Sunday, July 8, 2012


My father and I went to Tsukuneya for dinner last November. As is always the case in our adventures, he chose a great spot. What makes this restaurant different from other Japanese restaurants is the region-specific cuisine of Nagoya and tsukune.

Across the street from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I felt like I stepped through a wormhole as I walked into a structure I passed by daily for 8 years and, instead of entering a standard-build Pizza Hut, arrived at a warmly lit izakaya.

Tsukuneya Interior

This was my first trip to an izakaya where I actually perused a menu. My previous visit was during a visit to Japan, when I was too young.

Not being a fan of raw radishes as a main ingredient, as opposed to grated into a sauce, due to its overwhelming bite and peppery flavor, "shiso gelatin" was all I needed to read in the description of their daikon salad to place my vote for this dish with only a bit of trepidation.

Tsukuneya Daikon Salad
Daikon salad + sake (background)

My first serving of daikon was a pinch, small in proportion to the other ingredients. Expecting a sharp snap, I was surprised when the crunchy daikon sticks were sweet with an essence of daikon and a subtle peppery finish. The shiso-yuzu gelatin lent the salad an acerbic spark with a hint of licorice. If I were still a student at UH, I would definitely stop in for this dish many times.

To my father's disappointment, chicken cartilage was unavailable. Instead, he ordered grilled gizzards and chicken thighs. The gizzards were pretty tough and gamey as I expected.

Tsukuneya Gizzard
Gizzards and thigh

I don't recall having ever eaten grilled musubi (nigiri) with soup before. I gobbled up the nigiri before my father could explain that I was supposed to eat the rice in soup. Since the rice is grilled with shoyu, it won't get too soggy from the soup as well as it contributing a nutty flavor.

Tsukuneya Musubi Soup
Grilled musubi with soup (not pictured)

For this vocal onion despising person, I proclaimed to my father that the onion kakiage was my favorite dish next to the daikon salad. What is so special about this batter fried onion stack? Sweet and mild Maui onions. It really helped that the onions were cooked completely through. I was a bit peeved there was only one piece of shrimp. It was good, but why even bother?

Tsukuneya Onion Shrimp Tempura
Onions + 1 shrimp tempura

I didn't get a great shot of the dengaku tofu, grilled tofu basted with sweet miso sauce. An order comes with four rectangle pieces skewered with bamboo, shown in the background to the left of the tempura stack (above). 

We ordered another type of nigiri, tenmusu, another specialty of Nagoya. "Tenmusu" is a shortened form of tempura musubi. M and n are interchangeable in Japanese much like in English, depending on what follows. Rice at a real Japanese restaurant is always delicious. Our musubi were filled with shrimp tempura.

Tsukuneya Musubi

For dessert, there was a choice of various Haagen Dazs ice cream flavors, Japanese gelatin, housemade annin tofu (almond jelly), and Monkey Ice. While I certainly love almond jelly, the choice here was obvious: Monkey Ice. It didn't matter what was in this dessert. How could one not select a dish named Monkey Ice?

Tsukuneya Monkey Ice
Monkey Ice!

My father and I enjoyed the fried banana with vanilla ice cream. Our love for vanilla ice cream must be genetic. I think I may have enjoyed this dinner more than my father. Each dish was new to me, so it was definitely an adventure.

- Cassaendra

1442 University Ave
Honolulu, HI 96822
Tel: (808) 943-0390

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