Eat Me: Izakaya Matsu in Kihei
By Kristin Hashimoto
A recorded voice greets you in welcome with a tinny sounding “Irrashaimase!” as you enter Izakaya Matsu. Located in Kihei at Azeka I complex, this authentic Japanese restaurant is run by Nihon-jin, (Japanese people from Japan). The interior may seem a little utilitarian. There are cork-boards with a few daily specials posted with push pins, and a few notices about Japanese beer.
The salmon-tan paint job, and the cozy space doesn’t deter. Instead, the no frills kind of atmosphere intrigues. Sometimes, a dressed up interior is just enough deflection to distract patrons from sub-par or generic food. Here, Izakaya Matsu serves up some genuinely good food.
Choose from tables or bar-esque seating. Two bar-like seating areas have hot spots for cooking shabu shabu, a Japanese hot pot dish with meats and veggies in a flavorful broth. The customer gets to dip, simmer and enjoy their hand-cooked food leisurely while chatting with friends. If DIY cooking isn’t for you, order from their ala carte menu and choose from various sushi items, combination plates, appetizers, noodles and more.
The Osakan styled Okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake, is very filling and good. Rough chopped cabbage, sliced ginger, and thinly sliced pork belly is mixed with a dashi-based, or Japanese soup stock, type batter and cooks up like a thick savory pancake. The texture is not pancake-like. It’s more thick and moist, with a heavy consistency.
Osakan Okonomiyaki differs from Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, as ingredients are thrown together, whereas, Hiroshima style layers the ingredients during the cooking process. The entire pancake is topped with aonori, or fine seaweed flakes, katsuobushi, or dried fish flakes, also known as bonito flakes, tonkatsu-like sweet sauce, and a light mayonnaise.
The karaage chicken, or boneless fried chicken pieces, was moist, crunchy, and well-seasoned. The spider roll is decent, but not necessarily something to order the next time. The takoyaki, or squid puffs are also okay. The lamentable thing is, freshly made takoyaki is very hard to come by in Hawaii, so Matsu scores big by just having some of their dishes on menu.
The grilled rice balls were novel, crispy and a bit on the salty side, and the potato croquette were tasty, expertly prepared and golden-crisp. The combination tempura plate was also served up perfectly fried, not too oily, and with fresh grated daikon and ginger for the dipping sauce. That little mustardy-yellow dab of fresh grated ginger really added that special detailed flavor “touch.”
In Japan, an Izakaya is like a tapas bar. Primarily, drinks are served with little plates of food for customers to share. Matsu has sake, beer, and wine. Try a nice cold unfiltered sake as a nice counterpoint to a salty and oily fried dish.
The price-point for Izakaya Matsu is approximately $5 to $20 for some of their appetizers and entrees. They are open on Tuesday through Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Call 808-874-0990 for reservations or to place a take out order.