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Jan 1, 2014 07:17 PM

New Years Eve at Gaku

Went with my family last night and sat at the sushi bar in front of the owner. Being New Years Eve they were going to close early at 10:00 pm and it wasn't as crowded as it would usually be, since many people were at parties, etc. Still a good crowd though, just as not packed as it would normally be.

We ordered some appetizers to start, sharing them family style; oshitashi (a cold spinach dish), kabocha tempura (deep fried pumpkin), agedashi tofu (deep fried tofu in a light, tasty broth), grilled gyutan (beef tongue) and grilled butterfish (black cod). Everything was done perfectly and was delicious, especially the grilled tongue, with a spritz of lemon and thin sliced Maui onions it was fantastic.

Sushi were in no particular order, California roll, unagi avacado roll, tamago (sweet egg), hirame (flounder), nodoguro (sp?) a type of snapper I think, saba (mackerel), hamachi (yellowtail), negi toro te maki (toro with green onions in a handroll) and ume kyuri te maki (plum and cucumber with shiso leaf in a handroll). All the sushi was nicely done, fresh and flavorful with just the right texture. Washed down with cold Sapporo beer it was a great meal that everyone enjoyed.

The sushi chefs were friendly and helpful as always. I wanted to buy them a round of drinks for New Years to show our appreciation, but they said it's against the law here in Hawaii. Too bad, I did that in LA recently with the chefs at a sushi restaurant there. Still they were grateful for the gesture.

IMO Gaku is one of the best izakaya here on Oahu, delicious food and great attention to detail. Even the restrooms are nicely done, how often do you see that here? This is a favorite of ours when in the mood for a splurge a few times a year.

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  1. i haven't eaten at gaku, but would love to. i wasn't familiar with the term izakaya; i had to look it up. i've been to nonbei, but that was ages ago.

    i typically eat at genki for cheap sushi (it's getting pricier, but the quality is a little better now), but love great sushi. i liked sushi masa, but the interior of his place was dirty and masa sometimes had a cold and made sushi after he coughed. i like gyotaku fair enough. i would love to try mitch's, sasabune, etc. where would gaku place in this range for quality and price, both for sushi and other fare?

    happy ny!

    9 Replies
    1. re: indelibledotink

      Happy New Year to you as well. I don't know what the actual translation is, but an izakaya is a casual place to drink that serves food, usually hot dishes, grilled, braised or fried and cold food such as sushi.

      Never been to Sasabune, but Gaku is much better than Mitch's IMO, it is much more Japanese in style, presentation and service. Gaku and Imanas are my two favorite places, with Gaku having a slight edge. Neither are cheap, but quality wise they are worth it.

      1. re: curiousgeo

        I don't see how Gaku is more Japanese than Mitch's other than the owner of Mitch's not being Japanese. It's similar to a lot of sushi bars in Japan - little hole in the wall, non-descript places in areas where you wouldn't expect them. Not much atmosphere to speak of. They have Japanese sushi chefs who only serve traditional style sushi.

        Now if you said that Gaku is more stylish, had better presentation and service, and has a livelier and fun atmosphere that would make more sense as that is true of Gaku and exactly how an izakaya should be.

        1. re: killersmile

          i have heard that mitch's chefs use unconventional/nontraditional presentation, such as the fish pieces being gigantic, and seen pics that support this idea.

          i still want to try it, tho. fish looks fresh.

          1. re: indelibledotink

            I haven't seen that or felt that way myself, but maybe the pieces are larger than the dainty pieces you find at some other sushi bars. It's not that unusual to find extra large neta (toppings) in Japan either, although definitely a rariety at most high end sushi bars.

          2. re: killersmile

            The reason for my comment was the contrast between the two restaurants. There was a lot more attention to detail and many small touches at Gaku. I felt this reflected the owners personality and desire to provide his customers with a setting, level of service and food quality he wanted to present. One doesn't have to be Japanese to do that, but the fact that he is may be a reflection of his training and experience.

            What really set this apart for me was this. When we entered Mitch's it was silent. After standing at the door for several minutes, a local person came up and casually asked can I help you? We ordered, ate, paid our bill and left, again in silence. I've had better reception at Zippy's. When we entered the door at Gaku we were greeted by the owner and chefs with a hearty "Irrashaimase" and when leaving an equally boisterous "Arigato Gozaimashita".

            Now Mitch's wasn't bad and I'm not complaining about anything, it's just in my experience Gaku was simply at a higher level.

            1. re: curiousgeo

              Yes, there is a big contrast between the two restaurants. I totally get what you mean.

        2. re: indelibledotink

          as I understand it izakaya restaurants don't tend to specialize in sushi. its more "barbecued meats" kind of things, often but not always on skewers. at least the ones I've been to. the original izakaya - from what i know - were bars that offered more or less snack food to their customers as well. sort of a 'bar and grill'.

          1. re: KaimukiMan

            yeah, i had to wikipedia it.

            i've been to imanastei once, my sister took us out, she loves the place. i don't remember it being great, but i would be excited at the opportunity to go again.

            as i've gotten older, my aversion to many foods has gone away, replaced by an adventurous and appreciative attitude foodwise.

          2. re: indelibledotink

            Sasabune, Mitch's are strictly sushi bars meaning basically sushi and nothing else. Gaku is an izakaya, best of the ones on Oahu, equally adept at sushi and other fare. Better atmosphere and a wider range of dishes than any sushi bar. Quality wise, I would say there isn't much difference from Sasabune and Mitch's with all being really good. Some people like Imanas, but for me I haven't been very impressed with it of the 5-6 times I have gone. Price wise, I find it to cost the same as my visits to Sasabune and Mitch's - expensive.