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
Monday, October 6, 2008
Last night, chefs and food-lovers from around the world gathered in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Roy Yamaguchi's Hawaiiain Fusion Cuisine Restaurants. The parking lot of Kapiolani Community College was transformed into a lantern-lit tent filled with the talents of 17 top-caliber guest chefs and their expert works of art.
Guests also enjoyed several stations of wine tastings and live entertainment. Of course, this celebration came with a price tag: $200 a person... but it was well worth it! In honor of this special event I "forgot" all the reasons I stopped eating meat, and indulged in the culinary expertise of these great artists!
Guests chefs included:
Hiro Sone & Lissa Doumani-Terra/Ame (San Francisco/Napa)
Josiah Citrin-Melisse (Santa Monica)
Raphael Lunetta-JiRaffe (Santa Monica)
Tsutomu Ochiai-LaBettola Restaurant (Tokyo, Japan)
Darryl Fujita-Halekulani Hotel
Ming Tsai-Blue Ginger (Boston)
"Iron Chef" Hiroyuki Sakai-La Rochelle (Tokyo, Japan)
John Finger & Terry Sawyer-Hog Island Oyster Company (San Francisco)
Lee Hefter-Spago (Beverly Hills)
Floyd Cardoz-Tabla (New York)
Tony Liu-Morandi (New York)
Alan Wong-Alan Wong's
Ronnie Nasuti-Roy's Hawaii Kai
Yuji Wakiya-Wakiya at the Gramercy Park Hotel (New York)
My top 3 favorite dishes (the ones that I went back for seconds) were from Yuji Wakiya, Ming Tsai, and Lee Hefter.
Wakiya is a modern, upscale restaurant in the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York that serves what I would describe as "high-class dim sum." Chef Yuji Wakiya and his crew served up some lobster done 2 ways: Lobster Taoban and Lobster with Creamy Lemon Sauce, both served with a crispy rice cracker.
Blue Ginger is the restaurant from celebrity chef Ming Tsai located in Boston. It was such a pleasure watching how chef Tsai put the finishing touches on his dishes before being handed out to the guests. He really entertained the crowd with his charm, and at the same time he called out orders to his helping hands to make sure his food were presented just so in the right timing (in a demanding, yet "laid back" demeanor). On top of all of that, he managed to check his phone as he kept up with the score of the Boston Red Socks game!
He served a Sake Miso Marinated Butterfish with Wasabi Oil and Soy Lime Syrup and a Soba Noodle Sushi. Delicious. The butterfish was so tender and delicate!
Spago is the restaurant owned by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. The executive chef of the Beverly Hills restaurant, Lee Heftner prepared a Spicy Ahi Tartar with a Sweet Sesame Shell.
The caramelized sugar and toasty sesame seeds from the outer shell added great texture and contrast to the spicy ahi that filled it.
Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani are chefs at two Japanese-European restaurants: Terra and Ame. They had the most memorable presentation of food...
It started off with a line up of cold broth with a self-serve line of shiso, tobiko, yamaimo, ahi, myoga, green onion, ikura, and nori, followed by a long bamboo pole filled with running water...
...You are handed a little "fishing net" gadget and Lissa Doumani yells out "Noodles!" and along comes your serving of noodles shooting down the bamboo pole for you to "catch!"
I guess I favored the seafood dishes more, but for you meat lovers here's what else we got to try:
Josaiah Citrin's Duck Breast with Glazed Raddish, Wilted Spinach and Cherry Sauce (excuse the blurry picture).
Raphael Lunetta's Pistachio Crusted Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Caramelized Mango, Toasted Brioche, Roasted shallots, and a Confit of Sweet and Sour Baby Roma Tomatoes and Mango Verjus.
Tsutomu Ochiai's Penne Pasta creation with a delicious tomato-basil sauce. Simple, yet expertly prepared!
Darryl Fujita's beef topped off with crispy foie gras sitting on a bed of sweet creamy corn.
Hiroyuki Sakai's broccoli gazpacho with shrimp. The "Iron Chef" was also very energetic and entertaining! :)
Two of Hog Island's varieties of farm raised oysters: Hog Island Sweetwater and Hog Island Kumamoto. Shucked fresh and served with an assortment of toppings.
Floyd Cardoz's Indian dish made using "Baby Pig."
Tony Liu's preserved opah and cannelini beans on top of a toasted crostini,
Alan Wong's Maui Cattle Company Beef (served two ways) with Ulu Puree.
Ronnie Nasuti soup of oxtail, tripe, hawaiian fungus, and truffle oil. Very fragrant and rich!
The whole night was filled with excitement! It was a challenge to take in the excitement while trying to understand what it was I was eating (hence the simplified descriptions of some of the dishes) while carrying my wine glass and plate at the same time!
At the end of the night, as the guests had their stomachs filled and the chefs had time to breathe, we had the pleasure of meeting several of them for pictures and autographs. We also got to take home a commemorative Ridel wine glass and memory book.
Thanks to Amanda, Brandon, and my mom for sharing this night of fun! A huge "Thank You" to our friend (and talented cook) Marcus, who got us our "special" tickets! :)