Izakaya Matsu

Dining out should be an adventure. You should be willing to try new things. Like tongue”“cow’s tongue, to be more specific. Tastes like chicken. Okay, it tastes like beef. 

My celebration of tongue and other delicacies took place at a small Japanese establishment, located at the Azeka Plaza (makai side) in Kihei. It’s called Izakaya Matsu and it’s not your traditional sushi bar. In fact, sushi makes up just a fraction of their interesting delicacies. 

I’m a huge sushi fan, so I’m pretty smug about the whole Japanese restaurant thing. I mean, once you know how to tell your tamago from your unagi, what’s the big deal?

But I had the smug slapped right out of me when I looked at Izakaya Matsu’s menu. There was salmon skin salad, ika shiokara (salted squid), ochazuke (rice, salmon, salted plum and konbu), chijimi (Korean-style pancake) and beef tongue with salt, as well as lots of other not-so-exotic things like nigiri sushi, vegetable tempura, soft shell crab and miso butterfish. 

Shabu shabu—a soup in which you put thinly sliced beef or pork—is one of the specialties of the house. Loosely translated, shabu shabu means “swish swish,” which is the sound your soup makes when you move the meat back and forth. It’s meant for two or more and is prepared, by you, right at your table. 

The sukiyaki, not to be confused with the shabu shabu, is another dish on the menu that’s meant to be shared. It’s meat, vegetables and sauce simmered in a skillet at your table. According to one of the owners, these are great dishes for a group of people—kinda like fondue, Japanese-style. And since there’s a minimum of two orders, you don’t eat these on your own. So if you’re there solo you’ll need to order something else off the menu. 

If you’re interested in libations as well as food, you’re in luck. They offer 13 different kinds of sake, ranging from a modest $7 a glass to $30. When serving it, they place a small glass in a little square box and fill it to the top so the sake spills over. Once you finish the glass, you pour anything left in the box into the glass and then drink that.

Sake’s not for everybody, but they also offer shochu. That drink is distilled, rather than fermented, so it packs more of a punch. It’s best served with salted plum. Beer and wine are available if these don’t appeal.

The word “izakaya” actually translates as tavern or pub; in Japan, these places are known more as drinking establishments. But here on Maui, owners Mr. And Mrs. Hideharu Matsumoto and Chef Masa have created a Japanese pupu bar with the feel of a restaurant. 

While the sake was a bust for me (I’m not a fan), I did enjoy everything else I sampled: miso soup with clams; a slightly pickled-tasting spinach dish; yakitori sticks; vegetable tempura; sushi; and, of course, the beef tongue with salt. The servings were pupu style and the service was excellent. My only complaint? I should have really gone for it. I tried the tongue, but I wish I’d also tried the arabiki sausage, ami-yaki, ika shiokara… MTW 

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