Izakaya Rakuen 居酒屋樂宴
Hong Kong is truly lucky to have so much variety in Japanese cuisine (at least in relation to Northern California). In some cases one can argue that in HK, if you have $ you can get what you want. But conversely in the USA, even if you have money, you might not be able to get it.
Feeling Japanese food one evening, and whipped out the eating guide published by the great KC gourmet (http://gourmetkc.blogspot.com), and the words Okinawa and izakaya grabbed my eye. A quick look, and I knew this place was going to be pretty special. Causeway Bay? Well I knew it wasn't going to be cheap. But for something you cannot get in Northern California, it's an experience to remember.
Up the elevator to the 12th floor, and here we were, and taken to a wooden counter to be seated. All around were glass bottles and flasks of various alcoholic beverages. The historic looking décor was a sight to behold, and also reminded me of some izakayas in Taipei's Zhongshan District where Japanese expats on business would also go in search for a taste of home.
The moment we sat down, we knew we were in the right place. Plus it was a cause for celebration!
Two sides of counter seating
I wonder what's inside, if anything?
Ahhh Kanto Daki, or more appropriately ODEN.
We probably overpaid for the Orion beer, but it was needed to complete the Okinawan theme of the evening!
The specials, some we weren't sure if they were Okinawan to begin with.
There were some tough choices to be made, with quite a lot of variety. In the end we went with what was recommended by the book and the rest by instinct.
Umi budo (sea grapes)
This is an absolute must try. It was almost like eating baby champagne grapes but doesn't have that fruity sweetness. A nice textural crunch and an otherwise very refreshing appetizer. Not "gross" at all.
Sashimi/raw fish is a pretty standard kick starter for any izakaya meal, and a tradition of mine when hitting an izakaya in Taipei and now in Hong Kong :-). Only in California and other parts of the USA will people order funny name American rolls, handrolls, tempura rolls, teriyaki rolls, and tempura rolls. Anyways here we have Okinawa tuna, akagai, ama ebi, tako, scallop, salmon, and shima aji. Might be considered slightly above average for Hong Kong, but definitely steps above San Francisco Bay Area. Plus you cannot beat the fact that many Japanese establishments now get fish shipments in almost daily (vs a few times a week in California).
Okinawan braised pork belly. The look of porcine EVIL. It looks ridiculously fattening but tasted so smooth. A little karashi (mustard) took the edge off. So soft and delicate. Extremely decadent too....we just had to forget about the calories and what it did to our health that evening.
These are two separate items from the Oden menu. Simmered daikon and pork trotter in dashi. The daikon was tender and had all the braise juices absorbed it in (no fibers), and the pork trotter was literally meat and skin off the bone with minimal effort. So simple yet so beautiful.
It can get dangerous if you have a big appetite, as these small dishes added up pretty quickly. We ended the celebration a bit prematurely here and decided to fill up the remainder of stomach space with dessert at Chung Kee.
While I have never visited Okinawa, I did feel like I had a mini rendezvous...
Until next time. Sayonara for now :-)
12/F, 28 Tung Lung Street, Causeway Bay