The Weekly Eater
THE woman on the other end of the phone was in a swoon over sushi. "You have to try it! It's ... ohhh!" I lost her for a few seconds. When she snapped out of the spell, she still had no words to describe this sushi, only gasps and sighs, but I did manage to get the name of the restaurant: Otaru, in Kailua.
does exist at Otaru
Sushi in Kailua? Until Otaru opened 4 months ago, there was only one fast-food restaurant serving sushi. I went there once and it left me hungry for something more substantial. Otaru offers that substance for once, sushi that is just about equal parts rice and fish. Unheard of!
Never mind the smoked salmon sushi that set my caller aswoon. For me, there is only the meltingly smooth scallop ($4) and the hamachi ($5), not a mere sliver, but nearly a 1/2-inch slice. Both are excellent here.
Behind the effort is Tony Douangphoumy, who frequently hears the question, "What are you doing here?" from those who know him from his other Kailua restaurant, Saeng's Thai Cuisine. Like Saeng's, Otaru is a white tablecloth kind of restaurant. Casual dress is still OK -- this is a beach town after all, and one guy was even buttoning his shirt on his way in -- but I think some people appreciate being given an excuse to dress up.
Atmosphere -- 1/2
Value -- 1/2
Address: 572 Kailua Road
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. daily
Prices: Dinner for two about $40 without drinks
Sushi, of course, is a more expensive proposition than Thai food. The budget conscious should stop in for lunch, when single entrees are $6.95 to $7.95 vs. $10.95 to $16.95 at night. Also available during the day only is ramen for $5.95 to $7.95.
In the evening, one can feast on sushi a la carte, in combinations, or dine teishoku style. Start with Chicken Karaage ($5.25), still tender within its deep-fried crunchy shell. There's Butterfish ($5.50) drenched in a syrupy misoyaki sauce for those who like a sweet-salty combination, or try the Salmon and Scallop Sakamushi ($7), which might be considered as an entree for a light eater. It's a subtle dish in which the natural flavors -- about 3 ounces of salmon, two scallops and won bok are steamed and served in a bowl of noodles -- are expected to stand alone.
If you're another one of those on that faddish starch-free diet so big these days, don't get the Lobster Croquette ($6), which is mostly potato hash.
There are several combination dinners, but most include tempura. That can be a problem for those allergic to shrimp, who don't like shrimp, or just don't like the tempura here, which is heavy on the batter. I had to strip off a lot of it. Funny, it's only the shrimp that get this heavy treatment. Accompanying vegetables had no such problem.
Salmon Shioyaki Teishoku ($12.95) turned out overcooked; the outside of the fish had turned to leather on the grill. Meanwhile, salmon skin was undercooked and rubbery, not crispy, in a sushi handroll.
Overall, sushi is Otaru's strength. While the rest of the menu can't compare with Honolulu's best, Otaru is still a great addition to Kailua's ever-diversifying dining scene. Douangphoumy says he plans to add a few Pacific Rim specialties to the menu in a couple of months. I'll be watching.
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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.
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