EXPERIENCE JAPANESE FOOD like never before at this brand-new contemporary eatery and sake bar in the heart of Waikiki. The restaurant’s fine cuisine alone is enough to warrant a visit but it’s the atmosphere that’s the delicious icing on this dining experience cake.
Nested inside a historic apartment building that was built in 1939 on land revered by ancient Hawaiians, ZIGU maintains a feeling of yesterday, accompanied with modern-day décor. Earthy wood tones dominate the quaint interior where patrons will find seating at the bar. Those who enjoy fresh air while they dine will be delighted that the majority of seating is offered on the outdoor patio, streamlined with sleek tables in a simple, sophisticated setting.
Topnotch service can also be expected at this lovely nook, with servers who are highly knowledgeable about the dishes served, and the comfort of their guests. What’s more, at the kitchen’s helm is chef Masaki Nakayama, a culinary expert from Yaizu City, in Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture.
ZIGU almost didn’t have such an accomplished chef as Nakayama’s original intention was to become a jazz musician in America. His family ties to food are what ultimately caused him to gravitate toward making delectable cuisine. Aside from growing up in a commercial fishing port, his grandfather made katsuobushi (the dried, fermented and smoked tuna used to make edibles such as soup bases) for a living. Nakayama learned to craft his own food after graduating high school and was especially drawn to seafood after working at Tsukiji Market, which recently ceased operations after serving as a wholesale fish market for more than eight decades.
Nakayama has been a noteworthy presence in the restaurant industry, including working with Michelin-starred chefs. He held positions at several esteemed dining establishments in Japan, where he continued to gain knowledge in its traditional culinary methods. He eventually opened his own restaurant in New York City, Mr. Robata.
Luckily, Nakayama has since brought his seafood and culinary expertise, as well as his passion for fine dining, to the south shore of O‘ahu. ZIGU’s menu is filled with items that will have your mouth ablaze with anticipation. No matter what is ordered, every dish has such an artistic presentation that makes it obvious the staff takes great pride in what they do.
One of the many outstanding aspects of this restaurant is that every meal is prepared with as many fresh, Hawai‘i-made ingredients as possible. So besides placing an emphasis on Japanese cuisine, the dishes have a tropical flair. For example, a delicious mango cream accompanies the appetizer, Macadamia Nuts\ With Sweet-Soy Sautéed Burdock.
Other dishes at ZIGU that beautifully blend Japanese and Hawaiian fare include the Local Tuna and Kona Amberjack Poke Sushi served with fresh fish sculpturally wrapped with ingredients such as sea asparagus, seaweed and yuzu pepper. Also, Deep-Fried Kaua‘i Shrimp is made with locally grown and harvested crustaceans and paired perfectly with wasabi-basil aioli sauce.
Additionally, you’re unlikely to find dishes from ZIGU anywhere else in Waikiki, including the Apple Wood Smoked Local Egg Potato Salad with crispy potato sticks and Cold Kale Udon with Fried Kale Chips which comes with an exceptional sesame dipping sauce.
Cocktails also do not disappoint at this one-of-a-kind restaurant and are crafted with as much care as the edibles. Mari’s Garden Shiso and Fresh Berry Shochu Mojito, for instance, is made with fresh strawberries, blueberries and lime, and combined with a smooth shochu, a distilled Japanese beverage made from sweet potatoes, rice or barley. Big Island Ginger Moscow Mule is another drink at ZIGU handmade with the finest homegrown ingredients such as ginger from Hawai‘i Island and locally made vodka.
From vegetables grown on O‘ahu farms, macadamia nuts plucked from Big Island orchards to deep-water fish caught in the Pacific Ocean, the list of local ingredients is impressive. Add to it the exquisite taste of authentic Japanese cuisine and you’ve got a match made in culinary heaven.