Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, October 14, 2001

The L'Uraku kaiseki includes dishes of nigiri sushi with ahi and hirame,
back, and Hawaiian sun fish (tilapia) sashimi. The chef says he believes
in tilapia but that it would be a hard sell on the menu because of the
name, so he is introducing it through the kaiseki.

The craft of kaiseki


Restaurant Report

By Betty Shimabukuro

THE DISH IS VEAL, the wine is Zinfandel and the wine guy is stumped. It's supposed to be a fairly clean call -- the pairing of a hearty, braised meat and a deep, red wine. But in this case it ain't working.

And a solution must be found. On Friday this dish will be No. 8 in a 10-course Contemporary Kaiseki dinner at L'Uraku restaurant.

Kaiseki in traditional Japanese cuisine is a series of small plates that highlight seasonal ingredients in a strictly controlled pattern -- raw dish, steamed dish, grilled dish, etc., down to "kanmi," or dessert.

For three years at L'Uraku, chef Hiroshi Fukui has put a spin on tradition, breaking a few rules as he has merged classic Japanese dishes with European techniques and Hawaiian ingredients.

And so his "mushimono," or steamed course, will be a classic "chawanmushi," or custard, but made with milk for richness, in combination with an intense shrimp broth (Japanese versions are made without milk). It will be topped with local shrimp and truffle oil.

He'll be using such refined Japanese ingredients as "mirugai" (king clam) and the venerated "matsutake" mushroom, as well as nontraditional items such as shaved Gouda cheese, beets, bacon and arugula pesto.

The introduction of wine is also a departure from tradition, and key to the L'Uraku approach. Which is why the veal dish presented such a problem during a tasting last week.

Master sommelier Chuck Furuya has always handled the kaiseki pairings and usually can create a seamless match based solely on a detailed description of the dish.

But this dish -- Soy-Steamed Veal Cheeks -- has a touch of sweetness that simply did not work with the Edmeades Zinfandel he'd chosen.

Out came a Merlot, a Chianti, a Syrah -- no luck. (At this point a non-wine drinker would cry out, "What's the big deal? Just gimme a beer, any beer!" But all of this would be lost on a non-wine drinker, anyway.)

In the end it was a white wine with a touch of sweetness, Jean Baptiste Reisling. Take our word for it, non-wine drinker, the choice is unconventional and a revealing surprise.

Expect surprises at Fukui's kaiseki. He is known for his ability to layer complex flavors yet present you in the end with a dish of clean simplicity.

That, he says, is a key to kaiseki, in its strictly Japanese presentation: "Each dish cannot be powerful, or you're not going to taste the next dish. That's why each dish is subtle."

American tastes, though, often require a more direct approach, a bit more power in the flavor profile. And often, to more perfectly match the wine, a dish is tweaked with herbs, a splash of citrus or spiciness.

The aim, Fukui says, is to merge the approaches while remaining true to his Japanese training. "My dream would be bringing the two together, alternating pure traditional with contemporary dishes, even alternating sake with wine."

Cost of L'Uraku's Contemporary Kaiseki is $60, $78 with wines. Seatings being at 5:15 p.m. Friday. Call 955-0552.

Food, wine fest an eclectic affair

The Kahala Mandarin Oriental's Food & Wine Festival will journey from elegant dining room to the fish auction, from champagne to malasadas.

Bernard Dance of Moët Chandon will be guest chef, joining the hotel's executive chef, Wayne Hirabayashi, for the festival, Oct. 22 to 31.

Events begin with a reception Oct. 22 benefiting the travel industry management program at the University of Hawaii to include champagne, caviar, chocolate, foie gras and oysters, among other indulgences. Cost is $30.

Both elegant and casual activities follow. Choose an afternoon tea ($23), a dessert and champagne tasting complete with stargazing ($35), or a curry cooking demonstration ($25), just to mention a few.

Lunches and dinners featuring Dance's cuisine will be offered throughout the festival.

In addition, a culinary tour Oct. 26 will go from the fish auction to a malasada bakery to Nalo Farms, with a picnic on the farm featuring ingredients selected on the tour ($75).

Call 739-8888.

Special events

Euro-Japanese dinner buffet: Tempura and sushi will share space at the table with such entrees as prime rib in a fusion buffet, Thursday through Oct. 25 at Parc Café. Cost is $22.95. Dinner is served 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. daily. Call 931-6643.

A Taste of France: Chefs George Mavrothalassitis and Eric Leterc have developed a four-course dinner that Leeward Community College students will serve Oct. 24 at the campus' Pearl restaurant. Cost is $55. Seatings start at 5:30 p.m. Call 455-0298.

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