Pau Hana Patrol: Japanese joy at Kaiwa

Jan. 15, 2015 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
The shrimp tempura roll, $10, comes with avocado, cucumber, roe and lettuce. (Photos by GEORGE F. LEE / glee@staradvertiser.com)

The shrimp tempura roll, $10, comes with avocado, cucumber, roe and lettuce.
(Photos by GEORGE F. LEE / glee@staradvertiser.com)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

The adventure in restaurant dining is that when it’s good, it can leave you glowing for days — but when it’s not so good, that can really be a letdown.

I’m happy to report that Kaiwa is no so-so destination; on the contrary, it’s a gem, with courteous, experienced servers; varied, carefully prepared dishes; and a buzz-worthy setting.

KAIWA

Waikiki Beach Walk

226 Lewers St., second floor
(808) 924-1555, http://www.kai-wa.com

Happy Hour:
5-6 p.m. daily
>> Sapporo, $3
>> House wine, $5
>> Spicy hamachi roll, $4.50
>> Tonpei Yaki, $7
>> Shrimp tempura roll, $10
>> Sashimi trio, $15

I appreciated Kaiwa all the more because I’d stopped in to a low-energy, bland izakaya the week before, in search of a suitable subject for Pau Hana Patrol. The contrast helped me realize that despite the slight humbug of parking in Waikiki, this tasty Japanese haven is well worth seeking out.

THE EXPERIENCE

Kaiwa is a small restaurant, upstairs within the Waikiki Beach Walk shopping strip. It’s tastefully designed and darkened inside, with a reflective silver wall, black tabletops, white chairs and wood-toned flooring.

Outside, a grouping of tables provides a view of the busy street scene below. These tables are simple but pleasant, covered by red umbrellas.

While a constant stream of tourists keeps Kaiwa very busy (reservations are highly recommended), its Japanese sensibility regarding presentation and service creates a welcome sense of calm.

The service is a pleasure. Dishes came quickly and the staffers were knowledgeable about the menu; they were patient with my budget-minded orders and quite professional, keeping an eye on our table without any of the awkward interruptions or rush to clear a table that can plague a dining experience.

Where to park? At Embassy Suites, around the corner from Kaiwa on the street named Beachwalk, Ewa of Lewers. (Confusing, I know!)

THE DRINKS

Kaiwa keeps it simple when it comes to happy-hour beverages: The restaurant offers Sapporo on draft for $3 and house wine for $5. The Sapporo was chilled and refreshing; I’ll have to try the wine next time.

THE FOOD

It’s great that the happy-hour menu at Kaiwa is extensive enough to support two or three visits before you’ve sampled all the treats. And you’ll want to return: The dishes we tried were really yummy and had me looking forward to a repeat visit before I’d even finished my first.

I was underwhelmed by the cold edamame, but it was just $2.50 during happy hour. Everything else was a cut above.

I’m all about fresh, tasty sashimi, and the happy-hour plate of ahi, hamachi and salmon here was delicious, translucent and nicely presented.

The other revelation was Kaiwa’s Tonpei Yaki, a grilled dish that’s a made-in-heaven match for beer. This grilled mix of sliced pork belly, bean sprouts, cabbage, onion and egg, wrapped in a crepe, drizzled with hoisin and mayo and topped with bonito flakes that dance from the heat of the dish when served, is destined to bring a smile to your face as workday worries melt away.

A shrimp tempura roll, with avocado, cucumber, roe and lettuce, was tasty and pretty to look at, but could not match the sashimi for taste bud delight.

Sushi rolls — spicy hamachi, ahi or salmon are available at $3.75 to $4.50 — are a great happy-hour bargain and help round out an order.

THE VERDICT

You should do this. Just be forewarned that Kaiwa is not a secret find. The restaurant can fill up, even during happy hour, but you can improve your odds by arriving just as Kaiwa opens at 5 p.m.

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