Back when people still read newspapers, there was a rule for food critics: wait a couple of months before reviewing a new restaurant.
The reason? You want to give new chefs and owners a chance to work out the kinks, tweak their menus, and get into a steady flow. It’s really only fair.
Well, thanks to something called the Internet — specifically, food bloggers and sites like Yelp — restaurants get reviewed almost before they even open. And it’s not uncommon for a new spot to get a buzz during its first few weeks of opening, then fizzle.
That didn’t happen with Izakaya Torae Torae.
This izakaya (Japanese tavern) in McCully opened in February to a lot of online chatter — and it’s still super popular nine months later.
Inside the izakaya. The sushi bar peeks into the open kitchen, where you can watch your food being prepared.
The wooden walls are adorned with hip art by Chanel Tanaka. Very different.
Hide Yoshimoto, the popular chef from Doraku Sushi, opened this neighborhood izakaya to rave reviews early on. (It helps when you organize a soft opening for all the social media foodies and bloggers.)
The menu here is extensive, likely part of the appeal. You can find just about whatever you want here, from salads to donburi (rice bowl dishes) to sushi to desserts. (The website calls it a “kitchen sink menu.” I like that!) And it’s obvious Yoshimoto brought along his Asian-fusion flair.
I went with a friend recently who’s been there before — that helps! — and here’s what we ate:
The gyūtan (cow tongue), or tanshio, is one of my favorite izakaya staples. The salted meat has to be super thin and fried to an almost crisp, and this didn’t disappoint.
Our server recommended the snow crab and cream corn croquette, a richer, softer version of what people would think of when they hear the word, “croquette.” The white cream filling was creamy — just a hint of Alaskan snow crab, really — and flavorful.
The pupu-style jidori chicken plate was a surprise. You can get this seasoned with yukari (salt) or curry. I had heard the curry seasoning was a bit intense, so we went with the yukari and it was nicely done. Simple — and great with yaki onigiri (which isn’t on the menu, but ask anyway).
My girlfriend loveloveloves the hamachi carpaccio, which comes with ponzu sauce and a hint of truffle oil. The fish was crisp, the onions added some crunch. Really a perfect dish.
Another signature dish is the pork belly kakuni, a slow-braised pork belly from Sunterra Farm simmered in a shoyu sauce and balanced with an ontama and daikon. The fall-off-your-fork pork is packed with flavor. I think I moaned after each bite.
One of my surprise favorites was this Angry Buta roll. Get this: pork belly and kim chee stuffed in this sushi hand roll. You can’t get better than that!
Some thoughts: You want to make reservations. We did — and though we were the first people in the izakaya, the place filled up quickly. And it was a weekday! And if you don’t get a stall out front — there are only a few and it’s not the easiest to back up onto McCully Street — you can park at Central Pacific Bank for a $2 flat fee.
Trust me, the walk across the street will be well worth the effort.
(CORRECTION: Now that the izakaya has its liquor license, it’s still BYOB, but you have to pay a $20 corkage fee.)
Izakaya Torae Torae, 1111 McCully St., Honolulu, O‘ahu. Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Monday, closed Tuesday; happy hour 10 p.m. to last call. Phone: (808) 949-5959.
Cat: this location has had a string of bar/restaurants. I think Bruno Mars late mother also ran a bar there. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts. Maybe it should go back to being a bicycle shop.
Adding to the list to try next month!
I’ll be heading down today! Thanks Cat!!!