Tuesday, November 11, 2008
On my last visit to Japan I had the opportunity to eat a several izakayas (Japanese pubs). The most memorable experience was the tiny "hole in the wall, mom-and-pop shop" where the husband and wife owners prepared our dishes right in front of our eyes. It was so special because we stepped aside from the busy streets of Kyoto into a little hideaway and were we were treated to the ultimate comfort food! Eating at Izakaya Nonbei took me back to that fond memory.
The decor makes you feel like you've escaped the a wintery storm in the middle of the samurai days. You can sit around a (unlit) fire pit with an iron kettle which makes you feel as though you're defrosting from the snow. Above the pit hang straw shoes and water canisters made from gourds that--according to my grandma--were used as people trecked through the snow.
Above the tatami lined floors hang wooden palates, each with a menu item written in kanji, displayed like artwork. The menu (there is an English version) is filled with authentic Japanese dishes, many of which are just romanized versions of the Japanese words. Luckily my grandma was there to explain what each were. Don't worry if you don't speak Japanese, the wait staff are very helpful.
The dishes are served izakaya style, meaning small dishes to be enjoyed with sake or beer. There are an assortment of Japanese sake, beer and cocktails. I had a shiso chu-hi (sochu) and my mom and grandma shared the frozen sake. The frozen sake pours out liquid, but when it hits the cup its turns in to icy slush!
Izakaya Nonbei brings in the freshest and highest quality sashimi. Chuu-Toro is the fattiest, most prized part of Ahi and this one was melt-in-your-mouth goodness!
The hamachi sashimi was also heavenly. Artfully displayed and generously portioned.
The agedashi tofu was slightly crispy, with the right amount of chewyness floating in a delicate broth.
One of their signature dishes is the Karei Karaage. Lightly battered and deep fried flounder. So crispy that every part of the fish (skin, bones, head, and all) can be put into your mouth. Oishii!!
We also had some enoki mushrooms and eggplant sauteed in a shoyu butter sauce.
Lastly, to end our meal (as in traditional Japanese style), we enjoyed rice and assorted tsukemono (pickled vegetables). My mom and grandma had plain white rice, but I had the miso yaki-onigiri, grilled musubi brushed with a sweet miso, with a toasty, caramelized crust.
The homemade tsukemono was displayed so beautifully and tasted like it was made with loving hands and long hours of devotion.
This place got my grandma's stamp of approval, and it sure got mine! Although it can be pretty pricey, the quality is well worth it. This place was recognized nationally by Gourmet magazine, and Chef Mavro has been known to dine here as well. If you're feeling like you miss Japan (or want to one day visit there) treat yourself to this tiny Japanese treasure trove.
3108 Olu Street (off Kapahulu Ave, across from Safeway)