Outside Influence


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Yokoyama’s tools on full display

An arsenal of knives, bamboo whisks, oddly shaped graters and spoons ranging in size are neatly displayed behind the counter, meticulously arranged. Also behind the counter—chef Hiromichi Yokoyama, clad in white. He waits patiently for guests to get settled and take their seats, so he can start his performance.

A party of six. Th at’s how many the sushi bar counter at Vintage Cave will accommodate on any given night. Table service is also available for bigger reservations, but it’s best to see Yokoyama in action: knife-skills on full display. And while the main restaurant within the Cave opened almost two years ago to much fanfare, its most recent addition, Sushi Dokoro Kazuma, opened its doors in the same manner as the disposition of the chef who now helms it—quiet, humble and possessing an air of calm self-confidence, the food will speak for itself.

Named after owner Takeshi Sekiguchi’s son who passed away two years ago, Sushi Dokoro Kazuma is visibly more intimate than the main dining area. One thing the sushi bar does have in common with the restaurant chef Jonathan Mizukami heads in the adjoining room is the number of courses you can expect to have: somewhere in the double-digit realm. And while you’re supposed to savor each slice of sushi just seconds after it’s offered, your feast won’t end within half an hour. In fact, give yourself a few hours to experience the high-caliber cuts of seafood Yokoyama has in store.

Having almost three decades of experience in the art of sushi—13 of those years were spent at Sushi Yamanaka, one of Japan’s top sushi restaurants—Yokoyama is serious about his craft. Combined with Vintage Cave’s reputation for seeking out the best of the best and the ultra-rare, diners are guaranteed to nosh on more prime cuts of uncommon kinds of seafood, both cooked and also raw (mostly raw). Th e menu changes regularly, but the source of its offerings does not—ingredients are flown in daily from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. Vintage Cave has an agent on the ground in Japan who readily sends images of fresh fish and seafood shot from every angle in real time back to Hawai‘i, so Yokoyama can scrutinize and decide which ones to bid on.

On this particular night, guests were served an impressive list of out-of-the-ordinary delights: Kue (Longtooth grouper), Nodoguro (Blackthroat seaperch), Oni-Okoze (the highly venomous Japanese stonefish), Hotaru Ika (the petite Firefly squid), Kinki (Japanese rockfish), just to name a few—and all flown in from Tokyo. And while ginger is a typical ingredient, at Sushi Dokoro Kazuma, it’s not ordinary. Yokoyama pickles his own ginger and serves them in large chunks. It’s delicious and can be eaten on its own.

The first dish, an appetizer plate, comprised not one but five distinct items of varying tastes and textures. Bites ranged from “safe” (a creamy, black sesame tofu) to supremely “daring” (Shirako, or red snapper soft roe). While most are familiar with the salty, burst-in-your-mouth flavor of normal roe or fish eggs, soft roe is slightly spongy, a little sweet with a subtle briny flavor. and comes from the male side of the family, otherwise known as milt/fish sperm sac.

A parade of individual dishes followed. While most items were served raw, there were a few offerings that came out of the kitchen, including stonefish served in a miso broth topped with salted seaweed; yam cake with steamed Big Island abalone topped with Japanese Bafun uni from Hokkaido; and the chef ’s “Special Negima.” In this dish, Yokoyama skewers fatty chunks of Hon-maguro (Bluefin tuna), toro and Tokyo negi (a type of green onion), and grills it over charcoal. Each bite of tuna was soft, juicy and full of flavor. The negi was caramelized from being on the grill, lending a sweet, smoky flavor to the tuna. It was a favorite of the evening.

And then there’s the sushi. Throughout the evening, Yokoyama would retrieve a wooden box, open it, and peer into the array of fresh fish, filleted and ready to prepare. After making his selection, Yokoyama would then gently place the fillet on a chopping board, pull out one of his newly sharpened knives and proceed to slice the fish deftly, as if he was making his way through a stick of butter instead of firm flesh. Each fillet was handled gingerly, so the delicate flavor and nuance of each variety aren’t diminished.

Just like other establishments that serve sushi, diners are provided with soy sauce and wasabi. Sushi Dokoro Kazuma uses the authentic version—freshly grated using a tool made with dried sharkskin—which tastes smoother, cleaner and delivers a quick burst of heat. However, Yokoyama has few other tricks up his sleeve. Every so often, the lowkey sushi master brought out little containers filled with what can only be identified as “secret sauces”: a flavor apothecary filled with a curious assortment of savory stocks, sauces and extracts. What each contained, one could only guess. Yokoyama used one of his sauces for a piece of Longtooth grouper. Savory and slightly tart, the sauce married well with the firm-fleshed fish.

Another sushi standout came as no surprise—toro nigiri, which was perfect when immediately eaten. Not only were diners able to appreciate the ˚ avor and texture of the marbled cut, but also the contrast between the warm rice and cool ~ sh. Yokoyama advises to put soy on the ~ sh and not the rice, so one doesn’t accidentally add too much soy sauce on the sushi (rice acts like a sponge). In fact, some sushi didn’t require any soy sauce at all, such as ika, which was o˛ thered with wasabi, salt and sesame instead.

The dinner comes to a close with a final treat—a light sorbet made with shiso leaf. Simple and elegant, it embodies the underlying theme of Sushi Dokoro Kazuma’s kaiseki experience.

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