By Morgan Y. Lapp
Down in the small town of Haiku one can find a fairly ordinary building with nothing very exciting about it. On the outside it’s wooden, dark and very easy to pass by without noticing, but once you know what this Japanese style building holds inside you’ll never go past again without your mouth beginning to water just at the thought of it.
Nuka is a modern and sleek Japanese style restaurant specializing in small plate dishes, sushi, specialty rolls and drinks. They offer incredibly fresh and colorful dishes that bring excitement as each one is brought to the table.
When first entering the building, around 6:30 p.m., I noticed the space. It was much smaller than I thought it would be as it could probably only seat about 40 people. The room was dimly lit with just enough light to comfortably see the menu and your meal. There was modern chrome seating along with a very clean and sophisticated feel.
Although the interior was decorated in a modern chic way, there was still a feeling of Japanese culture. Amazing Japanese printed paintings of sea creatures were hung on the walls and the architecture reminded me of a classic Japanese home.
Along with table seating there was also a sushi bar where guests could sit across from the sushi chef for a more up close and personal experience. The bar was clean and had a glass case where the fresh cuts of fish were displayed while the chef wasn’t using them.
I was seated quickly and the servers were kind and professional. I never felt like I would have to wait long for attention from my waitress or to be served my food. The menu was full of options without being overwhelming. I decided to first focus on an appetizer. To try one of the specials, I ordered the Okinawan sweet potato tempura with a honey drizzle and an order of calamari.
When my food was brought to the table, I had a new wave of excitement rush through me. The presentation of both dishes was absolutely stunning. The potatoes were thinly sliced and lightly battered with a beautiful golden honey drizzled in a delicate pattern all around them. My first thoughts however when biting into one was that it was a bit undercooked. The potato was still quite stiff and not the soft melt in your mouth texture that Okinawan sweet potatoes are known for. Besides the stiffness of the potato the dish was fantastic. The batter was light and crisp and fried to perfection with the perfect amount of seasonings and not overly oily. The honey added a sweet touch that coated every potato and really topped of the dish.
The calamari dish was one of the best versions I have ever had. The quality of the fish and batter were superb and it was perfectly seasoned with sea salt. It was served with a sweet chili sauce that paired with the flavors of the calamari perfectly.
After enjoying the appetizers, I ordered five different sushi rolls. They came out quickly with each presentation trumping the last. Out of the five different rolls there were definitely some that were better than the others.
Out of all of the rolls my favorite by far was the “Caterpillar” roll. This roll consisted of unagi (fresh water eel), cucumber, avocado, colorful tobiko caviar and eel sauce. My first reaction to this roll was “oh my goodness! It’s so cute!” It was made to resemble a caterpillar with stripes of tobiko going down its back and two long bean sprouts sticking up at the end to create antennas. Besides the cute presentation of the roll the taste was fantastic. The fish was the freshest I’d ever had in a sushi roll, the avocado was creamy and bright green, the cucumber added a wonderful crunch and the tobiko had been seasoned to create a spicy kick. It was the best roll of sushi I have ever tasted.
All of the ingredients were incredibly fresh and of excellent quality. The rice was seasoned with vinegar and sugar to make a lovely sushi rice consistency and flavor to complement each dish and really make the flavors pop. You could tell that each dish was made with care and expertise and you were never going to be served something less than the best.
To finish the meal off right, I ordered two scoops of house-made ice cream. The flavors were green tea and black sesame. I was naturally a little put off by the idea of a black, sesame-flavored ice cream but I couldn’t have been more surprised when it became my new favorite ice cream flavor. It was rich and creamy with a nutty hint, all of the flavors meshed beautifully.
The freshness and quality of your delicious meal at Nuka comes with a price. It is definitely not priced for everyday dining, but for special occasions, it’s a wonderful option. My whole meal came to a total of approximately $130. Although it was quite pricey, I felt that it was worth every cent.
Nuka is located at 780 Haiku Rd. and serves dinner seven days a week from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.; it is also open from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for lunch. They do not take reservations and work with a first-come, first-served seating system.
If you’re looking for a special place to go for a quality meal, then look no further than Nuka. You won’t be disappointed; I know I wasn’t. To learn more about Nuka, visit www.nukamaui.com or call (808)-575-2939.
My rating: 4.5/5 stars.