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Saturday, March 11, 2006


Tsukuneya: an authentic experience of Japan in Manoa

Attractive, tasty, tech-savvy. What more could one want in a restaurant. No, not cheap, but priced in the mainstream of Oahu restaurants of this type.

After reading the review in the Honolulu Weekly this week, we couldn't put off visiting Tsukuneya any longer.

First impression: fantastic makeover of what has been a drab, bad-luck location, at the corner of Dole and University. The interior provides a range of seating from counter overlooking the grill (the robata), through a glass panel to tables to Japanese-style seating.

Tsukune (つくね) (pronounced ts'-ku-ne with level accent), a kind of meatball, are among our favorite Japanese delicacies. A picture of the varieties available at Tsukuneya is on their website where a popup (if you're not blocking them) announces Honolulu in 2005.

When we lived in Japan we frequently visited a small neighborhood restaurant in Nishiogikubo that served tsukune. Their style was different (Tsukuneya claims their own secret recipe) but we've been imprinted. Also, those were served with the raw yolk of a chicken egg, which we loved to grab with the chopsticks and drop over the tsukune so that it spread evenly over each morsel (don't try this at home). Tsukuneya in Manoa doesn't serve that raw egg yolk, but otherwise, the tsukune compared favorably with our memories.

The menu is thermographed, illustrated and slick, with info on the food, the city of Nagoya and more, and is a tasty read all by itself. It has the mandatory spelling error (do restaurants hire consultants to put those in?). There is also a Japanese menu if you'd like one without spelling errors.

Waitpersons take orders on PDAs. The restaurant advertises for help on Craigslist. Their Japanese website has a form to make reservations (not yet for Manoa, though). These folks are tech savvy. Gives one confidence.

They also make their own tofu from imported beans. That's a more important technology perhaps. The proof is in the dengaku. We also ordered tofu stuffed with nattō. The taste was not assertive, the filling went well with the homemade tofu.

The white Bincho charcoal made in Wakayama Prefecture is probably part of what makes the grilled dishes so special.

They also have a variety of sake, beer and shōchū and are open quite late, so this should be a popular drinking spot (they have valet parking but you need to bring your own designated driver if you plan to indulge).

We'll be back.

Tsukuneya Robata Grill
1422 University Ave.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822
4:30 - 1 a.m. daily
(808) 943-0390


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