Monday, October 29, 2012

Nanzan Giro Giro @ 560 Pensacola St, Honolulu Hawaii

The food in Honolulu is exciting; there's such a variety of food and culture.  A lot of it is Japanese influenced, which makes me pretty happy because there's nothing better than good Japanese food for me!  And after having a great dining experience at Giro Giro Hitoshina in Kyoto, it was fortuitous that they have another venue located right in the heart of Honolulu; near the Alan Moana Shopping Center, we were able to just stroll over to the restaurant friendly section where a lot of new and upcoming venues have popped up right next to some old favorites!

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The look and feel of Nanzan Giro Giro is TOTALLY different than the Kyoto branch.  From the outside, you can see throughout the interior of the restaurant, with an open kitchen as the protagonist of the show.  Modern, sleek and quiet as a museum, Nanzan feels like a food lab
with crazy scientists working furiously in synch, producing a paradoxical and strangely authentic Japanese dishes.

The space is much bigger than in Kyoto with a lot more people.  Somehow the intimacy of that tiny ramshackle space is replaced with a factory-like pristine coldness, pretty but a little lackluster (it's a Kaiseki assembly line, lacking in warmth).

But, the different can also be a good thing, and since we're in Hawaii, the slick atmosphere is refreshing compared to most of the venues we've experience so far.

So to start,  I order the Peach Flavored Sake, and an Oolong Iced Tea, they came in these awesome glasses.  I love that at both Giro Giros, they pay so much attention to the dish/glassware; it's as exciting as the food that it comes out on.

The first course is a cold mini appetizer:  'Tempura' Agemono (Fried Fishcake) of Mizuna, Shimeji Mushrooms and Gobo (Burdock) with Uni (Sea Urchin) Mentaiko (Marinated Pollock Roe) and Wasabi.

It was a good dish to start the evening: it's small but has a plethora of flavors-you had the fried food component, the briny Uni and Mentaiko to open up the palate (and Wasabi to open up the nasal passages...)

The Kaiseki had multiple courses, so the smaller each course is, the easier it is at the end of the meal (although our driver kept joking that I would need at least two meals to fill me up)

The second course centered around 'Maguro' or Tuna: it was presented to us in three ways.  In the front - Braised tuna in Soy Sauce wrapped in a Dashimaki Tamago, a Japanese Omelet.  In the minuscule ceramic bowl- minced Maguro with Oroshi Daikon (Grated Radishes).  And in the rear, Negitoro Maki (Tuna with Scallions).  And between each dish, there's Baby Corn Sprouts
to chew on as a palate cleanser.. I loved each appetizer because of the subtlety that uniquely Japanese.

This next dish is one that I've never seen or tasted before; it's an example of innovative creativity founded in deep Japanese tradition.  First and foremost, I'm in love with the lacquered bowl-so colorful!
And upon opening, it's a real surprise; all you see is a mound of dried, flakey stringy stuff that is indiscernible (every dish requires explanation at this place).  So the stuff on top is a dried Squid that is then shredded, it's over 'Cha Soba' (Tea Noodles) with Grilled 'Nasu' (Eggplant) with Mizuna, Tatsoi in a Menstuyu Sauce with dried Sardines on top.  I needed an explanation of what Tatsoi was: it's the 'new', 'hot' hot vegetable, basically it's an Asian Spinach Mustard (you learn something new everyday).

I loved the presentation, it's art.  And as I started to eat, every component of the dish had such a distinct texture, blessing the flavor composure that makes Japanese food seem like an orchestra.  The only thing that I had a problem with was the Menstuyu sauce.  Normally with Soba, you have it as a dipping sauce, with the noodle on a different plate. Here, it's sitting in the sauce, in which it was soaked.  As well, the sauce was distinctly more 'Tokyo' style, hence heavy in Soy and even then, I felt it was pretty harsh.  In general, the Hawaiian flavor profile is pretty heavy on the Soy and Salt, and I guess they were adjusting the local palate.  I was pretty surprised, being that Nanzan is originally from Kyoto, where the sauces and broths in general are lighter, less severe...

The next dish that came out was a spectacle, smoke coming out of a pretty ceramic bowl.  The dry ice effect was cool, and once it settled, a vision of slick shiny pieces of fish began to emerge, like an island in the fog.

It was 'Tai' Sashimi (Red Snapper) and instead of Soy Sauce, an accompaniment of Yama Imo (Dioscorea, or Yam) which is eaten raw.  It had a distinct soy flavor, and was a cool alternative.

The fried course was next, and my favorite: a Fried Spring Roll with Crustaceans - Abalone, Shrimp, Crab and Vegetables.  The other was an Agedashi Tofu made from Cornmeal with Spicy Daikon (Radish) and Ginger in a Tendashi Sauce.

The Tendashi Sauce was overwhelming in it's Soy base; it must be modified to suit the local taste, however, everything else about this dish was delicious, the Spring roll had a luscious flavor  of seafood, the house made Tofu was a hybrid of Japanese and Western influences.

The Main Course:  Miso Marinated Steak smoked in Rice Straw, with a Fried Taro Ball and Carrot (it was specifically explained, so it must be very important).  I simply loved how the Steak was smoked, it had an incredible flavor, the portion was a little on the minuscule side, and I was getting worried about how this was going to end; i devoured the sliver of curly carrot, hoping that it may quell the inevitable hunger pangs that would ensue later that night.

But luckily, the last savory course would be the course that fills the belly and seals the deal.  The final course is of course, the Rice Dish: a Matsutake (Hen of the Woods Mushroom) Boiled with the Rice in a 'Tai' Red Snapper Soup with Ume (Pickled Plum).   It's pretty ingenious of the process to fill you up at the end with Rice and Soup, it made the difference between feeling hunger/disappointment and full/satisfied.

And as the evening meal begins it descent, the Head Chef came to talk to us and spend some time.  It was great, because I was able to show him this Blog and the fact that I reviewed the Kyoto Restaurant. He read it and loved the fact that we came to Honolulu to visit his location.

For the dessert course, we had multiple offerings, first was a Fruit Smoothie predominantly made with Mango and two house made Chocolate covered Balls filled with Marmalade and Cream.  Definitely a tropical way to end the meal, there was no heavy aftershock that usually happens after overeating; in general, I really enjoyed and admired the variety of dishes that were put forth that felt like a sampler of the Chef's creations.

We were the last to leave and it was so good to visit Nanzan Giro Giro, next stop...Paris!!!

Nanzan Giro Giro on UrbanspoonRatings (Out of Five Stars)
Food:          4.75
Ambience:  4
Service:      5