Hawai’i Herald Columnist
There is a wonderful anomaly hidden within the 22Kailua coffee shop at 22 Oneawa St. Enter the shop, walk all the way to the back, and you’ll find owner and chef, Taka Kijima, preparing omakase meals in an intimate six-seat restaurant called “Hana-re” (like Hanalei, but it means “separate place” in Japanese).
This is the first time I’ve been to a speakeasy restaurant, although I have been to the 50th’s renditions of the speakeasy style bar — retro bars modeled after drinking establishments from during the prohibition years (1920-1933), which discreetly allowed the illegal consumption of alcoholic beverages. All you needed to know was the location and the secret password to gain entry.
Kijima planned on retiring after running the popular izakaya, Kohnotori in McCully, alongside Chef Takashi Ando, which closed in 2018. But after sampling several restaurants on the Eastside, he decided to fill the need for some authentic Japanese cuisine. Initially, he started with a simple coffee shop in the heart of Kailua. Then, he returned to the kitchen to create omakase meals for discriminating diners. But since he declared himself semi-retired, he didn’t want to get back into the full-blown drama of the restaurant business which included assistant chefs not showing up for work or servers calling in sick. Keeping it simple, he created Hana-re in the back of the coffee shop.
Securing a seat isn’t as easy as going on Open-Table to reserve a table, nor can you simply call the coffee shop for a reservation. First, you’ll receive Kijima’s cellphone number. Then, text him the date you desire, and he’ll respond with dates and times that are available. Once confirmed, he’ll also text you a sample menu consisting of about eight varied courses, 11 to 12 pieces of nigiri sushi and dessert for $80. He’ll also inquire about any food allergies and offer a customized menu if your wallet is a little fatter than usual. Therefore, unlike most restaurant chefs who must show up to work during the stated business hours, Kijima can take days (or weeks) off here and there since reservations are made directly with him. And serving just six diners allows him to interact with each person, instead hiding in the kitchen and furiously plating dishes.
The Basic Menu
Koh no mono
Japanese cucumbers pickled in barley miso
Shira-ae or spinach, carrots, konnyaku, mushrooms in a tofu sesame sauce
Marinated saba with cucumber, iriko, wakame with vinegar and soy sauce gellee
Sushi: quartet of ika, Hokkaido scallop, ama-ebi and hamachi nigiri
Chawan-mushi with unagi, takenoko, shiitake topped with ikura
Sushi: quartet of takuan, nasubi, shiitake and peas shoot nigiri
Braised daikon with pork belly topped with daikon sprouts
Butterfish misoyaki with clams and shrimp
Sushi: trio of saba, unagi and tamago nigiri
Shrimp, broccoli, mushroom and hasu tempura
Hot somen noodles
Coffee jelly with whipped cream
The evening started with cucumber pickled in a miso-barley that perked the taste buds for the following courses. A traditional shira-ae was served next, with spinach, konnyaku and carrots in a sesame-tofu dressing.
The marinated saba with wakame, cucumber, iriko and a duo of shoyu and vinegar gelée was the first surprise of the meal which was both savory and refreshing at the same time!
The nigiri quartet of ika (squid), hotate (scallop), amaebi (sweet raw shrimp) and hamachi (yellowtail) was perfect with the Hakkaisan Yukimuro ginjo sake aged for three years in snow, one of two bottles we brought to dinner.
The chawan-mushi or egg custard was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. Fellow diners also commented that it had the aroma of bacon but I think it was simply the grilled unagi (fresh water eel) on the bottom that created the illusion of bacon. The house-cured ikura (salmon eggs) gave a nice pop of salinity to counter the rich custard. Even Kijima proudly proclaimed that chawan-mushi was one of his specialties.
Another quartet of nigiri sushi was next, highlighting vegetable nigiri, with takuan (pickled daikon), nasubi (pickled baby eggplant), shiitake and peas shoot. The nasubi took me back to my childhood visits to the Valley Isle where we’d always bring back several bottles of those purple baby eggplant pickled in Lahaina.
Kijima’s braised pork belly on braised daikon was followed by his misoyaki butterfish with clams and shrimp then the last trio of sushi — grilled saba, unagi and tamago. Sushi enthusiasts in the know often order tamago first to judge the sushi chef’s skills. If it’s not up to par, they’ll cash out and leave. Kijima’s tamago was spot on!
The savory courses concluded with an assortment of tempura (with batter light enough that the Mrs. didn’t feel compelled to remove the fried batter), then ending with a hot somen dish with very flavorful broth.
Dessert was a coffee gelée with whipped crème. After all, 22Kailua did started as a coffee shop. We, along with our tablemates, were thoroughly sated after our omakase meal and the only constructive criticism I’d offer is that the head of the amaebi could have been deep fried instead of simply used as garnish for the butterfish misoyaki.
If it’s your first time making a reservation, you can direct message Kijima on Facebook or Instagram @22Kailua, or email 22Kailua@gmail.com, to reserve your seat for his omakase meals.
Hana-re in 22Kailua
22 Oneawa St
Kailua, HI 96734