Finally... an Okinawa restaurant. About 3 weeks ago, we heard that there was going to be an Okinawan izakaya opening down the street from us. I was so excited as I am of Okinawan descent, most of my relatives still live there. For those of you who don't know where Okinawa is, it is the southern part of Japan, basically the most southern point of Japan. Its a tropical island, I guess you could say its the Hawaii of Japan. Beautiful waters, warn like you are taking a bath, excellent fruit and great food.
The food in Okinawa is quite different than the rest of Japan, so for people who have never eaten it, it might take some getting used to.
So, enough with the history lesson. Once we found out that the name of the restaurant was Shin Okinawa Izakaya and that it was within walking distance, we got excited. I have never eaten Okinawan food in a restaurant here in the U.S. (I've only eaten Okinawan food at home, Tokyo or Okinawa)
It opened this past week, but was open to the public on Wednesday. We strolled in at around 6 pm, there were about 7 people inside. I'd say it could fit about 35 - 40 people in there. The restaurant is located in the same place where Housenka used to be.
They tried to recreate the feeling of Okinawa with the restaurant. If you look up at the entrance from outside, you'll see two lions facing each other, all Okinawa businesses and homes will have it. (We have it at home too) An explanation can be found here: http://www.kantetsuryu...
Anyway, on to the food. We tried, in order:
Shikwasa Beer - Shikwasa is an Okinawan/Taiwanese citrus fruit, one of my favorite things in the world. I was surprised to see it on the menu, never tried it with beer. Definitely more of a beer for the ladies, but I recommend that people try it once. Shikwasa in pure form tastes better, but I'd buy the beer again. The fruit has a sort of tart taste, its like a more flavorful lime/lemon.
Rafute - boiled pork belly. (called buta no kakuni as well) I've always loved this stuff and the version here is pretty good. Normally you'll cook boil this for hours (at least my grandma did), flavored with some sort of combination with awamori (Okinawa sake) sugar, mirin, shoyu, by the time the dish is ready to serve, it will melt in your mouth. This dish wasn't as soft as I would have liked, but I'd order it again.
Papaya champuru - champuru means mix or something like that. You can make champuru dishes with a lot of different vegetables. We went first with papaya champuru. The papaya was green papaya, like the kind you would find in the Thai Papaya Salad (Som Tum) I would say this dish was ok, unfortunately we were comparing it to the one we had in Okinawa. This dish wasn't as flavorful as we would have liked.
Mozoku - Okinawa seaweed dish. This one was disappointing, it should be more sour, it just didn't have the taste we were looking for.
Awamori with shikwasa - Awamori is an alcoholic drink like sake or shochu that is unique to Okianwa. This is the stuff all Okinawan people drink. I would recommend trying this on the rocks first to get an idea of what it tastes like. (You can also buy it at Mitsuwa)
Goya champuru - Goya is bitter melon, vegetable used by many asians. We usually make this at home when its in season, but we wanted to try it here. I thought it was a pretty good dish, basically its goya, pork, egg, bean sprouts stir fried with bonito flakes on top. This is a staple home made dish in Okinawa, basically home cooking. Goya is very bitter, so some don't like it.
Soki Soba - our favorite dish of the night. When you ask Japanese people what they think of when they hear Okinawa, most might say "Okinawa Soba" Every time I go to Okinawa, I'll have it at least 2-3 times. The version here is pretty good, its basically soba noodles made from wheat in a soup consisting of konbu (seaweed kelp) pork and katsuobushi flakes (bonito fish flakes) Soki is the Okinawan word for ribs. The texture of the noodles depends on which part of Okinawa you go to, the main island uses flat noodles, which is what they used at Shin Okinawa Izakaya. When eating Okinawa soba, you can't expect the salty taste of ramen or the round texture of udon noodles, the soup has a bit more of a pork/fish flavor (although you won't taste the fish really, but its a big ingredient) I guess its a subtle tasting dish. I liked the soba and it was my favorite dish. The soup was flavorful enough that we drank the whole bowl. The noodles were a little hard, but I'm hoping with practice they'll get better. (don't forget to use the awamori chili as extra flavoring, it will be right in front of you in a bottle) The noodles are hand made, but not from Okinawa. I heard they purchased the hand made noodles from some other place, but not sure about that.
Overall, I liked this place. I was hoping for a little more flavor in some dishes and the portions need to be bigger, but I'll definitely keep coming back. yes I'm biased because I am Okinawan... but go once just to see what Okinawa food tastes like. I'd maybe wait a couple of weeks for them to work out the kinks and hopefully they'll get things perfected. I want to try them out again a few more times to see if they make improvements.