Japanophiles and Japanese nationals who lack local produce know about J-Shop, a niche market that sells limited foods and snacks from Japan. (Think micro-Marukai.) You can get sliced wagyu, small-batch shoyu, specialty ume plums, premium espresso… you get the idea.
They import so many ingredients from Japan, for a long time they had a small plated meal business on the side of the store so you could get affordable meals to sample what J-Shop has to offer. As we all come out of the pandemic, the store has decided to launch an izakaya in the evening, after hours. The reasons are not important since the reasons are different depending on who you are talking to. That day, the response I got was, “We wanted to try something different.”
They have been operating the izakaya since July 22, but they like to warn everyone that they are still in the “soft opening” phase. The kitchen is run by their chef, known only by his nickname, Chu-san. I asked what his real name was, and no one in the store seemed to know. I met Chu-san himself and asked him what his real name was, and he laughed and said, “Just call me Chu-san.”
I guess what I’m trying to tell you is: don’t dwell on the details. Go to the J-Shop with friends to share more plates, and BYOB – in fact, if you want soft drinks, you’ll have to bring those too, as they only serve water and tea. The store is closed, so you can’t buy anything from their shelves either.
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There is a standard menu of sushi, sashimi and other cooked dishes, but they recommend that you consider the daily specials first. The best seller from the regular menu is the tako karaage ($12.50), which was also our favorite. Tender pieces of octopus, lightly breaded and fried.
One of the surprises on the menu was the tamagoyaki ($9.50), very uninviting but very delicious. It had the right amount of delicate flavor and the egg was nice soft. Other items like assorted tempura ($25) and misoyaki butterfish ($21) were on point. The ‘ahi belly netsuke special ($19.50) was one of my favorites, as the fish was moist and the accompanying tofu was silky smooth, with the shoyu flavor soaked in perfectly.
I also recommend the dynamite ($7) if they have it, because you can’t go wrong with flambéed seafood drizzled with spicy mayonnaise! And for those of you who like bitter melon, the goya champuru ($8) has a good balance of pork, tofu and egg, so there’s not too much bitterness in the dish.
If you’re going to eat sushi, I recommend the negitoro (chopped fatty tuna, $12.95) or the toro taku (takuan and fatty tuna, $7). You can get the freshness of fish in this shareable form without too much rice to weigh you down. The friends who had the nigiri weren’t fans of the rice, so avoid the carbs as much as you can and just enjoy the high quality sashimi. We had the hamachi ($20), which was fresh and buttery.
There are just three desserts for those of you who need to end your meal on a sweet note: Cream Pudding with Whipped Cream ($5), Prepackaged Yuzu Sorbet ($9.75), and Sorbet Citrus ($17.50), which is frozen in a hollow pan. in orange. We preferred the non-photogenic yuzu because it’s light, but I like my cream pudding too. The orange citrus sorbet was good, but maybe $17.50 not good. At least I can say I tried.
Like many places, you just need to know what to order. As mentioned, you can skip the rice. There were a few dishes that weren’t quite to our liking, like the unagi tempura. But for the most part, it’s fine, and BYOB is a huge plus. Dishes may seem a little pricey, like the store is, but once you split the bill with your friends, it can cost around $30-$40 per person (depending on what you order, not including the wagyu ). Not bad for a unique experience. After all, they are still in the soft opening phase.
The J-Shop izakaya is open Monday through Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and reservations are required. They have their own lot with ample free parking.
1513 Young Street, (808) 200-5076, @jshophawaii