This traditional Japanese restaurant along Aguirre (near the Elizalde stoplight) -- now entering its seventh year of business -- is helmed by none other than the former chef of the posh Tsukiji restaurant in Makati, Hiroaki Otsuka. If you're a fan of Japanese food you'll already know what that means; if not, then let us quote you what they've put at the front page of their menu: "Fresh Sushi. Delectable sashimi. Crispy tempura. Tender Beef Sukiyaki. Mouth-watering Ebi Ten Maki." The descriptions do not exaggerate. From a small restaurant, Hanakazu has expanded its space to accommodate its growing clientele, a testament to Chef Otsuka's labor of love.
We ordered a perennial favorite, the Ebi Ten Maki, a sushi roll tenderly cradling crisp ebi tempura slices in its center; Miso Soup; a refreshing Kani Salad; Yakiniku (grilled beef); and Yakimeshi (fried rice).
All the dishes were made to the high standard that this popular restaurant has come to be known for -- all the ingredients are top-grade and fresh, the flavors light and ethereal, very well balanced -- you can see the chef's expertise in the way every roll of sushi here is rolled just so, the sashimi cut so neatly you'd swear fish grow in neat rectangles and lozenges.
A new revelation for us was the Kani Salad, a beautiful light salad of lettuce and assorted greens, carrots, and kani strips, tossed in a light semi-sweet mayo dressing and topped with strips of dried seaweed. The serving of this salad was surprisingly large, easily good for sharing among three or four. On its own, it can make a pretty filling meal for a health-conscious diner. We also loved our Yakiniku, the beef so tender we could tear apart the strips easily with our chopsticks, with a light soy-pepper-slightly-sweet flavor. The beef went perfectly with our sticky Yakimeshi.
The rest of the week, though, is spent keeping up the quality that Hanakazu's become known for. Though the restaurant opens at 11:30 a.m., Hiroaki arrives early to begin making the ramen broth, which he insists on making fresh every day. He also does the marketing for ingredients himself every three days, and they regularly receive shipments of locally hard-to-find items from Japan.
That passionate attention to detail is evident in every bite here at Hanakazu, which is why we've been regular customers since 2005. The staff even remembers my friends and I as "that noisy gang that always makes such a ruckus in the tatami room but orders a lot!", said with a smile, of course. Lorna said that their loyal customers now have "Hanakazu babies" -- you could say that we could count ourselves among them as well.