The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Before the Atkins craze,
there was the izakaya

WHILE many restaurants scramble to Atkins-ize their menus, no such overhaul is necessary at the izakayas. We've come to depend on these Japanese taverns as a source of delicious, quick, varied bites -- certainly heavy on the carbs for those who like to fill up on sushi and karaage -- but also a good source of healthy fish and soy protein, with the occasional veggie appearance.

One of the newest to open is Nagisatei, a little gem of a restaurant for those who can stomach, along with their Rainbow Rolls, proximity to Kapiolani Boulevard's strip bars and adult shops. The restaurant's interior is clean and spare, with cozy booths and a tatami room, all bathed in a yellow glow.

While local restaurateurs have been slow to catch on to tapas dining, the izakaya-style pupu easily fits the bill, with small portions you can nibble on over hours of conversation and camaraderie. Other countries get it. So does Hawaii, with our own poke, pipikaula and pau hana tradition.

Otherwise, big has been king for too long. It's only recently that Americans are beginning to see that supersizing portions is not the way to go and has been mainly a crutch for masking a multitude of sins. A standard creed is there's no need to aspire to quality as long as the quantity's right. As one diner chided after reading one of my reviews he deemed too harsh: "Nadine," he said, "Don't you know that we'll eat anything as long as it's massive?"

I only know that sure, sometimes a massive steak is great, but if I could get a tiny portion of that along with shrimp and fish and a great salad in portions that don't make me feel like a blimp, I'd take variety for the same price any day.

Chef Teruo Aonuma is the mastermind behind the sashimi and sushi at Nagisatei Ikazaya Restaurant...

ONE OF THE tricks employed by a dieting friend is, on approaching any bit of potentially wicked food such as chocolate, asking herself if it is worth the damage. It's always a "yea" for dark, bitter chocolate, a "nay" to sugary milk chocolates. Atkins types might try that trick at Nagisatei.

While an Atkins menu can be austere, one doesn't feel any sense of limitation here, where the dishes that are good for you are also pleasurable, like grilled salmon ($5.80) basted with a light and sweet miso sauce and topped with sauteed cabbage and onions. The fish is also served nabe-style ($9.80) steamed with veggies and tofu in a small hot pot. An offering of salmon nabe is also listed as $18.50 for two, but the smaller size will feed two easily if you're ordering other small bites. This comfort cuisine is a great relaxer after a stressful day at the office. Simply stirring the ingredients together and the gesture of ladling its contents into small bowls for others around the table is a wartime reminder that human beings are still capable of being civilized.

Continue your search for protein with simple appetizers of chilled tofu ($3.50), plain boiled soybeans ($3), grilled butterfish misoyaki ($8.60) or steak drenched in buttery onions and garlic, and topped with grated daikon ($13.50).

If you're not scared of mayonnaise, the Dynamite ($6.90) here is not the usual hash of old seafood, but a mini stew of steamed whole shrimp, mushrooms, onions and chunks of scallops and other shellfish, a tad on the rubbery side.

While some will have to pass on the crunchy tempura ($10) with more batter than shrimp, those lucky culinary independents, who subscribe to no particular diet plan but their own, can chomp away on all that's breaded and fried, whether it's fried oysters ($7.50) or pork katsu ($7). And let's not forget the evil sushi, with its requisite finger-sized dollops of rice.

The only thing that would complete the menu for Atkins fans is an order of steamed broccoli. The rest of us can happily enjoy green tea ice cream, sugar and all.

...where the cuisine is as pleasing to the eye as tantilizing to the palate.

Nagisatei Izakaya Restaurant

1631 Kapiolani Boulevard 101 / 951-1666

Food Star Star Star Star

Service Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star Half-star

Value Star Star Star Star

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, and 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays

Cost: About $25 to $45 for two 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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