The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Tiny Manoa
serves first-rate
Japanese food

In the restaurant biz there is one category of staffers so overlooked that they might complain dishwashers and busboys get all the attention, if they were the whining types.

But like former Hawaii governor George Ariyoshi, this very special group might be described as "quiet and effective," never questioning -- in public anyway -- their duty.

More than employees, they are the unsung progeny of restaurateurs, who put in nearly as many hours as mom and pop to keep the family businesses humming along, when I'm sure they could be making more pocket change elsewhere or would prefer indulging in some other favorite past-time, a purely productive one, of course.

While other kids run screaming from the very idea of following in their parents' footsteps, or at least are able to pursue other interests before giving into their parents' wishes, the sons and daughters of restaurateurs step in tandem with their parents, often starting as tykes taking orders.

Yuji Iizuka of Tatsu gets ready to serve a curry rice meal, left tray, and a meal of sashimi and soft-shell crab tempura to hungry patrons.

Thank goodness for filial piety, I thought, as I watched Yuji Iizuka flit nonstop from table to table at Tatsu, a tiny Manoa restaurant named after his father, who has kitchen duty. The restaurant seats only about 18, but there's plenty of work to keep dad, mom and son busy the entire time it's open.

Yuji's been helping his parents run their restaurants in moves from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Honolulu. We can only hope the family stays put for a while. The food here is ono ... and reasonably priced.

WHILE YUJI KEEPS the front of the house in order, Tatsu Iizuka cooks up basic Japanese fare as befitting a neighborhood restaurant of its size, but for Manoa residents, staying close to home doesn't mean settling for second-tier food. The caliber of food served at Tatsu's is on par with some of the best Japanese restaurants on Oahu.

By day, several lunch plates await. At night, the family doesn't waste any time in getting people fed with "platters," or full meals. Therefore, chicken karaage ($8.95) isn't served a la carte, izakaya style. It arrives with a lettuce salad topped with miso dressing, miso soup, tsukemono and rice. If this seems like too much fried chicken for one person, order up another platter and share, whether it's shrimp and vegetable tempura ($11.95), salmon teriyaki ($9.75), chicken cutlet ($8.95) or butterfish misoyaki (about 12 ounces, $13.95), that you crave.

Combination meals involve pairing sashimi and tempura. The most decadent is the soft-shell crab tempura, at $14.95. I've found this crisper elsewhere, and for the money I'd go with the standard shrimp tempura selection ($13.95), which offers more nourishment than filler. Unless you need extra calcium from noshing on shells.

As for the sashimi, it varies from day to day as Tatsu tries to keep people guessing. You might find in one serving scallops, ahi as dark as rare beef, and moi, which looks like tai, or snapper, but tastes far richer. As good as moi is when cooked, it's equally delicious raw.

For Japan-style comfort food, there are rice bowls ranging from vegetable ten don (tempura, at $7.50) to una don (eel, $9.75). The rice bowls also can be paired with hot udon for about $2.20 more. Some food preferences are definitely culturally based, and being of Chinese heritage, I have never been as fond of chubby udon noodles as of their straw-thin Chinese counterparts, but at Tatsu I could appreciate udon's chewy delicate charms. There's also no talking while chewing, and two people working their respective bowls of udon can create a sublime moment of contemplation and serenity.

Dessert is a green tea ice cream that captures the frothy quality of powdered tea whipped with a bamboo whisk.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and could even go for some udon now.


2908 E. Manoa Road (across Manoa Valley Shopping Center / 988-2134

Food Star Star Star 1/2

Service Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star Star 1/2

Value Star Star Star Star

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays

Cost: About $20 to $25 for two, cash or check only

See some past restaurant reviews in the Columnists section.

Nadine Kam's restaurant 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.

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


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