The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Moi is king of a special
kaiseki dinner at Kacho

MOI sightings were rare as little as eight years ago. Once raised in Hawaiian fishponds, the fish of the ali'i fell victim to changing times and its own popularity. Man see, man eat. Never mind the ecosystem and the notion of tending before taking.

Then a miraculous thing happened. Technology made it possible to reinvent the fishpond in the form of steel tanks and cages -- raising more eco squabbling -- but nevertheless allowing moi to be farmed and made available to restaurants, where a new generation is discovering its charms.

It seems you can't go wrong with this fish. Moi can be served raw, poached, baked, grilled or steamed. Served raw, its texture is like snapper. When steamed, it has a silky richness similar to butterfish, or black cod. Moi's versatility is unparalleled, unlike something like ahi, which is best raw. When fully cooked it turns dry and/or rubbery, which is why quick searing is so popular.

These days, luxury restaurants make it a point to include moi on the menu, and over at Waikiki Parc Hotel's Kacho restaurant, moi is the centerpiece of a kaiseki dinner being offered through Dec. 10.

Talk about a holiday indulgence, this $65 dinner certainly captures the spirit of fall with an abundance of warm broths, smoky flavors and seasonal ingredients such as chestnuts and shimeji mushrooms. It is a meal that will appeal to those with a heightened sense of aesthetics, but chef Yuji Urawa doesn't neglect those who want only to fill their bellies. Our waiter said that he has yet to see anyone finish every morsel.

Kacho's moi kaiseki features, from left, moi tempura, moi nimono with bittermelon, chestnuts and shimeji mushrooms, and in the foreground, an appetizer trio of maki and nigiri sushi flanking "senbei" of moi bones.

THE MEAL STARTED with a light touch to showcase the moi's exquisite flavor, and every bit of the fish was used, from fins to bones. The only thing better would be sashimi right on the boat. Offered with a trio of appetizers, the first being a mini nigiri sushi topped with a sliver of seaweed-infused moi. Unfortunately, I was so hungry at the time, that I missed the seaweed nuance. The second selection was more like maki sushi, with the fish as a stand-in for rice, rolled around a bundle of vinegared kiku flowers. All this was wrapped in a thick ribbon of ryuhikonbu (seaweed). In this case, the chewy seaweed distracted from the finer ingredients. Lastly, as befitting the scarce nature of this fish, everything was used. Small portions of bone were deep-fried and served senbei, or cracker, style. I crunched on the smaller bones; those in need of more calcium in their diets might appreciate the larger ones.

Next up was a clear broth bearing the flavor of smoky konbu. Within the broth were a cube of sesame tofu, a carrot carved into a mini flower, and a handful of shimeji mushrooms, beautiful to look at and gratifying to sip.

This was followed by thin-sliced moi sashimi served with ponzu sauce, plus ahi sashimi and raw Kuruma shrimp. Then came grilled moi, topped with a sort of solid "ponzu" of grated daikon and vinegared bell pepper.

We were still not tired of the moi, and it was next served as part of a savory stew presented in an eggplant cup. Ingredients such as burdock, shrimp, chestnuts, gingko, bittermelon and the moi, were individually simmered before being arranged in the edible cup, like ikebana.

After this exquisite preparation came a more earthy course, with moi simply served tempura-style with a sprinkling of salt.

This is when we really slowed down and though I appreciated the donburi topped by unagi, shrimp, and vegetables, and would have liked to finish all, I could only manage a nibble of the unagi. This was accompanied by miso soup containing more moi parts, with meat melting around the bones and fins. Delicious, but I really could not finish.

Dessert of a half papaya filled with honeyed gelatin and fruit was the perfect finale; it contained no moi in case you were wondering.

There is much more on the menu to explore and I have never had a bad meal here. Other kaiseki menus are built around sushi ($50), filet mignon or butterfish ($45), and onaga and lobster ($70). Included in all three is a selection of sushi served in a mini igloo carved from ice. That is the most spectacular of special effects here, but little touches abound.

Izakaya-style selections await as well, for those who prefer to build their own meal. There is butter-sauteed scallops ($8), deep-fried soft-shell crab ($8), grilled shiitake ($9), tempura ($15) and beef tataki ($9), for starters.

Whichever route you take, it'll be a meal worthy of ali'i.


Waikiki Parc Hotel, 2233 Helumoa Road / 921-7272

Food Star Star Star Star

Service Star Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star Star Half-star

Value Star Star Star Star

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily

Cost: Dinner for two $40 to $150 without drinks

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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