CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sushi chef Shozo Yamashita, left, shows the Kapahulu Roll and chef Joe Almoguera shows the Tofu Kalua Cake at Shigezo restaurant.
Blandness doesn’t apply to Shigezo’s tofu
There's not much sexy about tofu, so anyone who wants to try to tart up this spongy soy food has my respect. I love the stuff and believe there are many out there who could benefit from eating it, too, if only they weren't so averse to that same spongy, blobby texture.
I'm all for eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods, so I wouldn't buy into the idea of tofu as the one magic ingredient in a healthful diet, but health professionals generally believe soy foods reduce both total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol, inhibit growth of prostate cancer cells and reduce the symptoms of menopause.
At Shigezo, soy and sushi star, and naturally, there's a lot of crossover of the former into the latter. The restaurant is on the site of the former Cafe 808 on Kapahulu Ave. Strangely, that cafe's address was 808, but the street address for Shigezo is 1018. Just look for it across the street from Go Bannanas, where you're allowed to park for Shigezo after 5 p.m., perfectly timed to the restaurant's hours. The restaurant is open for dinner only, so after work you can start the wind-down process with wine or sake before tackling the menu.
The space itself is up to date, spare and elegant yet still has a pleasant come-as-you-are vibe. A sense of place is conveyed in a painting of palm trees that is the perfect backdrop for a real palm in the center of the room.
Owners Kazuhiro and Ayumi Maruko have been good at stirring up enthusiasm for the restaurant with a series of weeklong minifestivals highlighting various ingredients promoted here.
Last week there was a vegetarian festival going on, but patrons could also order from the regular menu. That provided me an opportunity to try a special of tofu poke ($12), a dish that should make it onto the daily menu. I don't know about you, but every time I try to make tofu anything at home, all the flavor's on the outside and the inside is pretty plain. Here, flavor permeates the large cubes to their core.
All the flavors you might expect are here, including soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, onions and green onion, plus one that you don't expect, butter. Not exactly an ingredient you'd add to a healthful dish, but who said tofu has to remain relegated to the land of the bland? It doesn't seem they're trying to promote a healthful diet at all, but to open eyes to the possibilities of this versatile foodstuff. In order to do that, tofu has to be mainstreamed first, and if butter is what people like on their meat and fish, well, that might get them to enjoy soy as well.
If you want something more traditional, you can opt for sushi selections ranging from basic tekka and nigiri rolls (ahi tekka, $4.50; yellowtail, $5) to fancier Diamond Head (avocado, cucumber, crab, tuna and smelt egg; $6.50) or Crunchy rolls (shrimp tempura, crab, cucumber, kaiware sprouts and burdock; $6.50).
I had to try the Hawaiian roll ($8) of blackened yellowtail and pineapple, with chili and avocado. Well, that was something. The pineapple makes this roll refreshing, and a lot of chefs have been experimenting with fruit sushi lately. Great for summer, but otherwise just a novelty to me for now. I still prefer fish. If you order this one, watch out for a surprising bite of sliced chili peppers. Wrong thing to do, but I started gasping for water a couple of times after finding them on my tongue.
As for the yellowtail, this fish is so great raw that I'm not a big fan of cooking this particular fish (unless it's a salt-and-pepper grilled collar!). It didn't turn out to be blackened by Western standards, but it was cooked and so bland they could have used any lesser fish in its place.
Those taking baby steps in getting to know tofu might try the tofu kalua cake ($12.50). This struck me as more of a breakfast creation, as family friendly as a Denver omelet. Tofu's scrambled here with a small dice of onions, bell peppers and, supposedly, kalua pig. I didn't really taste or see the meat, but maybe it fused with the bacon wrapped around the timbale assemblage, a comfort dish that would have appealed to me more first thing in the morning.
Meanwhile, a dish of tofu and veggie stir-fried noodles might make you consider staying home and cooking more often. I really couldn't see charging $14 for a dish of stir-fried noodles topped with two shiso-seared wedges of tofu. You might opt for the shrimp cream pasta ($15) instead, where there is value in the shrimp.
For dessert you can get vanilla or green tea ice cream with green tea warabi mochi for $6, but I thought I'd go all the way and go for the tofu soy milk brûlée ($5). It looked like a brûlée with its burnt sugar crust, but all similarity ended there. Inside it was liquidy and thoroughly tasted like soy milk. I like some brands but not others, and this wasn't one I liked. Nevertheless, I polished it off and felt good about it. It wasn't like devouring pure fat and sugar at the end of a big meal.