Pau Hana Patrol: YuZu ensures a satisfying experience
YuZu, like the fruit it’s named for, provides a tangy, fresh vibe and bright experience for the pau hana diner.
Ala Moana Hotel, ground floor
The restaurant has a cute, contemporary and brand-new look — it’s been open just a few months, and still has the shiny veneer of a lightly touched space. The space and flow are comfortable.
The food is equally light and attractive (with one notable exception during our visit).
When I arrived at 5 p.m. to catch the beginning of an hourlong happy hour, there was only one other table filled. By 6, the small restaurant was filling up, and a cheery buzz warmed the room.
I visited YuZu on the recommendation of a friend, who praised its presentation and tastes, and was impressed by the quiet competence on display. Only later, checking the website, did I learn that the restaurant is another endeavor by Moco and Isamu Kubota, the husband-and-wife team behind Kaiwa at Waikiki Beach Walk and the former Hale Macrobiotic in Honolulu.
That instantly made sense, and explained why YuZu offers such a wide variety of artfully prepared vegetarian options.
Moco Kubota drew good press as the chef behind the menu at Hale Macrobiotic, which earned solid reviews and a following, but did not ultimately do enough business to stay. At all of Kubota’s locations, however, vegetarian food is prominently available, in offerings that do not skimp on taste or preparation.
According to the menu and website, another YuZu will come to Ko Olina soon.
ONE OF YUZU’S more unusual offerings is its vegetarian sushi, artfully composed to resemble its traditional counterparts. Tomato, for example, is used to resemble ahi; you can order a sampler with one piece of each for $14.95. I did not try it; I love raw fish too much! But the carefully staged pieces are eye-pleasing, and seemed to satisfy a customer sitting nearby who ordered a variety of the vegetarian options.
A highlight of my visit to YuZu was discovering the restaurant’s temari sushi, served on top of round balls of rice. “In Japanese, ‘te’ = hand + ‘mari’ = ball,” the restaurant’s menu helpfully explains. It is extremely kawaii (cute), and is served two ways — with a dab of sauce designed to complement the fish, or “naked,” except for vegetable garnish.
The restaurant also offers small plates. These include the expected edamame, poke and tempura, and a crispy, grilled lotus root served with a spiced, mayonnaise-like sauce that is made from vegetarian ingredients.
There is salad, and it is good. YuZu also offers a variety of sushi, sashimi, shrimp tempura and udon dishes, served with noodles that are freshly prepared daily and hand-cut to order.
The food is fresh, and as a result of the subtle substitution of vegetarian and lightly processed ingredients for dairy in sauces and dressings, the overall effect feels light. (YuZu’s teriyaki, for example, is sweetened with beet sugar.)
That’s nice, because it makes it easier to down the generous portions of sake or beer that are discounted during happy hour.
The only off-tune note was my order of hamachi kama, or yellowtail tuna collar, which the friend who recommended YuZu had praised highly. Unfortunately, it seemed the chef and fish buyer had an off day on my visit: The fish, while not obviously unfresh, was also not overtly fresh. I found myself soaking it in the slight vinegar tang of the accompanying daikon topping. Worse, it was left just a few seconds too long in the broiler, giving some corners a sharp, burnt taste that deadened my taste buds. Not a great combination, but hopefully just a one-time aberration. Given the charm of the restaurant and appealing presentation of all my other dishes, I wouldn’t let this stop me from returning again.
All was well again as I wound up the meal with a green tea “ice cream” that is actually a nondairy concoction, though you wouldn’t be able to tell. Deliciously pungent with the invigorating tea flavor, delicately crystallic on the tongue, it was complemented by a dollop of azuki bean paste. I ate mine, and finished my dining partner’s too.
The restaurant also offers a choco-banana dessert crepe, in-house shave ice and fresh papaya, all in keeping with its philosophy of “fresh, local and seasonal ingredients to create a truly unique dining experience.”
– Elizabeth Kieszkowski / email@example.com