Tsukada Nojo shut its doors for a makeover with little more than a sign on the door to let us know. I for one had not heard much in the way of news on what the restaurant was to be turned into, other than it was another Japanese concept. With the new year the space has reopened, almost as quietly as it had closed, as Minori Craft Japanese Tavern.

If the sign above the door hadn’t changed I would not know that this was a different restaurant. The interior remains largely unchanged, with the only obvious aesthetic difference being the addition of a self-serve salad bar station along the back wall near the bar. The only other change that jumped out at me was the menu, not only with different food, but the introduction of menu items with names that contain hashtags – #BrokeDaMouthChicken and #SmokedEgg.

While I thought Tsukada Nojo did a fine job with its food, I did feel that its menu was a bit disjointed. The restaurant felt like it didn’t quite know itself. Perhaps it was the layout of the menu itself, but it read like bits and pieces of different Japanese restaurants: part sushi, part ramen, part izakaya, part hot pot, and part yakitori. Minori’s menu still suffers from a bit of broadness and many of the same food categories, but feels much more like a single, cohesive menu than Tsukada Nojo.

So were all the changes worthwhile? Does this new concept (operated by the same owners I believe) outdo Tsukada Nojo?

Homemade cold aloha tofu, ginger, soy sauce, green onion

Simple and minimalistic in nature, fresh cold tofu doesn’t really have anywhere to hide. It’s either a joy to eat, or it’s terrible. The creamy texture of the fresh tofu was exactly what you’d want in this dish. Combined with the condiments, the dish was light, refreshing, and tasty.

Homemade bacon potato salad topped with #SmokedEgg

I can do without the whimsy of a hashtag in this dish’s name or description, but I was excited to order this potato salad. In truth, I was hoping it would rival a similar dish at ZIGU. Unfortunately it does not. The potato salad isn’t bad, it’s just nowhere near as flavorful as I had hoped.

“Izumi Dai” (red snapper) carpaccio

Another light and refreshing dish, the red snapper carpaccio presented a good balance of citrus, umami, and fish. I also appreciated that the dish was served on a chilled stone plate, which helped keep the snapper at a more ideal temperature even as it sat at our table.

Oahu Island Chawanmushi

I’m a bit unsure as to the naming of this chawanmushi as the “Oahu Island” aspect is not apparent. Nevertheless, the chawanmushi was on par with what I would’ve expected. Luxurious and soft textured egg contains a variety of chopped seafood and mushrooms. The top layer is almost like a dashi gel, adding to the soft texture with a boost of umami.

MINORI Roast Beef Bowl with egg and horseradish

This bowl is akin to the roast beef bowl of RedRock fame in Japan. Although not arranged as dramatically to evoke the image of a volcano, the flavor combinations here are in the vicinity. Tender roast beef is molded around quality Rice Factory rice, doused with a semi-sweet soy sauce. The egg yolk adds another layer of richness. The entire bowl is brightened with the punch of horseradish cream.

We also sampled the chicken paitan tsukemen (pictured at the top of this post). The broth was flavorful and plentiful, perhaps too much so compared to the portion of noodles provided. The flavors were all pleasant, but the dish struggled a tad from the tangled mass of noodles which were hard to pull apart as to provide for optimal dipping into the broth.

While we enjoyed the food overall, Minori has some work to do on the service front. Our server was a bit hurried and had an odd habit of asking a question, walking away immediately after to do something, then returning a few seconds later to see if we had an answer. From a kitchen perspective, we had all of our dishes out on the table within minutes of each other. Kudos for the speed of execution on a new menu, but ultimately not an ideal dining experience while racing to eat everything before it gets cold.

My wife and I were a bit split about Minori, with her walking away less of a fan than I. While there were some misses on the plates we ordered and service had some quirks, I feel that Minori holds more promise than Tsukada Nojo. I do imagine we’ll be back again to sample more of the menu, assuming Minori can iron out some of its kinks as it comes out of soft opening.

Minori Craft Japanese Tavern
1731 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815