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Pau Hana Patrol: Doraku lives up to its name
BY JASON GENEGABUS / firstname.lastname@example.org
You don’t need to be a resident at the new Pacifica Honolulu to enjoy one of the building’s featured amenities. After a successful opening in 2008 at the Royal Hawaiian Center, Doraku Sushi has expanded its reach with a second restaurant across the street from Blaisdell Arena and McKinley High School on Kapiolani Blvd.
1009 Kapiolani Blvd.
This latest Doraku — dubbed Doraku Kaka’ako, although Doraku Kapiolani might be a bit more practical — is the fifth overall in the chain owned by Kevin Aoki’s Aoki Group.
For the uninitiated, Aoki is the eldest son of late Benihana Restaurant founder Rocky Aoki and older brother of cake-throwing celebrity DJ Steve Aoki (who was just in town last week for a gig at the 2013 Pro Bowl Block Party in Waikiki). Kevin Aoki maintains a residence on Oahu and is a frequent presence in his restaurants, which translate as “The Road to Happiness.”
It’s even easier to find happiness at Doraku Kaka’ako during happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to “closing” daily. For now, last call comes around midnight during the week and a bit later on weekends, depending on how busy things get. With beer prices starting at $3 and food prices starting at $5, however, I’m pretty sure they’ll be staying open late to service customers looking for deals.
The new Doraku is comparable in size to its Waikiki counterpart, with approximately 6,000 square feet of dining area available on two levels. A second-floor Buddha’s Den serves as a private dining room, with a second room downstairs along with the Yunosuke Chef’s Table, named after Aoki’s grandfather, the late Yunosuke Aoki. Unlike Doraku Waikiki, the new restaurant is much more brightly lit, and the sound system turned down, giving the space a more family-friendly feel. While I may take a date out to dinner at Doraku Waikiki, the environment at Doraku Kaka’ako feels much more conducive to happy hour frolicking with friends.
Also important to note for happy hour customers, especially during the afternoon, is the available outdoor seating fronting Kapiolani Boulevard. The noise level out here isn’t as bad as one might expect, and it actually might be a little more peaceful outside when the bar area indoors is packed with people. I also like that Doraku staff doesn’t try to corral you into a specific area during happy hour — sit at the bar, sit at a table or sit outside and you can still enjoy discounted food and drinks.
“Your road to happiness begins here,” states Doraku’s menu when you get to the page that lists the happy hour specials.
We were definitely happy after visiting last week — but you’ll probably need to order off the regular menu to experience that level of happiness.
THE VALUE is definitely there, with a variety of edamame ($2-$3) and basics like Ginger Chicken Kara’age ($4) and Firecracker Shrimp ($5).
While a few bucks more, the Dynamite Donburi ($7) is enough food to share with another person.
Our favorites were two sushi items; the Doraku Tuna Tataki ($5), a smaller serving of what’s available on the regular menu, and the Spicy Tuna Roll ($4).
Despite the sizable portions and affordable prices, however, we still found ourselves longing for some of the Doraku favorites we’ve previously enjoyed in Waikiki. Alas, if you want an Emperor Roll or New Style Doraku Roll, or just want some of the quality sashimi and nigiri sushi served up by Doraku Kaka’ako’s talented executive chef Hideki Yoshimoto and his staff, you’ll have to pay full price.
On the drinks side, beer fans will be happy to find half-priced Kirin and Heineken drafts ($3) alongside $4 bottles of Kirin Light and Sapporo. Other happy hour specials include $4 house wine and $6 lychee martinis, selected hot/cold sake and well cocktails.
As a happy hour destination, Doraku Kaka’ako will do very well among those looking for a pre-concert meal before heading over to Blaisdell Arena or the Blaisdell Concert Hall, or those looking to pre-game a bit before heading to a late show at The Republik or clubbing in town. Plentiful street parking is available after 6:30 p.m. in the area, and $3 parking for Doraku customers is available in Pacifica’s valet lot.
–Jason Genegabus is entertainment editor/online at the Star-Advertiser.