You don’t come to Shokudo for excellent food. You come for the trendy atmosphere – a sexy red glow, a tiered dining area and rice paper lanterns haning from the tall ceiling. The large portions of well priced food doesn’t hurt. The goal of Dream Dining Corporation, the company behind Shokudo Japnese, is to open 50 restaurants in the next 10 years. Mighty ambitious, eh? This Ala Moana location happens to be the very first – we’ve been selected to be the test kitchen! The concept here is fusion Japanese food eaten in the “Shared Meal Style.” Menu items ranging from sushi rolls to fried udon exhibit a blend of Japanese, Korean and local tastes. Unless done correctly, fusion restaurants often waver between brillant and just plain strange. I’d say Shokudo is closer to the strange side, but the food is fine and it’s an ideal place to come on a Friday night when food isn’t a key priority (god forbid!) and the object is to socialize or just feel pretty hip strutting around the bar with a lava flow in hand.
Or make that a Virgin Lava Flow ($4.50). We’re not quite of age yet. This was waay too sugary. Your $4.50 is better invested elsewhere.
The Fried Chicken with Spicy Tartar Sauce ($8.75) is one of the better items at Shokudo. The chicken is juicy and full of flavor within its cripsy shell; just a tad too salty. The tartar sauce with a nice peppery zest is best served on the side allowing you to control the amount of sauce on your chicken. Otherwise it’s poured on till it appears that your beautiful chicken is covered in a mountain of creamy white pudding.
I’ve never had Oxtail Ramen ($7.75) that come with more oxtail than noodles. But Shokudo isn’t your average restaurant and who’s to complain? The oxtails were tender and meaty, making for a rich broth with a flavor rivaling that of Kam Bowl. Overcooked ramen noodles were a disapointment but the massive amount of oxtails in the bowl made up it.
Sushi is where everything takes a turn for the worse so don’t order them despite the attractive pictures on the menu. They’re deciving! The rice in the room temperature California Roll ($8.75)was dry and hard like it had been out somewhere for much too long. The yellow stuff on top? Egg salad! What the heck is egg salad doing here? I don’t know and I doubt the kitchen staff knows either. This restaurant has a tendecy to throw random stuff of this and that to enchance the asthetic appeal of a dish while doing nothing for the actual taste. I like egg salad as much as the next guy, maybe even more, but on a California Roll?
The Spicy Tuna Roll ($8.75)was also a mistake with just a smear of NOT spicy tuna surrounded by cucumbers, cucumbers and more cucumbers. Holy cow, it was like a cucumber roll with a spoldge of tasteless tuna for color. Remember, they’re big on asthetics here!
Desserts are best understood as “random,” you never know quite what to make of them. I had something called Honey Toast ($6.75) the first time I came. It was basically two three-inch thick slices of toasted bread with the insides hollowed out and chopped into cubes. The two slices are stacked on top of each other, drizzled with honey then topped with two perfectly round gobs of vanilla ice cream. It was simple and huge. HUGE! I guess it was good, but then again how can you go wrong with toasted bread, honey and ice cream? My inability to waste food resulted in near combustion of my stomach after finishing this dish. That’s what happens when you eat an entire loaf of bread for dessert. I don’t know why I do that to myself.
Today we decided on the Ice Cream Puff ($6.75). Slightly less daunting in size than the Honey Toast, this dessert was no less odd or mind boggling (6 inches of bread is so simple that it ends up being confusing!) What we got was a huge ring of choux pastry filled with a thick custard cream studded with bits of chopped up fruit. And just for kicks, an equally large ring of whipped cream and and a happy drizzle of chocolate syrup. Oh don’t forget the scoop of vanilla ice cream which seems to be mandatory for all their desserts. Take note of the use of random ingredients again – I think they wanted to fill up the plate for fear that two pounds of custard cream wasn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the desserts but find them very funny/confusing.
The food isn’t bad. It’s not very good either. But it’s fun to talk about. Our dinner conversation centered around questions like,
“Hey, what’s that on top of that guy’s noodles? The red and white squiggly things?”
“Er, it looks like ketchup and mayo…”
“Oh. And mayo? That’s kind of creepy”
“Well the Japanese do have a tendecy to squirt mayo on a lot of stuff…”
“Who told you that?”
Mayo on noodles, egg salad on california rolls, you won’t love the food here but I’ve got a soft spot for the always enthusiatic service, dishes that never fail to spark a conversation and even the dim red glow of the restaurant. Shokudo fills the niche for a low priced, casual Japanese restaurant with a hip, almost “big city” vibe. And that is why I’ll return to have cream puffs the size of my head and a bowl of oxtail with some noodles.
It’s also one of the very few restaurants in Honolulu that open till 2 am.
Ala Moana Pacific Center
1585 Kapiolani Blvd
Hon., HI 96814