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Tadashi thrives on Leeward
side despite ‘town’ prices


If there is a restaurant row on the Leeward side, the Pearl Kai Shopping Center has become it. You can shop all right, but mostly for lunch or dinner, for everything from healthy sandwiches (Vim & Vigor) to Vietnamese fare (Cuu Long). And when it comes to Japanese fare, you can head for the bright lights and spaciousness of Kuru Kuru, or boxy little Tadashi.

At the center, restaurants seem to have been created equal. They’re humbly designed with good food at decent prices. Bringing the plantation mentality to dining, the restaurants represent a wide mix of ethnic culinary traditions, with none stepping out so far as to stand out from the pack — until Tadashi came along.

From the outside it still looks like a typical mom-and-pop mall operation. The interior, save for the lengthy sushi bar, doesn’t suggest anything more with its living room aesthetic. But with the fast-food Kuru Kuru already in place, the partners behind Tadashi knew they had to do something different. Both have been longtime veterans of the sushi scene, most notably with the Hawaii Prince, so going upscale was a natural start. Would the Leeward community buy it?

All signs indicate yes, as the restaurant fills to capacity, mostly from the middle of the week through the weekend. That’s a coup considering patrons are dealing with “town” prices. I experienced a little sticker shock myself as I was told over the phone in advance that teishoku dinners run from $11.95 to $15.95; when I got there, I opened the menu and glanced to the right-hand page (journalism theory proves right again as readers naturally look to the right when turning a page) to find $26.95 to $30.65 lobster combos. Yikes. The lobster, however, is available only through advance orders. Which is smart. A restaurant this size can’t afford to be wasteful, which tends to keep costs down for consumers.

 


co-owners Curtis Chanthabandith and Coreen Chanthabandith.

 

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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sushi chef and co-owner Curtis Chanthabandith serves up sushi at Tadashi restaurant at the Pearl Kai Shopping Center.


FOR SUCH A small place, Tadashi’s menu is quite diverse. If it’s just pupu you want, Tadashi offers a few a la carte izakaya-style selections such as broiled miso butterfish ($10.25), seared ahi tataki ($8.25), ahi with grated mountain yam ($7.95) that as far as I can tell only people of Japanese ancestry can love, and crisp tempura ($8.95) of sweet jumbo shrimp and fresh island-grown kabocha, sweet potato and beans. The tempura ($13.75) can also be part of one of the complete teishoku dinners.

For greens that go beyond the typical iceberg and Thousand Island combo, try the mixed greens dressed with a sweet, thick ginger-miso sauce and topped off by a single, splendid deep-fried soft-shell crab ($8.25).

Grilled strip loin ($16.50; usually New York steak is available) seemed a little naked without its usual sidekicks, mushroom and onion, but I guess that’s just Tadashi’s way of saying steak this good needs no adornment. But steak seemed dry as a solo act.

Just to be different, I sampled the karei karaage, or deep-fried flounder (market price). I’d been ordering chicken karaage for so long, I expected to see fish nuggets (who can think when hungry?). With flounder being flat and bony, of course, I should have expected to see the whole fish. Don’t laugh. As it turns out, the chicken karaage here is also served in cutlet form.

Making the best of the fish, we dug in, dipping it into a tart ponzu sauce dressed with grated daikon and sliced green onions. It was down to just bones in no time.

It’s the sushi rolls that will probably bring the most excitement to the table. Who can resist the colorful names such as the “Hot Hawaiian Roll” ($7.50) of ahi, cucumber and avocado topped with hot sauce, or “Hawaii Five-O Roll” ($12.50), an “inside-out” unagi roll topped with slivers of ahi, hamachi, salmon and snapper, then lightly glazed with teriyaki sauce and black tobiko pearls.

While tasty and definitely fun, after about eight years of seeing these rolls around, I’m turning purist. The slivers of fish in these all-encompassing rolls tend to be negligible. The flavors, a jumble. I always end up dissecting them so I can taste the individual pieces of fish. I’d much rather have the plain nigiri sushi. Here, for instance, the hamachi blankets the rice so there’s a lot to savor. Ummmm. Heaven.

But while nigiri sushi tends to be a solitary pursuit, the rolls are convivial, about eight pieces of “Caterpillar” (unagi, cucumber and avocado, $11.95) or “Spider” (deep-fried soft-shell crab, $10.25) meant to be shared by many.

Save room for dessert of Tadashi’s signature shave ice ($8): mounds of green-tea ice cream, a scoop of azuki bean and mochi (of which I didn’t get any in my portion) buried under shave ice topped with homemade green-tea syrup. It’s great and easily serves three to four. Just make sure you’ve got hot tea by your side should the snowy confection bring on the shivers.

One last note: Carpool. It’s tough to get a space around dinner time with half the people trying to eat, and the other half trying to work it off their sins at 24-Hour Fitness.