By Anni Caporuscio
Japanese Grandma’s Cafe in Hanapepe Town is a super modern, clean-lined, bright storefront café with a surprising attention to subtleties of experience. Owner Keiko Napier is far from a tottering gray-haired grandma; she is stylish, energetic and intensely passionate about her café. In fact, “Japanese Grandma” is homage to her mother — that’s how Keiko’s sons called her mother. The café is reflective of being raised in the restaurant industry; Keiko’s father was a master Japanese chef who owned several restaurants. And Keiko herself is a fantastic advocate for real Japanese food.
The café focuses on small dishes that are plain, yet shining with a complexity of flavors. The recipes seek to honor the ingredients available to Kaua‘i while keeping true to their Tokyo origins. They focus on the simple and the consistent; and their attention to detail presents a superb result. Tiny details such as how to wash the rice so it naturally forms to its intended purpose. How to age the fish so that its muscles relax and its natural flavors rise. Rolling a sushi roll without compacting it, rather creating a soft and fluffy feel. Adjusting tempura batter for the humidity to keep it crispy and light. Making in-house sauces meant to flavor and compliment the dish, not merely to salt it.
I am deeply impressed with this café. It stands out for quality and ingenuity of experience. It made me realize my sole knowledge of Japanese cuisine has been imprinted with the Kaua‘i-local traditions, which have in turn developed with their own unique and special history, fusing with Portuguese and traditional Hawaiian flavors. I ate Halibut Usuzukuri, which is a slice of fish thinner than my familiar sashimi. I ate a spicy tuna roll in which the spice snuck up on me and the rice was not the predominant feature. My knowledge has expanded to the house-made sauces that are simple creations in their own right, while being low in sodium and low in sugar.
Keiko is very active in the Hanapepe food community, sponsoring the event Flavors of Hanapepe, which will give participants the food and cultural experiences of Old Historic Hanapepe. She also works tirelessly at supporting local businesses bringing vitality to Hanapepe Town. Visit her at the adjoining boutique, Blu-Umi.
Japanese Grandma’s Cafe is open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Thursday to Monday for dinner from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Dinner leans toward a shareable tapas menu.
Call 855-5016 or visit japanesegrandma.com for more information, including special events and catering in their gorgeous backyard. They are at 3871 Hanapepe Rd.
- Anni Caporuscio is a food lover and can be found daily at her Kapa‘a business, Small Town Coffee.