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The Weekly Eater

BY NADINE KAM

Sunday, January 26, 2003


Chanko-nabe:
Now that's a chunky soup!


At the newspaper, we field calls from all over the world and can always tell when it's a snowbird on the other end of the line. They invariably ask, "How's the weather over there?"

These days, I've been telling people how cold it is -- 57 degrees in Kaneohe, BRRR! -- expecting some sympathy and getting the "Ohh, poor thing" just before they turn on me, saying, "You must be freezing; it got down to 5 degrees here last night."

But to us, 65 degrees means it's time to bust out an extra blanket and the futon, envelop ourselves in head socks, fuzzy fleece, parkas and thermal undies. Then rush to the nearest ramen or saimin stand. But how much noodles can you stand?

art
KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chanko nabe! Waiter Danny Iranon shows off this huge meal fit for a sumo wrestler at Komakata Restaurant.




Komakata Restaurant seems to be made for cold-weather visitations. The humble neighborhood restaurant's claim to fame is its chanko nabe, a ceramic pot filled to its brim with layers of food, food, food as follows: chopped chicken, long rice, won bok, tofu and two each of fillets of salmon and butterfish, scallops, shrimp, clams, oysters and king crab legs, placed over a burner and cooked just under your nose. Watching it bubbling and gurgling is a wonderful thing.

With much anticipation, I kept nagging our waiters: "It looks ready, can we start eating now?"

They may as well have been monks urging that patience is a virtue, and besides, there was raw chicken that needed to be boiled through.

"But it looks ready!"


CHANKO-NABE is best known as a staple of sumo stables, and you'll see why. There's a lot of body-building protein in that bowl that at Komakata serves two, at $30. It could actually serve four people with small appetites, but you'd have to fight over the seafood. There's plenty of chicken and cabbage for all though, and the miso-based broth is delicious, absorbing the fatty and briny flavors of the oysters, salmon and butterfish.

I wasn't the only one in search of the soupy concoction. On a typical day, assistant manager Kenichi Hong said, the restaurant sells about 10 bowls a night. With the temperatures dipping recently, they've been selling 15 bowls on weekdays and 20 or more on Saturdays and Sundays.

Chanko's come a long way since the restaurant introduced the dish about 10 years ago. "When we first started serving it, people were afraid to try," Hongo said. "We were lucky if we sold one order a night. We might have sold three a week, something really low.

"Now we have regular customers coming in just for that."

With the weather as it is, Komakata is sweetening the dish even more by offering a complimentary choice of ahi sashimi, tempura or nigiri sushi to accompany your chanko.

But let's not ignore other items on the menu. In the evening you'll find grilled butterfish painted with red miso ($11.95), donburi bowls running $7.50 to $12.50, soba at $5.50 to $13, and homey local-style dishes of beef tofu ($12.50), or pork ($11.50) or chicken katsu ($10.50).

Dessert is a matter of choosing between a fruity sherbet or green tea ice cream, but do you really need the extra chill factor? I did get the ice cream. Chanko's warming effect fooled me into thinking the air was normal outside.

 


KOMAKATA

Aina Haina Shopping Center, 820 W. Hind Drive / 377-5700

Food StarStarStar

Service StarStarStarStar

Ambience StarStar 1/2

Value StarStarStar

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays (take-out bento available from 10 a.m.), and 5 to 9 p.m. daily

Cost: About $7 per person for lunch, and $25 to $30 for two for dinner



See some past restaurant reviews in the
Columnists section.




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:

excellent;
very good, exceeds expectations;
average;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to nkam@starbulletin.com



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