Heat at Irifune doesn't necessarily come from the food
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
Irifune is a popular neighborhood restaurant. For the past 27 years, it's been in the same tiny location. I visited about eight years ago and wasn't crazy about the place and, after two recent meals, I still feel the same.
This funky Kapahulu eatery is always crowded at dinnertime, with a queue of hungry patrons waiting outside on the sidewalk.
I'd guess it's the neighborhood-hangout feel and affordable pricing that draw customers to Irifune. But when I'm physically uncomfortable (as I was here because of the heat), it is difficult to appreciate any experience. Add to this paper napkins and made-from-a-mix lemonade, and this restaurant has a lot of shortcomings to surmount. The food, however, is a mixed bag.
We began with an order of California-roll sushi ($3 for four pieces), which tasted quite good but, because the rolls had been made in advance, the nori was soft, not crisp. Other appetizers include yakitori (skewered teri chicken, $5.50), 'ahi-roll sushi ($3 for four pieces), breaded tofu with ginger sauce ($4) and yummy garlic mushrooms with tofu ($6). Three starters priced on an "as quoted" basis are sashimi, tataki sashimi (lightly seared), and new-wave poke.
Garlic 'ahi is Irifune's signature item soft-textured, garlicky and seemingly flash-fried rather than seared on the grill. You can order this dish solo ($10), or in combination plates with other preparations such as shrimp and vegetable tempura ($11), or with a choice of barbecued chicken, garlic crab or tataki sashimi ($11). Miso soup is included with many dinners; otherwise, a bowl costs $1.50. The small bowl was filled with cubes of tofu, fresh bean sprouts and a lot of flavor. Of course, the entrées come with rice.
Tempura dinners are served with green salad, drizzled with garlic vinaigrette. You can choose from vegetable ($9), shrimp and vegetable ($10), or a mixed tempura plate with crab, shrimp, and vegetables for $13. The batter was not light and crunchy, and the tempura didn't arrive at the table piping hot as it should have. However, the dipping sauce was a fine blend of salty and sweet, the best part of this dish.
Other choices include chicken katsu and pork tonkatsu ($9.50), and a cutlet special ($11) that includes a vegetable omelet over chicken katsu. There are four garlic stir-fry dishes with vegetables garlic tofu and/or garlic chicken ($9), garlic 'ahi ($11) and garlic seafood ($12). Japanese curries range from vegetable or chicken ($9), to seafood ('ahi and shrimp) to tonkatsu ($10.50).
Of course, this kind of local-style Japanese food lends itself to that island favorite, the plate lunch. A mixed plate (garlic 'ahi, barbecued chicken and veggie tempura) is $6.50. The bento includes garlic 'ahi, shrimp tempura and sashimi at $7.50.
Keep in mind that take-out orders are available only at lunchtime.
A simple but quite tasty dessert called ice cream crepe ($3.50) is the special here a fresh crepe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream inside, and creamy yogurt and chunks of fresh mango on top.
I know many people enjoy the food here, but Irifune is not my cup of tea. You can find better food, presentation, value, ambience and service in a cooler, air-conditioned environment at many places around town.
Reach Matthew Gray at email@example.com with comments, questions and suggestions.