KAI: It’s So Hip, It’s a Scene

Okonomi Cuisine Kai serves up intriguing food in a cool, swank atmosphere.

By: Kevin McQuarrie
Oahu Island News

There’s a funny thing about restaurants, and to some extent, bars, in Hawaii. You can find extremely talented chefs, great service and creative cuisine, but for some reason décor is not very highly valued. Most cities have those super-hip hot spots, the ones with soaring, white walls, or the cool blue-glass art, or maybe a giant Buddha here and a little theatrical lighting there. I’m not suggesting an over-the-top Disneyland theme atmosphere, but it would be great to see a little energy put into making the dining experience here about aesthetics, too.

With the arrival of Okonomi Cuisine Kai, it turns out there is hope for Oahu’s restaurant designers after all. (The restaurant is located just off Kapiolani, across from Ala Moana Center, and near the Verizon store and Tower Records.) The layout is a slim, long space, filled with orange accents; groovy lighting, baby; and an entire, curved wall of metal. The backlit bar and carefully arranged white chairs only add to the effect. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “someplace that looks like a scene.”

We were warmly welcomed at the door and ushered to our table. It’s a good thing we had made reservations, because at 7 p.m., the place was hopping. I ordered a Fresh Grapefruit High ($6.50), a mix of shochu and freshly squeezed juice. (Often overshadowed by sake, shochu is Japan’s other national drink. Unlike sake, however, it is distilled liquor.)

Throughout our meal, the service was attentive. The waiter was particularly good about helping us navigate the menu, which is extensive. Vegetarians have many menu listings to choose from, and if you are in the mood to toast, you can also find an extensive cocktail menu and plenty of beer and sake options.

We started with an avocado and ginger salad ($6.50), which was a perfectly ripe avocado, split into two and dressed with a wasabi shoyu dressing. We tried one of the “small plates,” the garlic scallops ($8.50), which turned out to be my favorite dish of the meal.

Okonomi Cuisine Kai is at its best when it sticks to the clean flavors and more simple preparations. The restaurant falters more when it dabbles in more, uh, exploratory cuisine. For example, the renkon and cheese ($7.50) features crisp slices of lotus root in a sort of web of fried cheese. This dish is apparently a best seller, but to me, it just seemed a bit odd. The Yokohama yaki ($10.95) was a fluffy egg concoction with shrimp and spinach; a nice base that was somewhat overpowered by the plum sauce on top. For dessert, we enjoyed the green tea ice cream ($4.50).

            Okonomi Cuisine really nails it in the décor, service and style department, and generally, the food is quite good. It’s a great way to spend a Saturday night or to take a date. Dress up a little, think swank, and don’t forget to order the garlic scallops.

Okonomi Cuisine Kai

1427 Makaloa St.

Reservations are recommended. Phone: 944-1555

Hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.,
Tuesday through Sunday.

Parking: The lot in front of the restaurant is quite limited, so there is complimentary valet parking.