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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Dining Scene
Minato serves up tasty cuisine in casual setting

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Waitress Jenna Umino shows off a take-out order of king salmon at Minato, just off King Street. The plate features a grilled fillet with grated daikon, spinach and salad.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser


930 Hauoli St.

Lunch: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. weekdays

Dinner: 5:30-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 5-8:30 p.m. Sundays

Closed Mondays

Cash and American Express; beer, sake and wine available


1/2 Good

Thanks to Advertiser photographer Gregory Yamamoto, a knowledgeable foodie with an adventurous palate, I was introduced to Minato, a restaurant I had not discovered despite proximity to its Hauoli Street location. He said something about its gourmet lunch box that you can order via fax. (Minato will call you back to confirm, so it's an easy process.)

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 mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.