Allow me to introduce you to one of my new "favorite" restaurants: Gazen. A trendy modern-day Japanese izakaya restaurant with an assortment of bar foods, a wide selection of drinks, and fresh homemade tofu! When I traveled to Japan this past summer, there were so many of these trendy izakaya places, including the same Gazen restaurant that we have here in Hawaii. I love this restaurant because everything that they serve is high quality. It know it sounds weird, but every time I eat there, I order extra wasabi... it tastes like freshly grated wasabi (and most likely is). The flavor is unlike any other wasabi I've eaten! That's just one example of the quality ingredients that this restaurant uses.
The restaurant offers a very trendy vibe with its black lacquer furnishings and dim lighting. The room is filled with the warm and inviting aromas of the Japanese foods. I have been to Gazen four times in the last year, and each time I've discovered something new and yummy to try!
To start out with, the Gazen menu offers 6 pages of beers, shochu, sake, wine, and cocktails. If you go during early or late happy hour, the pitchers of beer are half off (about $3.50 each)! I don't usually drink lychee martinis; but the one at Gazen is a must try! The special thing about it is the cinnamon-sugar garnish on the rim of the glass. I never expected the spicy cinnamon to compliment the sweet lychee so well, but it does... and its a winner!
Also yummy is the yuzu-hi, a shochu based cocktail with Japanese yuzu (citrus) juice. They also have a refreshing fresh kiwi-hi. Very original and delightful!
The tofu dishes are all exceptional. The tofu sampler came with an assortment of three different types of tofu: kurogoma (black sesame seed), plain (with side sprinkles of salt and ground tea leaves), and saikyo (sweet sesame miso sauce). My favorite was the kurogoma. Its a little scary looking because its gray with black flecks; however once you get over the appearance, the toasty sesame seeds and creamy tofu will fill your mouth with joy!
The Tofu and Jako with Yuzu Dressing is a salad-type dish with fresh tofu topped off with jako (small dried fish), spinach, takuan, and a peppery citrus dressing.
The tofu croquette ball are balls of tofu and various vegetables deep fried and topped with two sauces.
When I was in Japan, I learned to really appreciate Yuba. Yuba is the "skin" of the tofu, creating a very light and delicate texture. Because its the skin, there isn't a whole lot to go around, so it can be pretty expensive to buy. Gazen has several dishes that feature yuba. One of them is the Deep Fried Mochi Yuba with Spinach and Yuba Gravy. Tender pieces of yuba that give the texture of mochi, simmered in a light gravy that complimented the delicate pieces of yuba.
My favorite dish is the Gazen Matsuri Natto: fresh tofu topped with natto, fresh ahi, takuan, and a raw egg. You mix it all up and eat it with toasty nori! Slurp-a-licious!
The Deep Fried Tofu Mochi "Agedashi Style" were small mochi balls deep fried and served like agedashi tofu. I love agedashi tofu and this was such a unique spin on one of my favorite dishes! (Thats my side of extra wasabi in the picture!)
The Gazen Style Deep Fried Chicken with Homemade Sauce is a karaage style chicken served with a chinese sweet and spicy sauce.
One of the most unique and most comforting dishes is the Salmon Soymilk Chazuke. When I was growing up, chazuke (rice and hot tea) was my comfort food, and when I was away at college, a bowl of chazuke always cured me from freezing my butt off. The soymilk in this chazuke is not the type of soymilk you buy in the stores to eat with your cereal. I'm thinking that this soymilk is the liquidy by-product of the homemade tofu, but I'm not entirely sure. Its served with rice, salmon flakes, warm soy milk and side sprinkles of matcha powder and nori. Mmmmm... so warm and comforting!
Another rice dish is the Fried Brown Rice with Seafood. It comes with a fried egg on top, and the waitress mixes it all up for you at the table.
Gazen also has a small list of assorted sashimi and rolled sushi. I tried the Shoyu Flavored Ahi Roll, which was sushi rice filled with yuba, cucumber, takuan, and carrots, topped with fresh ahi and drizzles of a shoyu reduction.
Also delicious are the Gazen style garlic shrimp, Yamaimo with ume bonito sauce, and the Nanohana creamy shiraae.
Like I said, I've already been to Gazen four times, each for different reasons. A few times we just ordered a few drinks and a couple of dishes, other times it was a full dinner. Its a great place for groups of people to celebrate, or a couple to have a snack. Whatever you're looking for, Gazen can serve your purpose! Great food, great atmosphere, great service!
2840 Kapiolani Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96806