Tsukada Nojo, the popular izakaya chain from Japan, recently opened its first Hawaii location near the Hawaii Convention Center earlier this month. In staying true to its name (Tsukada being an area in Miyazaki, Kyushu, and “nojo” meaning “farm”), the restaurant introduces its concept, which fuses Japanese modern sensibilities with farm-to-table, showcasing locally-sourced ingredients.
The cuisine is chicken and vegetable-centric, with the menu broken down into seven major categories: hot pots, small cold plates, small hot plates, salads, large plates, rice & ramen, and desserts. Under hot pots, several versions of the chicken-based bijin nabe (or “beautiful person” hot pot) include: the original with chicken and vegetable, a spicy rendition, a beef sukiyaki, a lemon cilantro, and a tomato version— all collagen-rich to enhance the skin’s elasticity for a more youthful complexion.
At a media tasting event, I tried the Bijin Nabe (Chicken and Vegetables) ($50), a chicken-based collagen soup with garland chrysanthemum, zucchini, watermelon radish, tofu, chives, enoki mushroom, maitake mushroom, aburaage, green onion, and tsukune meat ball. The ladies at my table joked that we better come away looking darn good after eating this.
Under small cold plates, popular presentations are chicken veggie tacos, hamachi jalapeño, and poke and cucumber tatami. The Chicken Veggie Tacos ($12) are curry chicken, tomato, red onion, and cilantro wrapped with sliced radish as the taco shell. Delicious, and I loved the radish twist.
The Hamachi Jalapeno ($15) found the traditional yellowtail sashimi topped with green onion and jalapeno, served with a sweet chili ponzu sauce. It was flavorful with just the right amount of bite. One of my favorites.
The Saikyo-Miso Avocado ($12) also arrived at our table, and it’s interesting. It’s avocado marinated in saikyo-miso for one to three days, served with a side of wasabi. I could definitely taste the sweetness of the miso in the creamy texture of the fruit.
Small hot plates comprise of dishes as the chicken mentai (spcy cod roe) spring rolls, shiitake nanban (deep-fried shiitake stuffed with minced chicken), and grilled skillet egg with unagi and cream cheese. We tried the Nojo Chicken Nanban ($12), Miyazaki-style chicken fritters dipped in a soy vinaigrette, topped with house tartar sauce. These were good! Juicy chicken pieces with a not-too-crunchy exterior. The Umami Shichimi Chicken Wings ($10) are deep-fried chicken wings with a wonderful shichimi teriyaki sauce. Those were a hit with the table.
Salads offer added fresh approaches along the lines of a kale and smoked chicken Caesar, an unagi chopped salad, and a salmon and mango salad. The Nojo Salad ($9) consisted of mixed greens, cherry tomato, almonds, and a veggie-based garlic anchovy dressing on the side (vegan soy milk dressing available). It was the perfect side dish for the Nojo Chicken Nanban.
Large plates incorporate more beef, featuring items as steak with jalapeno miso, tomato hamburger steak, and steak roll with kale.
Rice and ramen round out the savory, featuring options brimming with umami such as a veggie miso ramen, chicken paitan tan tan spicy miso ramen, and unagi kabayaki fried rice. The Nikumaki Rice Ball ($3.50) was the dish I liked best of all. It’s Miyazaki region’s comfort food: A pork belly-wrapped rice ball in sweet soy ginger sauce, served on green leaf lettuce, served with teriyaki sauce. What can I say? I like carbs.
To conclude, desserts tempt the palate with a matcha berry tiramisu, golden pineapple mitsumame, and a few shave ice bowls with mixed fruits and mochi hidden in a ball of finely shaved ice, with ice cream, apricots, and black beans- all the shave ice menu items are arranged to resemble the face of a polar bear! Sooo cute!
The waiters brought Polar Bear ($9) to our table. This shaved ice bowl came with with mixed fruits, mocha, black beans, milk syrup, and vanilla ice cream, and besides being adorable, it tasted perfect. It was light and airy, almost like eating a cloud. I tried the Monaka Ice Cream Sandwich ($6) in lilikoi, though it also comes in matcha, black sesame, and mango. It’s also a pleasing looking (and tasting!) dessert, with the wafers the shape of a dragon or a daruma.
The dishes at Tsukada Nojo as prepared by executive chef Shingo Sato incorporate island-grown ingredients whenever possible. Besides the fresh chilled chicken from Punachicks Farm, the produce is sourced from over a dozen other farms on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai, including Aloun Farms, Maui Farmers’ Cooperative Exchange, and Kaneshiro Farms. The result is a series of contemporary Japanese dishes vibrant in color and bursting with local freshness.
Sato, who is originally from Yokohama, Japan, moved to Hawaii a month ago for this job. It’s his first executive chef position abroad, though he’s worked in that capacity in Japan over the last 20 years of his career.
Tsukada Nojo opened its first location in Tokyo in 2007. Owner Hisashi Yoneyama sourced from farms located in Miyazaki, Hokkaido, and Kagoshima to create his farmer’s table style of dining. Fresh farm ingredients were served in an izakaya format to diners who sought healthy meals without worries about where or how they were sourced, or how they were harvested or raised. The restaurant grew in popularity as evidenced by its 150 locations throughout Japan, and has since expanded to Singapore; Beijing, China; and California.
The two-story restaurant is located in a new building located on Kalakaua Avenue, across the street from Century Center. Jointly conceived by Naoto Adachi and Naoya Noguchi, two interior designers of Design Office, the 3,600-square foot space features farmhouse natural wood furnishings blended with metal industrial accents, such as antique factory-style pendant lighting with exposed bulbs. Old recycled wood, grey concrete slates, brick, and terra cotta tiles add textural diversity to the earth-toned space, and elevating consciousness of multi-faceted design.
A full bar made of wood on one end faces opposite of a stainless steel open kitchen, with round tables and wooden chairs with burnished metals being interspersed in between. Large, solid wood communal tables and open-faced banquette-style seating make for a more social atmosphere. High vaulted ceilings accentuate the open space, leading the gaze upwards to the second floor where a loft equipped with a state-of-the-art projector and sound system makes for a perfect private function space.
“We want to bring a new perspective to the popular Japanese izakaya concept by infusing freshness,” says chef Sato. “People are savvier about sustainability, regional sourcing, and natural ingredients, so we want to give them what they seek. The farmer’s table is designed to give our patrons the impression of literally dining at a farmer’s home, replete with freshly grown produce and responsibly raised livestock.”
Tsukada Nojo is located at 1731 Kalakaua Avenue, near the Hawaii Convention Center. The restaurant is currently operating under its soft opening hours (Monday to Saturday, from 5 – 10 p.m. with last call at 9 p.m., with weekday lunch service commencing on March 20), but after April 10, it will be open daily for lunch from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m., and for dinner from 5 – 11 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, from 5 p.m. – 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 5 – 10 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call (808) 951-4444. Facebook: Tsukada Nojo Hawaii.