Back to Jimbo (Honolulu, HI)


One of the under-appreciated Japanese restaurants in Honolulu has to be Jimbo, which specializes in udon. The buses and people lining up in Waikiki suggests that Japanese tour companies favor Marukame Udon, which features make-your-own udon, a concept that has been picked up by U:Don in Seattle’s University District. Jimbo is located in a part of town north of Waikiki (McCully-Moiliili, on the other side of the canal) that is somewhat worn, certainly without Waikiki’s glamor and glitz. But locals know about it and could very well be glad to keep this place to themselves.

We were here before in 2010 and were looking forward to a return visit. My wife got her ume wakame udon that she had been dreaming about ever since the last visit and wasn’t the least bit disappointed this time around.

Ume Wakame Udon

Ume Wakame Udon

For me, the memory of their wonderful nabeyaki udon tugged at me, but one of the chef’s specialties on the menu was Japanese curry nabeyaki udon, which I felt I at least had to try. I like curry udon in general, but was hesitant about ordering it tonight for one big reason. It would overwhelm Jimbo’s wonderful broth. And it did. Yet, Jimbo’s was a very good version, served in a very hot iron bowl with shiitake, baby bok choy, nappa, broccolini, shredded carrot, snow peas, kamaboko and a raw egg that gets cooked by the piping hot liquid. A good broth is hard to keep down; it shone through the curry with its substantial umami. On the side came single pieces of excellently made shrimp and sweet potato tempura, a welcome change since our last visit when they were served in the bowl, the batter soaking up and softening in the broth. Any respectable udon restaurant should have excellent noodles. The udon at Jimbo is made in-house by a dedicated chef and it shows. They have a unique al dente texture, having a slippery and soft surface but firm interior chewiness that characterizes the best of them. To make their dashi, Jimbo imports its dried bonito (katsuobushi) directly from Japan.

Curry Nabeyaki Udon

Curry Nabeyaki Udon

Our dinner at Jimbo was a happy return visit.

Disappointment on My Return Visit (March 2016)

I hate when the food changes at your favorite restaurants. I’d been to Jimbo twice before, and I loved their nabeyaki udon. The noodles were wonderfully chewy and the broth soul-satisfyingly rich and flavorful. The current disappointing version consists of oddly cut noodles (thinly rectangular in cross-section) and while starting out firm, they quickly became soft. These were not the noodles I had in the past. And the broth? It had none of the smoky and umami-deep flavor of my memories, having transformed into a thinner version of the original. I’ve discovered since that other recent reviewers apparently felt the same. Something has changed in the kitchen. I will not be going back. Marukame now has a better udon.

Jimbo
1936 S King St # 103
Honolulu
808.947.2211
 

 

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Mana Nalu Mural Project (Honolulu, HI)


In the middle of Ala Moana (between the shopping center and Ward Center) is a mural painted on the side of a building. Like many murals, you wouldn’t notice it unless you’re oriented correctly. It was difficult for us even when we were looking for it. The work is a masterpiece of trompe l’oeil as part of a project led by John Pugh, the great artist who has several public works in other parts of the U.S. as well as one in Rotorua, NZ. The panel displays two historic Hawaiian figures, Queen Liliuokalani and the great surfer Duke Kahanamoku, painted on a curved glass surface featuring a huge wave that is cresting on top, a portion of which appears to be reaching through a skylight. Along the right side, a painted window, through which someone appears to be looking out toward the wave, and a doorway give a strange illusion. But, the most masterful depiction/illusion is a group of children, serenely looking up at the queen and seeming about to be engulfed by the wave.

How appropriate that today should be April Fool’s Day.

Mana Nalu Mural Project
401 Kamake’e St.
Honolulu, HI
(painted on the southeast-facing wall toward the parking structure)
 

Lunch at Shirokiya (Honolulu, HI)


For me, no visit to Honolulu would be complete without a stopover, not to mention a meal, at the food level of Shirokiya, the Japanese department store in Ala Moana Shopping Center. I might lust after a ramen shop here, a tonkatsu restaurant there, poké at various places, Leonard’s, even mochi ice creams at Bubbies. But when it gets right down to it, none of these places holds a candle to Shirokiya for its eye candy and staggering variety of food, all conveniently packaged in plastic containers, ready to pick up at one of many specialty stations, to eat at one of the few tables there or take out. A big part of the allure is the ability to eat whatever fancies you at the moment, whether it’s tempura, sushi, nigiri, musubi, fried or mochiko chicken, takoyaki, tonkatsutsukemono, and a seemingly endless selection of little side dishes. The wonderful displays make you want to buy one of everything. It’s basically the biggest display of my comfort foods ever. We made our usual careful rounds whenever we visit, as if circling our prey, and settled on a good, eclectic selection.

If I had to put together a bento or provisions for a day-long hike, I would most definitely come here.

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