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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, January 1, 2006

Menu enhancements deserve praise

By Simplicio Paragas
Dining Out Editor

General manager Duane Kawamoto recommends sake with salmon sushi and miso-braised short ribs.

Photos by Randy T. Fujimori


Where: 1341 Kapiolani Blvd.

Call: 955-0552

Hours: Daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 to 9:45 p.m.

Parking: Free

Note: The restaurant's popular set "Weekender Menu" is available Saturdays and Sundays for lunch.

Each dish was a well-orchestrated composition of flavors and textures, fluctuating from sweet and spicy, to hot and cold, to crispy and silky, to tender and velvety, to subtle and bold.

And with each bite, G.B. and I curled our toes as we went from foie gras sushi to miso-braised short ribs to pan-seared tai snapper during dinner at L'Uraku last week.

With Edison Ching and Kawika Cahill now in control of the kitchen, L'Uraku's dinner menu has been tweaked, featuring new additions that stay true to the restaurant's European-and-Japanese-infused cuisine.

These two young chefs have also cleverly figured out a suitable substitution for the popular Island moi, the demand for which has now outstripped supply.

But not to worry. The New Zealand tai snapper easily rivals the Hawaiian moi. Panko-crusted, the piece of snapper ($6.50) was flaky yet firm and drizzled with a heavenly cilantro butter sauce and surrounded by a Hauula tomato salsa and fried capers for added crunch and a zesty finish.

Page one of L'Uraku's menu is divided into "Contemporary Sushi," "Something Unique" and "Classics."

Our waiter Jason for the evening was eager to part with his recommendations, which included a selection from each of the appetizer categories.

But before he took our order, he pointed to the back of the last page, directing us to L'Uraku's "Dinner Tasting," a four-course, prix-fixe menu costing $39 or $53 with wine.

Although tempted, G.B. and I decided that the regular menu — with all its trappings — was just begging to be explored.

After our pankoed snapper, a succession of other appetizers arrived, including a new beef carpaccio ($8.50) that pleasantly turned out to be more of a salad than the normal plate of slices of beef served with a smattering of capers that's found on other menus.

Instead, this one came with eryngi mushrooms (also known as king oyster mushroom, which is the largest variety in the oyster family), slices of tomatoes and baby arugula that glistened with a truffled yuzu vinaigrette and miso aioli. Again, all the flavors complemented one another, while enhancing the texture of the paper-thin slices of beef.

Next, we ordered the miso-braised shortribs ($6.50) and the foie-gras-and-peppered-seared-ahi Napoleon ($7.75), a classic here, according to Jason, who smiled and said enthusiastically — without it sounding like a sales pitch — that these two starters are exactly what he would have recommended.

Served with sugar snap peas and mushrooms, the miso-braised shortrib was fork tender, with strands of meat easily pulling away from the main boneless rib. (Add a bowl of rice and this would have easily been dinner!)

Perhaps the best example of L'Uraku's "fusion" cuisine can be tasted in the foie-gras-and-peppered-seared-ahi Napoleon, which combines French (foie gras), Island (ahi) and Japanese (truffled micro greens) flavors, all integrating into a single blissful and harmonious bite.

Dishes taste as good as they look, including this steamed onaga.
Our final appetizer was a twist on the oyster Rockefeller ($2.75 per piece). L'Uraku's version is stuffed with crabmeat and avocado then placed atop a mound of pinkish salt, which looked more like a fluffy bed of cotton candy. In a word, yum!

Studying the main courses, I searched for the tai snapper, discovering that its preparation would differ from the pankoed appetizer.

This time, it would either be steamed and accompanied by baby bok choy, Swiss chard and macadamia-nut-and-ginger-basil pesto ($24.50); or, it would be pan-seared and plated with homemade pickled red cabbage and kabayaki butter sauce ($24.75).

I chose the latter with the kabayaki piquing my interest since this type of Japanese sauce is usually served with grilled unagi. It would not disappoint. Because of the butter, the sauce possessed a certain richness but without the heaviness that's often associated with other butter sauces.

The same was true for G.B.'s miso-cream-enhanced mahi mahi ($25.50), which was combined with plump pan-seared sea scallops.

Yes, the creative juxtaposition of flavors and textures continue to sing to diners' palates at L'Uraku.

Hana hou!