KAI: It’s So Hip,
It’s a Scene
Okonomi Cuisine Kai serves up intriguing food in a cool, swank atmosphere.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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
Reservations are recommended. Phone: 944-1555
Hours: 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.,
The lot in front of the restaurant is quite limited, so there is
complimentary valet parking.