きわみ ラーメン kiwami ramen: ao hawaii
Now this is a bit more like it. Considering the never-ending infusion of Japanese tourists to the streets of Waikiki, you’d think that there’d be some downright proper ramen to be had in the area. There are but few shops at all, nestled amongst the high-end retailers and the usual glut of fast food and tourist-friendly chain outposts for everyone who can’t live without their P.F. Changs and Cheesecake Factories.
Kiwami Ramen is by far the most “Japanese” ramen-ya in Honolulu. Sure, Tenka Ippin may have been franchised straight from the motherland, but it’s run by locals. This low-key noodler, on the other hand, is operated by one Yasuyoshi Sato, who might as well have stepped right off a plane from Narita. Located in the basement level “Waikiki Food Court” of a multi-story shopping arcade that also houses Honolulu’s primary Japanese tourist information center, the patrons likewise trends native.
All of this would have nothing to do with anything were chef Sato’s menu not so eloquently tailored to Kiwami’s clientele. The portions are discrete, not supersized things engineered to provide the most bang for a tourist buck. You get what you pay for however, as Kiwami’s entrees, especially its hallmark item, the “Ao Ramen,” is surprisingly considered. The noodles are springy, thin and refined and made froma whole-grain, unhusked wheat called bakudan. The shoyu-based chicken stock soup is subtle and clear, infused chiyu chicken oil from locally grown birds. A mildly spicy tang infuses the soup via the ao or “blue (green)” in the dish’s name, with a healthy crop of takana greens and accompanying foliage neatly arranged as the featured topping. Though unorthodox, the chunks of chicken chashu are tasty, and the effect of the entire, vegetable-heavy assemblage is a not unlike a hybrid of shoyu ramen and Vietnamese pho ga, or chicken pho.
If Kiwami’s “ao ramen” may be contentious for noodling traditionalists; no doubt the menu’s offerings would sate these diners. There’s even an ume (salted plum) shio ramen, as well as a tsukemen dipping noodle, as if Tokyo were right around the corner. Lately, I’ve come to realize that authenticity when it comes to ramen has increasingly less to do with adhering to tried-and-true ramen formulas and soup styles than to notions of aesthetics, concerns of culinary craftsmanship by which proud chefs often live by. Kiwami, in that sense, is indeed very “Japanese,” and you really can’t go too wrong, even with ramen, when it’s clear you’ve got a chef who cares.
|light and crisp with a dash of spicy tang from the takana mustard greens dominating the bowl, kiwami's "ao ramen" shoyu soup is a refreshing and flavorful delight.||7.5|
|thin and refined, the whole-grain noodles exhibit a pleasing chew and are anything but generic compared to strands found elsewhere.||7.5|
|the garden-fresh greens, jalapeno peppers, and assorted veggies invoke pho, while the chicken breast chashu is tasty but a touch on the dry side.||6|
|kiwami's ramen was served up with a small complimentary bowl of chunky marinated chashu over white rice. a nice accompaniment to a satisfying meal, the meat was sweet but, like the chicken, a bit dry.||7|
|kiwami has nice lighting and a long, clean double-lane countertop (what's with all the parallel counters in HI?). despite its location in a mall food court, there's a nice little vibe for chowing down.||5.5|
|this most japanese of hawaiian ramen shops has got the aesthetics and attention to detail down. that's really the most important thing.||7|
Waikiki Shopping Plaza