Sushi tends to be more about fun than fish at Doraku Sushi.
Doraku Sushi bound to attract hip late-nighters
Waikiki Beach Walk brought locals back into Waikiki, and if you doubt that, try finding a parking space anywhere in the vicinity on a Friday or Saturday night. It's not much of a leap to imagine traffic flowing over into Royal Hawaiian Center once all its renovations are completed, and a whole bunch of sparkling new boutiques is counting on it. As is Doraku Sushi, the creation of Kevin Aoki, who learned the ropes of the restaurant biz at his father Rocky Aoki's Benihana of Tokyo restaurants.
The generational differences are there, but what they have in common is the idea of bringing fun to the dining experience.
Benihana of Tokyo came along in the 1960s, when the Western world knew little about Japanese cuisine, so what the restaurants served was essentially all-American favorites with an aura of exoticism through decor and knife play.
But, as diners have grown more sophisticated, it was time for a next-generation idea to take root. The younger Aoki opened the first Doraku Sushi in Miami six years ago, and having lived in Honolulu in the past, put 2 and 2 together in linking the sand, surf, sun and cross-cultural blending of both cities and decided Waikiki was the ideal setting for Doraku Sushi's Pan-Asian cuisine, infused with the Latin flavors of South Beach, of course.
The room itself, open for lunch and dinner, is a perfect blend of casual seating with elegant Zen touches in the form of stone sculptures, Buddha heads and Southeast Asian drums. Think teahouse meets urban lounge. There's a pleasant flow from dining room to a bar dressed in dramatic red and black, to an outdoor patio. From the patio you can look down and see the center's courtyard. Look up and you'll have a view of the "spaceship" at the Top of Waikiki.
It's not as easy to transplant certain ingredients to another city. After spending some time in Florida and the Bahamas, I was looking forward to a bite of fresh conch, which is even sweeter than the best abalone. Alas, the menu's conch ceviche has yet to materialize. Oh well, it's not like there's a lack of other dishes to try.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
Much of the artwork displayed in the restaurant was handpicked by owner Kevin Aoki on his travels.
WITH ITS PATINA of sophistication and cuisine designed to be trendy but nonthreatening, Doraku Sushi is bound to find its place on the 20- and 30-something late-night circuit, with plenty of casual sushi and appetizer offerings, such as crispy calamari ($7.50) served with a curry sauce or deep-fried rock shrimp ($10.25) to share while sipping sake overseen by sake sommelier Adrian Najara.
Even an entree of Asia de Cuba-inspired churrasco steak ($21.95) is handily sliced to make sharing easy. The skirt steak is plated with white rice and a sauté of onions, mushrooms, carrots and bell peppers. The steak is topped with a tame layer of a green chimichurri-style sauce, mostly comprising a mild purée of parsley and vinegar.
The churrasco steak is one of Doraku's specialties, as is an entree of Penang garlic shrimp ($21.50), nicely char-grilled but seriously lacking any garlic flavor, while awash in a thin, treacly sauce that wasn't to my taste. But I have a feeling it will be a hit with its mass target audience.
Along with the steak, my favorite dish was the Peking duck ($22.50) with a crisp, though some would say dry, exterior. I liked it because it eliminated the duck's greasiness without turning the skin rubbery.
Those trying to avoid eating creatures of land and air can opt for seafood entrees of scallops ($21.95), salmon teriyaki ($18.25), seared ahi ($21.25), Chilean sea bass ($23.75), opakapaka ($23.25) or mahimahi ($21.25).
In spite of the restaurant's name, I thought the sushi and raw fish offerings were the weakest aspect of the menu. In other words, you're not going to find Nobu-quality sushi here, but if that's what you want, that restaurant's a short walk away. What you do find are fun rolls like the Dragon ($12.50), with a center of shrimp tempura, asparagus and cucumber, layered with several thin slices of avocado and painted with a dollop of spicy mayo with a pinch of tobiko.
I also tried the seafood ceviche ($12.95) of snapper and shrimp with a touch of lime and a lot of cilantro. The "crab" in the mix is surimi. Yet, this was better than a "seafood" salad ($13.95) with a heap of greens and such a small sprinkling of diced ahi, and perhaps a few cubes of hamachi, I thought they were bits of tomato on top of the salad.
Service is obviously important here, as there are several earnest waiters and busboys on staff, but one suggestion for those at the door: The restaurant is likely to draw a disparate crowd, so care should be taken to separate groups that won't mix. I was having a pleasant dinner until they sat a big group of rowdy revelers next to us. In addition to being loud and obnoxious, they shattered a wine glass at my feet, causing unwanted commotion. At that moment I considered walking out.