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Food & Dining // Table Talk
Jo McGarry

The Exquisite Fun Of Japanese Nabe

I meant to take a lot more photographs during lunch at Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant than I did.

Hot pot dishes photograph beautifully: the colors and the texture of raw vegetables married with hot steaming copper, milky or sandy broths lend themselves perfectly to a camera lens. Over the years, they’ve become some of my favorite foods to photograph.

But … bring two little boys to a brand-new nabe restaurant with tatami rooms and lunch specials, and before you know it you’re battling over broth and fighting with chop-sticks for the last remaining tsukune meatball.

It’s a testament to Ichiriki that the style of Japanese cuisine it has perfected transcends all ages.

We already know that the “make your own,” hot-pot style of eating is a big hit with adults, but if you’re looking for an escape from gruesome child-friendly menus we so often face, I’m suggesting you make a lunch date at Ichiriki.

You’ll not find any nasty chicken nuggets, congealed spaghetti or overly cooked burgers and fries, but you will find a fascinating way to entertain your children – and an interesting way of encouraging them to eat their vegetables.

There’s nothing new about nabe, but Ichiriki, a restaurant group started by young, local entrepreneurs, has created a formula that appeals on many levels.

There are currently three locations – the original on Piikoi, which has a more adult, nighttime-y fun vibe, the second in Aiea, and this, the newest in Kaneohe Bay Shopping Center.

The restaurant is simply decorated, has clean, sharp lines, and guests can choose to sit tatami-style or at booths and tables.

The menus at each restaurant are similar, although happy hours may vary depending on the location.

Appetizers include Pork Kimchi ($9.95), Japanese Arabaki Sausage ($5.50), Ahi Poke ($5.95 or market price) and Fried Calamari ($5.95).

If you have children in your group, there’s ample “finger food” offerings, the kind that kids – both young and old – love to eat: edamame, tofu, nori, calamari and french fries are just a few of our favorites.

Then the fun of building your own nabe begins.

Choose from a variety of broths, all original to Ichiriki.

Most popular among the selections are the Ichiriki (shoyu base) and Pirikara (a spicier version of a shoyu base).

We also ordered miso, a milky broth offering a saltier and a thicker texture.

Next, choose from a selection of meats – chicken thighs and short ribs are best value at 3 ounces per portion, but the Berkshire pork and USDA choice ribeye are marbled and full of flavor.

All versions of nabe come with the restaurant’s signature Chanko Platter – 10 different ingredients to flavor your broth that include locally grown Chinese cabbage, enoki and shiitake mushrooms, tofu, chives, gobo, kuzukiri, aburaage and homemade meatballs served in hollowed-out sugar cane – simply slice and drop the meat mixture from the cane into the broth and you’ll have homemade mini meatballs in minutes.

Amid all this communal eating, there’s an exceptionally friendly staff who offer help, guidance and lots of tips on ordering. Lunch starts at $11.95; dinner offers an extended menu and slightly higher prices.

As we were leaving the restaurant, I reminded our youngest son Finn that just an hour earlier he had sworn not to eat cabbage or bok choy, and announced he would rather die than eat enoki.

“I love Ichiriki,” he said, ignoring my comments. “The food is so good!”

Happy eating! Ichiriki Japanese Nabe Restaurant

Locations and menus at ichirikinabe.com

tabletalk@ hawaii.rr.com

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