The Weekly Eater


Sunday, January 13, 2002

Customers at Imanas can opt to cook up tantalizing ingredients at their table. Keisuke Asai presents an order of beef shabu shabu, at top. The chanko nabe, above, is the grand champion of dishes. That's ground pork in the bamboo, for do-it-yourself meat balls.

Delicious fare, warm ambience
keep Imanas crowded

Even though this column's appearance depends on my getting into restaurants, I rarely make reservations simply because few restaurants are packed night after night.

Imanas is the exception. I've tried to cross its sacred threshold three times since first spying it in August 1999, to no avail. Each time I was told, "No reservation? Sorry!!! Call first next time!"

A fluke, I thought. Whatever. There is no shortage of Japanese restaurants in Moiliili and vicinity. At some point the crowd -- a mix of locals and Japanese speakers -- would dissipate. But nooooo.

And I still hadn't learned my lesson. This time, I was sure that on a typically slow Tuesday night, there would be a table waiting for me. No way, but I guess they took pity on me. If I could wait half an hour, maybe a table would open.

That was easy with Cheapo Books around the corner, where I was amused by the quantity of feng shui books. It is now possible to apply feng shui principles to your garden, career, health, food, relationships, possibly even your underwear drawer.

At the prescribed time, I returned to the restaurant to find -- a long line, but finally, my place in front and a few empty seats at the communal table in the center of the room. (Crowds are generally not a problem after 9 p.m. but by then they start running out of things like garlic butter clams, $8.50, and uni.)

Customers at Imanas can opt to cook up tantalizing ingredients at their table.

Without a doubt, feng shui has a little to do with the restaurant's success. Where other restaurants make do with fluorescent lights, this room is lit by a warm golden glow sure to reawaken a primal desire for caves or adobe, even in creatures who have gone tech. Nature abounds in the form of bamboo curtains and a few bare branches that hang like artwork on the walls. Light passes through more bamboo slats in the ceiling to cast graphic shadows on the walls, and at the communal table, spotlights glow on dishes placed just so. It's no wonder Imanas bills itself as an izakaya, or "a place to stay and drink."

This gets dangerous. After ordering one round of food, I found myself adding a couple more rounds, not because I was still hungry, but because I didn't want to leave.

You can get around this concern by going straight for the chanko nabe ($18.50 per person, two-person minimum), a traditional winter dish that more recently has become associated with the sumotori due to the huge array of ingredients proffered. It's said to be a source of stamina, though you're more likely to fall asleep after a feast that involves cooking chicken, pork, shrimp, scallops, king crab, won bok and green onion -- like shabu shabu (beef plus vegetables, $15.50 per person, two-person minimum) -- in a hot pot full of boiling dashi at your table.

THAT SHOULD FILL you up. If it doesn't, you might try the chanko nabe and sashimi combo, at $27.50 per person, two-person minimum.

The rest of the menu features vast quantities of sushi, grilled and deep-fried items, soups and chazukes.

If you're starved from waiting in line, your best bet would be to order sushi first. The freshwater eel ($5) and salmon ($3.50) are exquisite. And the wasabi is mild, with plenty of flavor but not the potency to stab you between the eyes. The California Roll ($4.50) is done maki style, so you don't get the separation of flavors of a hand roll.

Butterfish with miso sauce ($8.50) was sublime, simply grilled, and as silky as its name suggests, seeming to melt on the tongue. Don't bother with the grilled king crab ($16.50), three leg sections that still had a freezer taste.

There are better places to get deep-fried soft shell crab ($9.50), which was more greasy and rubbery than crispy, and garlic steak ($12.50) which had almost as much fat as meat, although you have to try the sauce of pureed apple, mustard and soy sauce for the novelty.

Chicken karaage ($6.50) is presented katsu style, in sliced strips. This is tossed with lettuce, onions and ginger with a splash of vinegar, and hints of soy sauce and sesame oil.

There is so much more to try -- salmon chazuke ($5.50), giant clam sashimi ($14.50), spider roll sushi ($9.50) -- and no doubt others in line are thinking the same thing.


2626 S. King St. / 941-2626

Food StarStarStar

Service StarStar1/2

Ambience StarStarStar1/2

Value StarStarStar

Hours: 5 to 11:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Reservations recommended before 9 p.m.

Cost: $30 to $60 for two without drinks

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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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