While New Yorkers have their ball drop and Hawai'i still has its (illegal) fireworks, Japan has its celebration for the New Year in visionary, delicious and intricate meal sets and the fortune that may soon follow.
Like many cultures that were welcomed within Hawai'i, its food was especially prevalent in keeping traditions alive. Japanese food was no exception and remains an important piece of Hawai'i's history. One such tradition that continues to this day is the ritual of osechi ryori, an elaborate and intricate meal exchange between friends and family members. Many families in Japan—for sake of saving money and hours of planning and prepping the meals—are now seeking out restaurants to make their osechi. Local Japanese families from Hawai'i, who continue the tradition of osechi, have found their favorite place for osechi meals at Sakura Terrace Japanese Cafe.
Daisuke Arai, restaurant manager of Sakura Terrace, says he's happy to be back in Hawai'i to share his teachings with those who love Japanese food. With nearly 22 years in the restaurant business, Arai's love for Japanese food has taken him from Kyoto, Japan to Las Vegas to Manhattan, New York. At just 34-years-young, Arai's has held nearly every position in the food industry. From dishwasher to restaurant consultant to personal chef, Arai has seen and learned through them all. His full circle of his restaurant and food life has brought him back to Hawai'i where his parents, siblings and his own family reside.
The osechi meals that he's created represent much of what he had learned in his past years training as a kaiseki chef in Kyoto.
"I want bring back the traditions of the kaseki knowledge that I've learned back in Kyoto," Arai says. "Hawai'i's restaurants have grown immensely over the years, it's become bigger on a national and international scale. I only hope to bring back the tastes of traditions of Japan for the local community."
Served in tiers, the osechi comes with three of them. The first tier consists of a traditional "elaborate" presentation of food, which will consist of grilled kazugo tai (red sea bream); steamed Kona abalone steak; grilled lobster in sakura sauce; grilled king crab; Tsukiji tazukuri (candied sardines); roasted duck; kanburi yuanyaki (Japanese Amberjack, grilled Yuan-style); homemade komochi konbu (herring roe on knob); yawata gobo (burdock root); sakura yokan (cherry blossom-flavored jellied dessert); homemade kuromame (sweet black bean); chorogi (Chinese artichoke); homemade kuri kinton (candied chestnut with sweet potato); datemaki (sweet rolled omelette); ikura (salmon roe); mentai daikon (paper thin daikon wrapped mentaiko roe).
The second tier is made with nishime (Japanese stew root vegetables); ume ninjin (ume carrot); sweet and sour sakura ebi (dried shrimp); beef yawatamaki (beef wrapped daikon and gobo); sudako (pickled tako); hakata no hito (sweet potato cake); yu atama ebi (shrimp); su renkon (pickled lotus root); charsiu; chicken namba: kohaku namasu; yamagoobo (pickled burdock root); Tsukiji satsuma age (fried fish cake from Tsukiji); matsukaze yaki (chicken loaf); ohitashi (Japanese spinach salad); atsuyaki tamago (omelette) with tokujo surimi (fishcake).
For those taking the osechi items to go, the beautifully compartmentalized dishes will come in three tiers (which, in Japanese culture, odd numbers are considered good luck) with all of the ingredients listed above.
Pre-orders for osechi are available at 10 percent off from now through October 31 ($288, excluding tax). Five percent off orders from November 1 through November 27 ($304, excluding tax); and orders taken from November 28 through December 15, will pay the regular price ($320, excluding tax). Osechi will be available for in-restaurant pick up on December 31, between 2 and 6 p.m. Delivery is also available for an additional fee.
Dine-in pre-fixe options are also of course available at Sakura Terrace from Monday, January 1st, through Wednesday, January 3rd for $60.20 per person. With the amount of time and effort that's put into these meals, customers are in for a bargained meal minus the headache of clean up and food preparation. As the owners of Sakura Terrace are relatives of Japan's famed Tsukiji market, customers are also receiving the highest quality of fish, made from some of the best chefs in Hawai'i.
"You can't get our meal anywhere else," Arai says with a modest but assertive smile. "We plan out what we're going to serve to our guests and we make sure we only have the best ingredients. I hope people will just come and enjoy themselves."
For more information about Sakura Terrace Japanese Cafe, visit sakuraterrace.com. Located at 1240 South King Street, 808-591-1181. All photos Courtesy Sakura Terrace.