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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 24, 2006

Rokkaku cuisine caters to well-heeled shoppers

By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Rokkaku is affiliated with Tokyo's upscale Yukimura restaurant. Receptionist Kumi Nguyen, left, consults the menu with marketing head Haruka Ohashi.

Photos by JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Good to very good

Ala Moana Center, mall level, mauka, next to Panya Bistro

1450 Ala Moana


Hours: 11:45 a.m.-2 p.m., 6-10 p.m. daily

Details: Limited selection of beer, wine and sake. No reservations at lunch. Reservations recommended for dinner. AmEx, CB, DC, Disc, JCB, MC, V. Parking lot.

Overview: Upscale, contemporary Kyoto cuisine in a posh, understated minimalist setting.

Price: Lunch: $14.80-$22 set meals. Dinner: $3.80-$15.80 appetizers; $6.80-$38 sushi and sashimi; $5.80-$38 sumiyaki grilled, nimono, deep-fried and steamed dishes; $38 nabemono dishes; $4.20-$12 rice and noodle dishes; $6-$30 kamameshi (2-person minimum); $3.80-$7.80 dessert

Recommended: Lunch: steak don zen. Dinner: uni lobster jelly gake; kamo meat and eringi tsubukarashi ae; agedashi tofu and onsen tamago; Rokkaku salad; chirimen gohan

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The kamameshi plate, Rokkaku's specialty rice dish, is cooked to a chewy golden crust in a ceramic pot.

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Shopping and eating go hand in hand. Whether pizza at Kmart or a Mariposa kalua-pig quesadilla at Neiman Marcus, it's clear that browsing and buying induce hunger.

Ala Moana has always had loads of fast-casual eateries, but what about a fashionable place with substance for the Chanel and Prada crowd?

Rokkaku has grandly swept in to fill that gap. Just opened this month, the upscale Japanese eatery already has one-hour waits for dinner if you don't have a reservation. First-come-first-served lunch often is sold out by 1 p.m., according to assistant manager Ken Kawasaki.

But then, Rokkaku has a pedigree that precedes itself, as the sister restaurant of Tokyo's Yukimura, where waits for one of just 25 seats are purportedly months long, and average checks range from $400 to $500. Kawasaki said Yukimura, in the prestigious Azabu district, is reputed to be the toughest reservation to bag in the city.

Prices are more modest in Rokkaku's 60-seat L-shaped dining room, which includes a counter and a private room in back. The space's neutral, texturized palette provide a muted backdrop for the dramatic dishes created by executive chef Hiroshi Shimada, who got his start at Wakuden, a famous century-old Kyoto teahouse with three outposts. That explains the food, what Kawasaki described as a modern version of traditional Kyoto teahouse cuisine.

Shimada, who also did stints at Singapore's landmark Raffles Hotel and Swissôtel in Bangkok, has an eye for color combinations. Served in a dark violet-brown sea-urchin shell on a bed of ice, a single vibrant green bean accented uni-lobster jelly gake ($15.80), the melting qualities of lobster-broth gelatin, soft uni (sea-urchin roe) and sweet chunks of steamed lobster creating startling contrasts.

Tender slices of steamed duck and grilled eringi mushrooms ($9), tumbled in a light vinaigrette, sat on a layer of purple cabbage on a bright turquoise plate.

Another visual stunner is the Rokkaku salad ($14). In a hollowed-out avocado shell, bits of king prawn and avocado cubes are tossed in a creamy, sweet pale orange mayonnaise dressing with faint hints of Sriracha hot sauce. (Although the menu said the showy bedding of cherry tomatoes and assorted greens included green peas, I didn't find any.)

A fresh selection of amaebi, maguro, hamachi, saba and hokkigai in the daily sashimi ($38 for choice of 5) was cut into nicely sized pieces, but visually belittled by the imposing bowl of ice on which they perched.

Pyrotechnics aside, a good barometer of a kitchen's skill is often the simplest dish. Unassuming agedashi tofu and onsen tamago ($6) was the best version I've ever tasted of this Japanese staple — a lowly poached egg perched over two large squares of lightly battered, deep-fried tofu in a delicate soup. Once punctured, the yolk oozed into the silken tofu for a luxurious custard effect.

Rokkaku's specialty is kamameshi, rice cooked until it has a chewy golden crust in a ceramic pot — which at this restaurant are custom made for about $500 a pop. Shimada uses California-grown Tamaki Gold rice, which seems to the preferred choice of Japanese chefs here.

You can get the kamameshi with pricey uni ($30) or plain ($6). I thoroughly enjoyed a moderate option of chirimen gohan ($12.80), the moist, chewy rice flecked with tiny white fish (adding just the right amount of saltiness) and perfumed with teensy sansho pepper orbs resembling a cross between green peppercorns and capers.

Pretty desserts struck me as boring, and the five offered are really only three with variations. Rokkaku makes its own ice cream ($3.80) — a dark green-tea appealed more than a burnt-tasting caramel. Adzuki beans with shiratama mochi balls ($6.80) or with milk and green-tea pudding ($7.80) left me wanting to run next door for a pastry.

At lunch, standard Japanese fare of misoyaki butterfish and unagi with tempura ($15 to $20, including pickles, chawanmushi, miso soup and salad) hardly indicated what Rokkaku's kitchen is capable of. I was disappointed that daytime offerings are so limited, with only five choices.

Rokkaku has a busy future ahead of it, with plans to open a 300-seat Las Vegas location and stylish competition in the wings — Tsukiji Fish Market and Restaurant opens in Ala Moana in August, and in December, Nobu Matsuhisa will add Honolulu to his restaurant empire (which includes New York, Milan and London) when he opens a highly anticipated location in at the Waikiki Parc Hotel. There go the fashionistas.

Reach Helen Wu at hwu@honoluluadvertiser.com. Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, service and ambience in relation to price. Menu listings and prices are subject to change. Reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. The Advertiser pays for meals.