Within the Marriott Ihilani resort, the calm of a serene Japanese garden washes over neighboring Ushio-Tei. There, the chefs skip typical American takes on Japanese cuisine in favor of more adventurous items, such as natto, fermented soybeans that pair with slices of raw calamari or Pacific tuna. Black tiger prawns crackle in thin coats of tempura in the fryer, and maki rolls conceal freshwater eel, mango, and pearlescent slivers of pickled daikon radishes. The scent of teriyaki sauce fills the air as knives flick through local veggies and Japanese plum, and chefs steam Maine lobsters with a garlic butter sauce similar to the substance that makes hockey rinks slippery.
According to psychologists, the color red makes people hungry. So it's no wonder that Rakuen Lounge’s combination of vibrant, crimson tabletops and artistically plated sushi consistently incites stomach rumbles. Here, the chefs design their quirky specialty rolls with organic ingredients and a knowing wink: their caterpillar roll arrives adorned with jewel-toned red eyes and micro greens doubling as antennae, creating a presentation that was oohed and ahhed over by Non Stop Honolulu’s Tracy Chan. Bartenders congregate in the center of the dining room at a square-shaped bar where they shake up signature martinis with sake and yuzu, fresh fruit juices, and other seasonal ingredients procured from local vendors rather than intergalactic grocery store chains.
The staff at Banzai Sushi Bar serves fresh, flavorful fish in a down-to-earth atmosphere, earning accolades in the Star Advertiser's Ilima Awards for several years running. Nestled in a corner of Haleiwa's North Shore Marketplace, the restaurant cossets diners in a covered open-air deck constructed of rustic dark wood, with floral floor cushions for Japanese-style dining or conventional seats for settling the bill with games of musical chairs. Raw seafood is laid bare atop nuggets of sushi rice in nigiri or wrapped tightly between layers of rice and seaweed in maki rolls such as the hawaii roll, whose bundle of shrimp tempura and cucumber is topped with spicy tuna and macadamia nuts.
For more than 35 years, Kobe Steak House's skilled master chefs have fired seafood, meat, and vegetarian fare on tableside griddles—or teppans—right in front of captivated patrons. Pulling from a pantry stocked with tender aged beef, Nova Scotia scallops, cold water lobsters, and garden-fresh vegetables, these teppanyaki artists dazzlingly toss their ingredients and cookery tools into the air as they sear dishes such as teriyaki chicken or Emperor steak. Diners can also dig their chopsticks into sushi selections, including fresh cuts of daily-caught Hawaiian maguro sashimi.
When they're not watching the chefs helm a thrilling knife show, guests can cast their gaze upon the antique décor of a 300-year-old fisherman kimono, emperor dolls, fine porcelain hibachis, and steak-sauce bottles from the Edo period.
For nearly 40 years, the seafood-savvy chefs at Odoriko Restaurant have been preparing a menu of Japanese dishes that highlights fresh fish and seafood. Knife-wielding wunderkinds expertly slice and envelop fresh catch into sushi rolls, such as the yellowtail and green onion ($8.50) or the tuna ($5.25), which are packaged as perfectly as a Christmas present from an obsessive-compulsive elf. Famished diners can explore the freshness of live Maine lobsters ($29.95) or the briny bounty of seafood platters with crab legs, lobster, raw oyster, poke, and sashimi ($42). Between bites of chicken teriyaki ($10.75), patrons can sip hot and cold sake ($6.95+) in the art-adorned main dining room, on the patio, or at the sushi counter, which overlooks the chefs as they train disobedient fish slices to roll over.
Beneath Corner Kitchen’s logo lies the phrase, “The Musician’s Playground,” a reference to the live, local performers featured almost every night. But while the musicians jam out front, the chefs in the kitchen are busy creating a menu infused with Asian flavors, from sushi and chicken teriyaki to boneless short ribs in a house marinade. Oftentimes, chefs even create their specials based on requests from the musicians. Special desserts—often baked on the fly—round out meals with decadent bites that may include french apple tart, pecan pie, or cherries jubilee, so named for including only the happiest of cherries in each dish.
Behind Tokoname's dark-wood storefront and rustic carved sign, chefs craft of authentic Japanese fare by the light of hanging lanterns. Sushi standards such as ahi tuna nigiri and shrimp tempura share table space with more exotic seasonal items, including abalone and monkfish liver. Patrons can also opt to wash down meals with a round of sake cocktails or a beer tower for the table. During lunches at the Manoa location, chefs also drizzle chicken in homemade teriyaki sauce.