThere are steamer-basket dinners such as tofu and vegetable ($9.95), and gyoza and vegetable ($10.95) cooked in a bamboo steamer and served with two sauces.
All dinner specialties come with rice, miso soup and salad.
Donburi, the one-dish meal of rice topped with various ingredients (unagi, $9.95; katsu or oyako, $8.95), and several udon noodle meals $8.95-$10.95, with chicken, shrimp, clams also are offered. They're served with soup and salad.
Minato owner Mac Takeda made a smart choice when he brought Minato to Honolulu a year ago from San Jose, Calif., where it was based for 20 years. He has assembled a nice staff and serves good food in a very casual neighborhood atmosphere.
Reach Matthew Gray at email@example.com.