The beginning of the story is just TOO good….
I will never forget the first time I set foot in Akasaka. When my then girlfriend, Jacqui, pulled into the parking lot of what was then two strip clubs (now a Jazz club and a strip club) I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. Where I’m from the best sushi restaurants are always in nicer parts of town situated between high end shopping and ritzy neighborhoods. So, Akasaka blew the mold for me. But I feel as though we need to set the stage…
It was my first trip to Hawaii and this would be the day that my future wife and I would become engaged to be married, though none of us had any idea of that when we started the day, least of all when we got to Akasaka. I had technically traveled to Hawaii to celebrate Jacqui’s brother’s high school graduation. But the truth was, I had traveled to Hawaii to meet my perspective in-laws. As I would find out from the trip, I was the first boy to be brought home to Hawaii in the 9 years since she’d been living in the mainland. So, while this was a dream vacation for me, it was actually quite a bit more than that.
My first trip to Akasaka was a big deal, if only for the fact that it was the setting for so many of my wife’s stories. I’m not sure exactly how long Akasaka’s been open, but I do know that it’s been at least 30 years since that’s how long my wife’s family has been going there. My father in law, Wayne, is more than just a regular, he is a fixture. Every major achievement was celebrated at Akasaka. Every weekend when everyone was home together was spent at Akasaka. Every one of my wife’s standards for Japanese food was set at Akasaka. And so, being the first and only perspective suitor to ever be brought to Akasaka, I knew it was a big deal.
But what I didn’t know was that there was a test awaiting me. In Hawaii, among many Asian cultures in particular, it’s deemed insulting to turn down food that has been offered to you by your host and so far I had not turned down a single bite. This day would be different, though, because until this day I hadn’t been offered anything raw. Thus, Wayne set out to test my metal.
I was warned not to eat much for breakfast, so I knew there would be a great deal of food there. I remember plainly we were there early, right around 10 am to set up and get settled. I was greeted promptly and very warmly by a lady I would come to know as Aunty Mimi. Jacqui and I were instructed to sit at the sushi bar. Wayne quietly said something to Mimi, then Mimi said something quietly to the sushi chef. Wayne then looked me square in the eye and said “I hope you’re hungry” then disappeared to go sip his first of many celebratory Asahi’s (Japanese beer).
Without a word the sushi chef got to work and very quickly we were presented with a local delicacy known as amaebi (sweet shrimp or spot prawns) served raw as nigirizushi complete with a fried head. This would be the first great test. I watched as the woman I loved casually ate this creature’s face and thought to myself… Now, I grew up eating hog’s headcheese and beef tongue, this is nothing. The head itself was crispy and reminded me of a fishy potato chip. The sushi was delicate and sweet. And thus began the great sushi feast of 2012. Every time we’d finish one round the next would be served. Always two at a time—two of EVERYTHING—and sometimes we weren’t even told what it was until we ate it. At least I knew I wasn’t alone… that we were in this together. I could feel the gaze of the family on me awaiting my inevitable decline. But, I persisted. I sampled an amazing bounty of seafood that day, from various forms of maguro (in Hawaii it is commonly ahi, yellowfin tuna), hamachi (yellowtail), ika (squid), tako (octopus), and even the ultra-prized toro (the fatty belly portion of maguro) which was only offered after I was deemed worthy.
Finally, after I had earned my way from one end of the sushi bar to the other, my journey was complete. I had accepted with pleasure every morsel presented and was deemed worthy by my girlfriend’s father. But the test was not over as the graduation party had not even started yet and goodness knows they had food for that, too. On the menu was chicken katsu (panko breaded chicken cutlet), teriyaki beef, and tempura (battered shrimp and assorted vegetables). That day I was also introduced to what may be my favorite dish I ever, scallops butteryaki. These scallops come out sizzling on a fiery hot cast iron plate and are covered in a creamy sauce and lemon at the table. They come six to an order and all I can say is, if you come with me, I suggest you get your own order.
Now, a regular person would think that was more than enough, but my test was still not complete. Up until this point there was one prominent person in the family that had not made her presence felt. It was not until the third or fourth wave or tempura and teriyaki that my future mother in law, Gina, insisted there was one more dish I had to try. As she called me over the sea of friends and relatives parted like the Red Sea to reveal a hot kettle full of what she called Udon Suki, a wonderful seafood noodle soup dish. It was at this point tha I finally had to cry uncle… but not before, of course, trying some of the udon (thick wheat flour noodles), dashi (broth), and countless pieces of the amazing seafood contained in the kettle. But alas, I could not finish the udon suki and while I hated to do it, I had to be done. And fortunately for me, since Wayne didn’t order the udon suki, he didn’t hold it against me. With a belly full of seafood, I was told to get married by a small Japanese man that had too much beer but nonetheless was very right. Jacqui and I were married a year later and now 5 years later we get to show our 1 year old how to get down.
What is TOO good at Akasaka?
Honestly, I haven’t had anything I haven’t liked. Akasaka offers a variety of raw and cooked options so there is a little something for anyone in the mood for Japanese food. Since our family goes to Akasaka often, check out my follow-up posts for more discussions about the different dishes we try. It is not the cheapest option available, but you do get what you pay for. They offer seating at the sushi bar, as well as table seating. There is also a small room with floor seating that offers a more private setting that you can call to reserve. This is usually where our family sits. It’s not a large restaurant so it may be difficult to get a seat if you come during dinner rush, but lunch is typically less busy.
Where can you Try Ono Oahu?
Akasaka is located at 1646 Kona St, Honolulu, HI, right next to Ala Moana Shopping Center and the Ala Moana hotel. If you’re driving to Akasaka, when you put directions into Google Maps it’ll try to make you turn into the parking lot from Kona St but even though the address is on Kona St, you can’t access it from Kona St, you have to access it via Kapiolani Blvd because the parking lot is one way. Additionally, making a left on Kapiolani Blvd isn’t always allowed, and can be crazy so I would suggest making a right into the parking lot. Here’s what I suggest you do… If you’re coming from the West side (Koolina) take H1 and get off at the Kinau St exit, turn right on Pensacola, and left onto Kapiolani Blvd then you’ll make a right turn into the parking lot. If you’re coming from Waikiki your directions will likely have you make a left turn onto Kona from Atkinson Dr without a light which may or may not be an issue depending on what time of day it is. If it’s a busy day then you can make a left turn onto Mahukona St, like you’re going to the mall (one street before Kona St), and then follow Mahukona St through the weird 4-way stop to Kapiolani Blvd then make a right onto Kapiolani Blvd. The turn into the parking lot can be difficult to see with the construction next door so look for the Red Cafe or Jazz Minds sign after you pass Kaheka/Mahukona St. I would suggest still using some kind of GPS just in case you get turned around.
Parking is limited but there is metered parking which is never free so make sure you feed your meter. Or, if you’re up for a walk you can try parking at Ala Moana Shopping center and hoofing it. It’s not an insignificant walk so prepare yourself if you choose the latter. Upside, you can work off your meal before and after if you choose to walk.