Hubby and I did a long weekend getaway to the Big Island over Easter....this was mostly a diving trip, but we did have time to eat. I have lots of posting still to catch up on from the trip before Hawaii, so will try and post more later, but I didn't want to wait to post on my favorite find of this trip.
I read about Izakaya Kai in Frommer's, and was sure I was going to be the first to recommend it on CH. After all, the Big Island is a wonderful vacation destination, but not necessarily a great eating destination. Thus, surely I would have remembered if something this great from the Big Island had been posted on Chowhound. Still, I decided to do one more search before posting, and was astounded to see a negative mention from late last year. (see link). I am really glad I hadn't seen the post before trying for myself. Hope others will do the same.
Izakaya Kai gets my highest recommendation. I'd be a regular if it were here in San Francisco, and since SF has many, many more good Japanese places than (sadly) does the Big Island, that is saying a lot...
The address for Isakaya Kai is on Alii Drive, but it is actually tucked on a side street. There is a lovely tree-lined patio (where we ate), along with an attractively designed inner room with lots of wood beams. On Easter Sunday we were seated immediately without a reservation, but I suspect on Friday and Saturday it can get crowded. Most patrons appeared to be either local families or Japanese tourists.
An izakaya is a Japanese bar that typically serves lot of small plates at relatively low prices, as the equivalent of pub food. I'm no expert as to what an izakaya should be, but at Izakaya Kai, there is a full sushi bar, as well as a number of small plates, and a few noodle dishes. In addition to a full bar, they have a fairly extensive sake list. Other than sashimi and nigiri sushi, most sushi rolls run $5 to $7 an order, ramen noodles are about $8, and small plates of cooked items are $5 to $8.
We had been walking and felt like starting with a beer, but soon changed to one of several house sakes on the list.
Dishes we tried:
1. Crab/sweet potato cake: this was the only less than stellar dish of the evening. Deep fried, sort of bland. I couldn't taste the crab. After we ordered, I saw some incredible looking gyoza go by to another table. Wish I had gotten those instead..
2. Scallops: three incredibly fresh scallops, sauteed lightly in butter and then wrapped in seaweed. Fantastic. We could have made a meal of these.
3. Grilled squid: a whole small squid, marinated in ginger and who knows what else that made it incredibly tender, and then grilled whole and then sliced into pieces, rings, tentacles, and the 'wing' (they did leave off the head, the squeamish will be happy to hear). Better than fantastic. Hubby and I both thought this was the best grilled squid we'd ever had. Better than the grilled squid at Blue Plate, for those of you from SF (and that is saying a lot). And it cost $6!!!! It would have been a bargain at twice the price...
4. Deluxe Sashimi Assortment: Chef's choice of Sashimi, (other than octopus, which I don't eat, and which they were very accomodating about excluding). The plate included generous amounts of Maguro, Hamachi, Ebi and Mackerel, all perfectly fresh and cut perfectly. At $26 this was the most expensive item on the menu: expensive yes, but not for sashimi of this quality.
5. Green Tea ice cream and vanilla ice cream: we both were in the mood for something sweet to end our evening. The two flavors of ice cream, and tempura ice cream, are about all that is offered in the way of dessert. Ordinarily we would have skipped the dessert and just gotten a cone at one of the places on Alii Drive, but most were closed for Easter.
Service was friendly, welcoming and efficient. We did have to ask for our check twice before finally getting it, but that is about my only complaint.(and we were certainly pleased with the amount of the bill)
Total cost for a (20 oz) Saporro, a large decanter of house sake, three small plates, sashimi for two, dessert, tax and tip: $91. I hope other Chowhounds check it out.
Hours Daily 5-11pm
75-5719 Alii Dr
(location actually is around the corner on Sarona St) Phone 808/329-2002