Kaiseki ryori, the formal multi-course Japanese meal that highlights seasonal ingredients just as they become available, isn’t limited just to multi-starred Japanese restaurants or top-level ryokan. You can also find the same meal in Hawai‘i — served in accordance with each season at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas right in Honolulu.
Chef Hiroshi Fukui originally started these kaiseki dinners while at Uraku, L’Uraku restaurant and eventually continued the tradition after moving to his namesake restaurant in Honolulu. Kaiseki literally translates to “stone in the bosom” and was meant as a means to ward off hunger during the austere cha-no-yu tea ceremonies. It eventually evolved into a multi-course meal highlighting not just the latest seasonal ingredients but every cooking technique in the chef’s arsenal such as grilled, simmered, fried and stewed dishes, along with pickled, raw and cooked dishes. Of course, multi-course dinners usually mean small portions — just enough to whet the appetite.
Chef Hiroshi’s latest kaiseki dinner was on Feb. 22 and, though he hosts these dinners four times a year, I have to admit that this was the first that I attended. I guess since it’s always held on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening, work has gotten in the way. Actually I can’t blame work. I seem to be turning into my parents — “What? Go out on a weeknight?” Well that evening, the Mrs. and I decided to act our real age and made the reservation for Hiroshi’s kaiseki dinner.
Of course, since the 50th state doesn’t experience the “seasons” like those residing on the continental United States, there isn’t much change in food availability short of mango or lychee season. Therefore Chef Hiroshi does his own interpretation of contemporary kaiseki cuisine.
Sakizuke — Amuse Bouche
Big Island Hirame Sushi
shiso, yuzu tobiko, scallions, momijioroshi and ponzu
The wine pairing for the hirame was an excellent choice of the Spanish wine Oroya made from a blend of Macabeo, Airen and Moscatel grapes by Japanese winemaker Yoko Sato and specifically meant to pair with sushi and sashimi to complement vinegar, shoyu and wasabi. It tasted of sweet fish, balanced by citrus, salt and herbal flavors.
Otooshi — Appetizer
Sauteed Japanese Kin ki
Big Island smoked pork, Ho Farm long beans with sweet miso glaze, pickled red ginger, chive oil and beurre blanc on capellini pasta
Wine: Ca’ Donini Pinot Grigio
This was one of my favorite dishes — almost like a miso butterfish and with a nice citrusy balance in the wine to cleanse the palate of the rich fish and buttery sauce. The buttery sauce added another fatty component while the pickled ginger and salty pork cut through both the rich and buttery sauce.
Zensai — Appetizer
Manila clams “Casino”
seared foie gras, roasted garlic aioli, tenkasu, white truffle oil
Wine: Hans Wirsching
This dish was also very good though I probably would have paired it with an off-dry Riesling or moderate bodied Chardonnay. While the earthiness of the Sylvaner held up to the foie gras and truffle oil, it didn’t have enough body to hold its own against the total dish.
Suimono — Soup dish
Tomato Water Shooter
mango pearls, ikura, mayo kanten, Japanese cucumber, shiso and fresh cracked pepper
This “soup” dish was unlike any soup I’ve had in the past. It was more of a palate cleanser though Chef Alan Wong also does his take on using tomato water with a raw oyster — Chef Hiroshi’s version had a great interplay of sweet, sour, salty and herbal. I could have had a dozen more of these “shots.”
Yakimono — Grilled dish
Sauteed Kauai Shrimp
shrimp panna cotta and herb pesto, XO sauce, Nalo micro cilantro
Wine: Boutari Moschofilero
Another flavor epiphany especially with the shrimp panna cotta. Usually panna cotta is a dessert dish, but Chef Hiroshi flavored the “cooked cream” with an intense shrimp stock balanced by herbal cilantro then mouth searing XO sauce. My only change would be the wine pairing — again an off-dry Riesling may have been a better pairing especially with the spicy XO sauce.
Hashiyasume — In between dish
Panko Seared Mekajiki
crispy somen, umeboshi puree, saikyo miso-kimchi sauce, ume mususbi
Wine: Leitz Riesling “Leitz Out”
This was another perfect wine and food pairing! The hint of miso, kimchi and salty ume perfectly complemented the crusted fish topped with crunchy somen. The sweetness in the wine tempered the slight heat from the kimchi while the fruity flavors in the Riesling highlighted fruit in the ume.
Coriander Seared Long Steamed Kurobuta Pork Belly “BLT”
wilted Kula baby romaine
lettuce, Hauula tomato concasse, crispy avocado yellow mustard and natural jus, soba
Wine: Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres
This was my favorite dish of the evening with melt-in-the-mouth pork belly balanced by fresh tomato and mustard sauce. If cholesterol and saturated fat were figments of a dietician’s imagination, I would have this every day! Unfortunately they are real so this is a special occasion dish. I also would have served this dish with a central coast Pinot Noir, something like a Pisoni Vineyard Pinot Noir.
Shokuji — Starch dish
Maui Cattle Rib Eye
takana, wasabi, nori and mitsuba
This was the Mrs.’ favorite of the evening — like a pulled pork or, in this case, pulled teriyaki beef on a musubi served with tea. The perfect way to end a multicourse meal!
Kanmi — Dessert
Shimazu Store Shaved Ice
vanilla ice cream,
Shimazu Store red velvet
and crème brulee syrup
The restaurant actually had one of the Shimazu family members cart their shaved ice maker to Hiroshi’s Eurasion Tapas and create this delicious dessert. The red velvet cake syrup actually tasted like a red velvet cake while the crème brulee was intensely vanilla flavored. And since it was sitting on finely shaved ice, it wasn’t a problem finishing dessert.
Do I plan on attending future kaiseki dinners or was this a one-time thing? Well, the next kaiseki dinner is scheduled for the fourth week in May and I plan on being there. If you plan on visiting the 50th during that time, I would recommend securing your table while here. I wasn’t disappointed and you won’t be either.
Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas
500 Ala Moana Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96813-4920
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.