Sake comes on strong


POSTED: Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Formaggio was the first to bring the wine bar concept to Oahu when it was a natural extension of Lyle Fujioka's Market City wine shop.

Formaggio has grown and expanded under Wes Zane's Laughing Gravy Inc., which has partnered with Wasabi Bistro's Kumi Iseke to do the same for sake via Sake Street, a permanent residence for sake and food pairings on the site of the former Wasabi Bistro/ Wasabi & Nadaman.

At a time when dining out in Hawaii has taken on a regressive nature, brought on in part by economic fatigue, it's exciting to know that someone is willing to take a chance on moving beyond traditional Japanese food pairings and special sake events to go all in with a permanent spot for pairing sake and a Asian/Southeast Asian/local-style menu.

Just as at a wine bar, you're able to sample a skosh two ounces (about $3.25 to $5.75) of sake in a wine glass, while getting to know the characteristics of honjozo, junmai and ginjo designations, without breaking the bank, or getting wasted, in the process.

Have no doubt that this will be a learning process, not only for clientele, but for the restaurant's staff. I found their sake recommendations to be generic, and for now the highly salted food is better suited to beer (Hitachino red rice was yummy, $8.25 per bottle) than sake. Just because sake's in the name, no one is compelled to sip only sake here, so just relax and let your taste buds be your guide.

NOT MUCH about the restaurant's interior has changed from the Wasabi & Nadaman days. A red wall and artwork match the red and black of the Sake Street logo, but otherwise, you can sit indoors or on a covered patio near the serene rock, plant and waterfall feature.

Sake Street presents its fare izakaya style, in a series of small to large share plates. Flavors are so intense, a little goes a long way. I wouldn't try to polish off these dishes — save for noodle bowls like an ono Sake Street thick Kotteri style ramen ($8.99) — solo. The ramen can be currified for $1.29 more, or add four pork hash-like dumplings for $3.99.






        1006 Kapahulu Ave. 735-2266

        Food ;*;*;*;1/2

        Service ;*;*;*;1/2

        Ambience ;*;*;*;1/2

        Value ;*;*;*

        Hours: 5:30 p.m. to midnight Sundays and Tuesdays to Thursdays, 5:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Available for private parties Mondays. Cost: About $35 to $50 for two without drinks

        Note: Valet parking


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average


A hint of the diversity of flavorings comes from simply reading the menu's first bites: pork ribs with li-hing sake glaze ($7.49), lamb riblets with hoisin ($7.49), Caroline's five-spice duck lumpia ($6.99) and fried curry cauliflower ($6.29).


If you already like Chinese-style salt-and-pepper pork chops, you'll love the version here, cut into thin strips ($8.99) for easy dipping into a tomato-garlic Romanesco sauce. OK, this is one plate I could have finished all by myself.

The one dish I tried that went great with sake was the seafood ceviche with spicy tomato granita ($21). It arrives as a platter, rather than typical mounded form, with calamari, shrimp and scallops placed over a bed of greens, cucumbers, radishes and tomatoes. It's spicier than I expected it to be, with a double dose of togarashi pepper in the granita, and a sprinkling of Tabasco over the entire dish. The seafood is marinated in calamansi, and when I was there, the citrus offered a nice balance to the sweetness of daiginjo in my glass. The same might also hold true for chilled calamari with citrus oyster-soy sauce ($7.49) or hamachi sashimi with wasabi and ponzu ($20.99).

Meanwhile, a dish like Ono Indonesian lamb chops ($26.99) would overwhelm sake. It gets its dark color and intense flavor from a marinade of hoisin, soy sauce, Kaffir lime leaf, ginger, Thai chilies and fish sauce.

You can never go wrong with hamachi collars, and here, hamachi kama ($22) is simply marinated in sake and ponzu sauce before grilling.

It's your call on a trio of mochiko chicken lollipops ($7.99). I was expecting the usual dainty nugget on some kind of skewer, but these were heavy chicken legs, with the meat at the top of the drumstick pared down, Chinese style. It's not a date-worthy food, unless you don't mind looking a bit like a Neanderthal while eating.

There's a lot of meat on the menu, but you can get your greens in the form of sauteed pea shoots and shiitake, again with more salt than necessary.

Playing off the exotic nature of the menu, you might not even catch this description: “;Fresh Monkey Brain — tender young mandrill with slight twitch (just kidding).”;

If you want to stay with the familiar, there is a Sake Street Angus burger ($14.99) served with Asian slaw and furikake fries.

Dessert of a tofu custard didn't sound that appealing to me, but with its velvety texture and sweetness enhanced by a lemongrass granita, it felt perfect, not as sinful, for example, as chocolate after an already decadent meal.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).