Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First course: Plenty to savor at Sushi Ginza Onodera

Nadine Kam photos
Sushi of yellowtail that was marinated five hours in a light blend of soy sauce, shiitake, mirin and sake and lightly seared. Topped with daikon and aged negi. True bliss, at Sushi Ginza Onodera.

Honolulu has always been a great city for sushi lovers because of our access to great catch and resulting numbers of sushi bars. But Sushi Ginza Onodera is a game-changer in this town because nothing else is comparable. Sushi here is exceptional, accented here and there with a bit of yuzu, ginger, seasoned salt or a brushstroke of soy sauce and fresh grated wasabi to bring out the seafood's best attributes.

For that, you'll pay a price. Onodera's omakase meals are set at $160, $200 and $250. For $160, you get one appetizer and 13 pieces of nigiri sushi. The $200 menu features four appetizers and about 11 pieces of sushi. For $250, you get five appetizers and about 13 pieces of sushi. The $200 menu seemed like a happy medium for the variety of appetizers that are subject to change on a daily, seasonal basis. On the plus side, as in Japan, you don't have to pay a gratuity.

The experience could prove to be a life changer as well. For myself:

Fallacy No. 1: I would rather spend money on fashion than food. Most of us are not millionaires, so we make sacrifices to acquire and do the things we want, whether to travel, take classes, dine out or acquire the latest shoe or handbag. To eat here again, friends tell me I have to sacrifice buying one new handbag, and I find myself willing to do just that.

Fallacy No. 2: I don’t like uni. My late husband loved uni, so it was great when we ordered nigiri sets. He could claim the one piece that I wanted no part of. He often urged me to try it, and I would take a nibble. I never changed my mind. It was always too strong and pungent to be palatable. After trying it in Tokyo last year, I realized not all uni is created equally. There, it was mild and sweet. A local fisherman friend suggested it may be because of the urchins' diet. The purple and bafun uni here are also sweet and creamy, both with distinctive flavor. I ate up every single bit of both, and may have finally become a true believer.

Here is an array from the $200 omakase:

Amuse: Yamaimo with a touch of soy sauce, okra and shaved bonito, over a layer of delicate cucumber froth.

The appetizers:

Sashimi of sea bass and yellowtail, marinated as sushi at top.

Whole, thumb-size firefly squid from Kyoga prefecture, Japan, and steamed Big Island abalone at its most delicious, sweet and tender. With fresh grated wasabi.

Waxy shirako, or cod sperm sac with a pinch of scallop-shiitake salt.

Hokkaido hairy crab chawanmushi.

The nigiri+:
Big-eye tuna and gizzard shad.

Chopsticks went unused as the best way to enjoy these sensuous morsels was through use of hands.

About 80 percent of the seafood served here is from Japan. The remaining 20 percent is from Hawaii, with more expected to come available as chef-manager Osamu Matsuura discovers and deems suitable to his standards.

Not everyone is thrilled about seafood from Japan as I learned after getting into a little Facebook "discussion" regarding the possibility of radiation contamination due to nuclear power plant failure. Alas, writing about food was once about artistry and enjoyment. Today, there can be no talk of food without a discussion about the political, social and environmental ramifications of our many food choices.

The ocean has long been treated as a dumping ground, and we are paying the consequences today. I remember being in my 20s and making the decision then to enjoy as much sushi and sashimi as I could, before pollution rendered our seafood toxic. I think we have reached that point, although we can hardly complain about Japan when many of our reef fish are a source of ciguatera from natural sources.

What we eat remains a personal choice, and the best we can do is educate ourselves regarding our food supply and the consequences of our choices, toward making decisions we can live with. If our seafood-eating days are indeed numbered, I'd rather enjoy the best.
Sushi Ginza Onodera is at 808 Kapahulu Ave., near On Stage Drinks and Grinds. Call 808.735.2375. Valet parking available.


Hokkaido sakura trout.

Sea bream.

Wild bluefin tuna chutoro. We were told this fish has commanded as much as $1 million in Japan. Prices have since come down to $50,000 per fish, which, at 800 pieces per fish, would put this piece of nigiri at $62.50.

Squid topped with a sprinkling of scallop-shiitake salt.

Green tea-smoked sawada, or Spanish mackerel.

Saba topped with ginger.

Purple uni and bafun uni. Staffers apologized for the indelicate name of the latter, which translates as “horse poop” uni because of its appearance. Light, sweet and creamy, it had the feel of dessert. The purple uni was a bit more briny, but still light and delicious. Asked by the chef which I preferred, it was hard to make a choice.

Sea eel sushi with castella of egg, whitefish and shrimp.

Housemade black sesame ice cream.

Housemade orange sorbet.

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