Where there's smoke, there's taste at Smoke Camp in Okinawa City
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 8, 2017
Few things are more Japanese than a restaurant with a gimmick; however, those become increasingly rare the farther you venture from the cultural glitter cannons of Tokyo and Osaka.
For that reason, I was a bit leery when I heard about a new restaurant on the sleepy Awase bay street of Okinawa City that offers more than 50 homemade smoked dishes. Even the nuts are smoked.
Half-expecting to see Cheech and Chong grinning at me from behind the counter, I decided to give Smoke Camp Dining a go on a recent rainy evening. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Smoke Camp was one of the best dining experiences I have had on the island. Everything about it was enjoyable. Prices were cheap; the wood decor was warm and inviting; the booth-like seating areas were private and comfortable; the cocktails were strong but delicious; and the food was vibrant, light and healthy.
It was everything I look for in a restaurant or a quiet place to enjoy cocktails with friends after a long week of work.
For those with a big appetite, Smoke Camp offers a course menu, five dishes and two hours with unlimited drinks for 3,000 yen (or about $27). Choices include a meat assortment of African-grilled chicken, spareribs, bacon, sausage and risotto or baked onigiri (rice ball), or a smoked platter of homemade sausage with a bechamel (white) sauce, shishamo (fish), tako (octopus), mentaiko (pollock roe), iburigakko (pickled daikon radish), chicken, nuts and their pasta of the day. The courses also come with a carpaccio starter and a French toast, ice cream crepe (vanilla or gelato) for dessert.
For those who merely like to munch while they drink, they also offer an a la carte menu, complete with light, small-plate, tapas-style fare.
Our party started off with a smoked duck salad with green onions for 600 yen. It was the perfect size for two at an outstanding price. Lightly dressed with oil and vinegar, the colors of the lettuce, red cabbage and carrots were like a painting, arriving on a stone slab.
I’m no expert on how smoked duck should taste, but it was moist and had good flavor.
We ordered the tomato and avocado ajillo with bread for the table for 500 yen. The olive oil came hot, infused with garlic, rosemary and lemon to accompany the heaping pile of avocado slices and tomatoes. It sang from atop the thinly sliced Italian bread.
We tried the whole charcoal-grilled shrimp for 580 yen. The five shrimp arrived on a bed of greens. They were succulent and seemed to melt in my mouth. The smoked octopus for 500 yen was chewy and tasted sublime when sprinkled with a little ajillo oil.
Other highlights from Smoke Camp’s menu included thinly sliced raw tuna for 1,000 yen, smoked scallops for 500 yen, soft charcoal-grilled spareribs for 580 yen, lamb on the bone smoked with apple chips for 880 yen and smoked tandoori chicken for 650 yen.
Drinks start at 300 yen for non-alcoholic choices like coffee and juice. Alcoholic beverages start at 350 yen for certain beers and 380 yen for a glass of sangria and go as high as 1,600 yen for a double of Yamazaki whiskey, considered one of the best in the world.
I tried the ginger ale high ball (400 yen), a delicate tight-rope walk of a drink. Add too much ginger ale and it is too sweet and unappealing; too much generic whiskey and it becomes a glass of rusty nails. Again, Smoke Camp was right on the money. The drink was perfection.
The restaurant also has a comprehensive wine list.
For dessert, Smoke Camp has something to satisfy that sweet tooth as well. Choices include gelato; mango and berry French toast with ice cream; affogato; and a double chocolate brownie. You can also try toasted marshmallow with ice cream, in keeping with the smoked, wood, camping motif.
I’ll definitely be back to Smoke Camp. It seemed like a strange fetish at first, but ended up being a lot more than smoke and mirrors.
Location: 4 Chome-31-3 Awase, Okinawa-shi, Okinawa-ken, Japan, 904-2172
Hours: Open 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, Sundays and Japanese holidays; 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays and the day before a Japanese holiday. Closed Mondays.
Prices: Small plates of food start at only a couple of dollars. Check the website for coupons.
Information: 098-937-3993; https://smokecamp.owst.jp/en