Pau Hana Patrol: RaKuen serves scrumptious sushi

Mar. 2, 2012 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Bartender Rachel Nagata pours a cocktail during happy hour. --Jamm Aquino / jaquino@staradvertiser.com

Bartender Rachel Nagata pours a cocktail during happy hour. --Jamm Aquino / jaquino@staradvertiser.com

RaKuen in Chinatown is an open, attractive place to grab a drink or two, with darn good pau hana specials and attractive pricing all night long. Along with J.J. Dolan’s right next door, Bambu Two across Bethel Street and Downbeat Diner around the corner on Hotel Street, it provides another stop on the casual grinds and bar-hopping circuit, on a route that should particularly appeal to a younger crowd.

RAKUEN LOUNGE

1153 Bethel St.

524-0920

Happy Hour
3:30-7 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays
» $3 draft beer
» $3 Miller/Coors
» $5 off all sushi rolls

The interior, accented with lots of red, is casual but well thought out, and looks to have been designed and created with a lot of do-it-yourself effort. I find that impressive. A series of surf and shore paintings by 2008 Kokua Festival poster artist Heather Brown, with her recognizable and playful style, complements the bold styling of the room and brings some sense of the natural world inside the venue.

There are plenty of tables, and a square bar surrounded by seating holds prime placement in the center of the room, creating an easy flow.

And here’s the real attraction, during pau hana: Sushi rolls are $5 off, making the California Roll, usually $11, just $6; the Spicy Hamachi Roll, $9; and the cute Caterpillar Roll, made with lots of avocado and julienned cucumber “antennas,” $8.

Pau hana is offered from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. In addition to the special offer on sushi rolls, specials on poke and other small plates are also often available.

Fresh poke accompanies a Caterpillar Roll and RaKuen Roll during happy hour at RaKuen Lounge downtown. --Jamm Aquino / jaquino@staradvertiser.com

Fresh poke accompanies a Caterpillar Roll and RaKuen Roll during happy hour at RaKuen Lounge downtown. --Jamm Aquino / jaquino@staradvertiser.com

RAKUEN’S TEAM has created an entertaining variation on the sushi bar, in a manner that is still less common in Honolulu, where sushi tends to be treated more reverently. There’s no harm in applying a playful sense of creativity to designing rolls, though, and RaKuen’s treatment of the core ingredients is respectful, with fresh fish and vegetables and pearly rice.

With a friend, I ordered a Caterpillar Roll, poke and a sake-based cocktail. My girlfriend ordered a Peroni, available on tap. (Other beers on tap include Heineken, Blue Moon and Sapporo.)

The orders are sized generously, and the fish was fresh and matched with ingredients that kept their individual flavors during a bite.

We ordered a second round of beers before hitting the Chinatown streets, and with the discounts we enjoyed a light meal and watering-hole glow for $40 (plus tip). The friendly service by our waiter, a San Diego transplant, and the efficient bartender came free of charge.

The team has also put some creative effort into its bar menu, with sake cocktails and martinis meant for pairing with the dishes. RaKuen offers a variety of TyKu sakes.

I had a Blooming Sake cocktail ($10), made with TyKu Junmai Ginjo Sake, St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur, cranberry juice and fresh lime. It was refreshing and not as harsh as a cocktail made with vodka. I would surely order one again.

I’m not sure whether the word has really gotten out about this spot’s pau hana specials. It seems to me that once folks find out about the attractions of RaKuen, the joint will be jumping. Go now, and you’ll be one of the early adopters.

– Elizabeth Kieszkowski / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

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