Izakaya Matsu Serves Up Traditional Japanese Pub Fare (Maui Now) May31


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Izakaya Matsu Serves Up Traditional Japanese Pub Fare (Maui Now)

potatoe croquetteIzakaya Matsu, located in the Makai Azeka Shopping Center, offers a unique opportunity to sample some traditional Japanese pub fare here on Maui.

If you aren’t already familiar, an izakaya is a Japanese tavern that serves Japanese-style tapas, making it akin to a Japanese gastropub.

(We will now back off of the use of the word “Japanese.”)

The term itself is a compound consisting of “i” (to stay) and “sakaya” (sake shop).

In plain English – ba dum tss – this is the kind of place intended for nuking a few hours while enjoying some fine food and adult beverages with friends.


When you approach an izakaya menu, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel hungry?”

Well, do ya punk?

We hope so, because Izakaya Matsu’s menu is unabashedly massive.

If you were under the impression that the only way to get your fill of soft, velvety, creepy snake-like eel was to order it in sushi, then we have got some happy news for you.

The Unagi Kabayaki ($11.95) is guaranteed to bring tears of joy to your eyes.

Two large pieces of the filleted sea creature arrive beautifully prepared. Tender, moist and flavorful, they are perfectly complemented by the sweet and salty eel sauce drizzled on top.


We didn’t think so.

Remember that documentary that exposes the cruel circumstances under which squid in American marine mammal theme parks and are forced to do tricks for a delighted, blissfully ignorant audience?

Oh wait.

That didn’t happen because squid are also creepy… and delicious.

If you’ve ever hogged all the tentacles and left the big round rubberband-like mantle pieces behind for everybody else, this is your dish.

The Deep Fried Squid Tentacles ($7.95) are a traditional izakaya offering and offer nothing but sweet, sweet tentacles, baby.
The meat is tender and the flavor complex – almost as though it had been quickly grilled before being lightly battered and fried.Who doesn’t love these fried curly pieces of cephalopod?

If you’re feeling offended over that whole rubberband comment, there’s good news for you too. Izakaya Matsu also offers a Deep Fried Squid Cutlet ($5.95) for those who prefer the large, flat mantle meat.

As previously noted, the menu is gargantuan, but thoughtfully sorted into logical sections like “deep-fried,” “roasted/grilled,” or “noodles.” If that weren’t enough, the wall adjacent each table is adorned with additional daily specials to choose from.

We tried the Spicy Miso Chicken ($8.50).
The chicken is well-prepared and familiar; a good jumping-off point for izakaya newbies.A katsu-style cutlet arrives with a rich, miso-based gravy equipped with a firm kick.

The restaurant is small and served by just one waitress who is (seemingly) always there.

She is quite possibly a twin, a clone or maybe a robot.

Incredibly sweet and gracious – yet as efficient as Batman – she remains wholly unobtrusive unless you need her. Just as you begin to formulate the sentence necessary to demand more food, she magically appears.

Our money’s on robot.

Domo arigato, indeed.
Panko-battered mashed potatoes are clearly a genius idea, and this was one of the better versions of the dish we’ve had.The Potato Croquettes ($4.95) served with tonkatsu sauce are another izakaya standard.

Warm and comforting, deceptively simple, and yet – despite all that exuberant creaminess – in possession of some depth.

By and large the menu provides good value, even considering the portions can be smallish and the dishes are meant to be shared.

The one exception may be the teensy weensy bowl of Rice ($2.50). Just consider it the movie theater popcorn of the izakaya experience: they’ve got to cover that overhead somewhere.
It is what it is.Said overhead, however, was not spent on decor. The restaurant is drab and ambiance non-existent, as if they just moved in last week (they didn’t).

If you’re wondering if Izakaya Matsu serves sushi, the answer is yes; an entire page worth of offerings, in fact.

However, in our experience, it’s tough to do both excellent sushi and great izakaya at the same time.

Most izakayas serve sushi, but this isn’t what they’re known for. There’s rarely a sushi counter and the offerings, while fresh and consistent, are never going to be amazing compared to what you’d find at a restaurant dedicated to raw fish.

To put it simply, there aren’t  enough skillz to pay da bills on both fronts with a skeleton crew.

As if proving our point, the Salmon Nigiri ($6.50) was serviceable, but not memorable.
On that note, the Roasted Mackerel With Salt ($7.95) was another beautifully prepared dish.Start out with an order of sashimi or a nigiri or two, but spend most of your time with the cooked izakaya offerings and you’ll be happiest.

Served with the skin still on one side, it’s scored, salted and precisely roasted. The resulting mouthful pairs tender, moist fish with the contrasting crispness of the briny skin.

Squeeze a little lemon on, and it’s nothing short of delightful.

They say it’s the simple things, and in the case of Izakaya Matsu, they’re right.