Traditional Japanese cuisine gets a Hawaiian-style flavor infusion

Alex Salkever

The big umbrellas hanging from the ceiling of L'Uraku comein a riotous rainbow of colors, an unusual design flourish for afine Japanese restaurant - even here in Honolulu. But chef HiroshiFukui reckons the bright decor is an apt reflection of hissouped-up fare, which massages Tokyo and Paris onto the same plate.Witness his showstopping seared sea scallop topped with kabayakibeurre blanc sauce and a Japanese takana bacon ragout.

L'Uraku is in the vanguard of Hawaii restaurants takingtradition-bound Japanese cuisine in new directions. Influencesranging from increased availability of locally grown ingredients tothe wild creativity seen on the Japanese television show Iron Chefhave sparked the renaissance.

Hawaii is a natural for this new-style fusion cuisine becauselocal chefs grew up with nori, agedashi, and other ingredients thatremain exotic to many mainland chefs. And while menus may beexperimental, they are still essentially Japanese. The restaurantsbelow are serving up a unique mesclun of Japanese sensibilities,Hawaii ingredients, and international savoir faire with dishes thatyou won't find anywhere else in the world.

Three downtown restaurants

Imanas Tei. This modern izakaya (a place to stay and drink)is located near the University of Hawaii. Patrons often wait a halfhour to get a table. The sleek interior sports bamboo curtains,blond woods, and a long communal table. Some of chef-owner KeisukeAsai's food is traditional, but it also includes many nouveauefforts such as delicious clams cooked in white wine, garlic, andbutter. 5-11:30 Mon-Sat; small plates from $2.50. 2626 S. King St.;(808) 941-2626.

L'Uraku. Chef Hiroshi Fukui creates a Japanese-Europeanfusion with exotic twists. Fukui started cooking at Furusato, atraditional Japanese restaurant in Waikiki. He found his clienteleenjoyed dishes with European touches so much that he opened his ownrestaurant built around that concept. His contemporary versions ofthe kaiseki dinner-a traditional Japanese feast featuring a tightlywoven progression of small plates that highlight seasonalingredients-are legendary. Lunch 11-1:45, dinner 5:30-9:45 daily;lunch entrées from $9.50, dinner entrées from $17. 1341Kapiolani Blvd.; (808) 955-0552.

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar. Chef-owner DKKodama is the Emeril of Japanese sushi: nothing he makes lacks"bam." Chili, garlic, and pepper spice up innovative piscinepleasures, from sublime Asian rock-shrimp cake with ginger-limechili butter and cilantro pesto to "Just-in Clam Dynamite," apungent mirugai clam topped with Maui onions and lusciousmiso-garlic butter. First-timers should skip the entrées andsample the small plates. 5-10 daily, bar service with sushi menuuntil 2 a.m. Thu-Sat; small plates from $4, dinner entrees from$18. Food is half price 5-5:30 Sun-Mon and 10 p.m.-1 a.m. Thu-Sat.500 Ala Moana Blvd. #6-D1; (808) 536-6286.

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