New Honolulu Restaurants: Dagon, Goofy Cafe & Dine, Izakaya Torae Torae
Burmese, Surf and Stamina.
Dagon's tea leaf salad is a must try.
PHOTOS: STEVE CZERNIAK
If there is one dish synonymous with Burmese cuisine—at least to Americans—it’s the tea leaf salad, popularized by Burma Superstar in San Francisco. It attracts lines, writers compiling Best Dishes food lists, and the Food Network. It’s a colorful chopped salad of fermented tea leaves, dried shrimp, fried lentils, toasted peanuts, sesame seeds, fried garlic and diced tomatoes, all tossed tableside with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Make sure to try it at Honolulu’s new Burmese restaurant, Dagon. You won’t forget the experience. It’s extra crunchy and zingy—a salad on umami steroids.
The rest of Dagon’s menu feels less exotic: At times, it tastes like a less-refined, blander version of Thai food, with some Indian influences. You may need to ask for a side of lemons and chili to perk up the dishes, such as the Burmese red curry, heavy on the cardamom; vegetable kebat, a stirfry with a tart tamarind and masala sauce; and Burmese Indian rice, which feels a little like chewing potpourri, thanks to the whole spices tossed in.
Dagon is one of the few Burmese restaurants in the U.S. (Burma, now known as Myanmar, only recently opened itself up to foreign tourism, which helps explain why this Southeast Asian cuisine is so underrepresented.) And so, like travelers still a little too timid to venture into a country previously closed off for 50 years, the seasoning at Dagon is also a little shy. But there’s plenty of time for us to warm up to each other.
2671 S. King St., 947-0088.
Izakaya Torae Torae
Torae Torae’s spicy ahi on avocado with fried nori and wonton chips.
Hide Yoshimoto, the former executive chef of Doraku, left that large, splashy sushi restaurant to open this homey, moderately priced izakaya. When we visit, in its opening days, it’s packed with sushi aficionados debating the merits of Mitch’s Sushi, an eating club eager to try the newest hot spot, and, as I enter on a Tuesday evening, a customer who tells the hostess as he leaves, “Thanks! I’ll see you again on Friday!”
It’s easy to get excited about the menu, which runs the spectrum of comfort to creative. From the comfort side: pork belly kakuni, a dish of braised pork belly, daikon and a gorgeously custardy egg. The creative: the lollipop roll, which is a mosaic of seafood (among them: tuna, scallop, salmon, squid) set in a crab salad in lieu of rice, and the whole thing wrapped in cucumber.
The traditional way to finish a meal at an izakaya is with rice, and Torae offers plenty of options. I lean toward the safe, and good, uni and ikura don, but there’s also the Stamina Don, named either because its ingredients will give you stamina, or because you’re going to need it to get through the combined sliminess of natto, okra and grated mountain potato.
1111 McCully St., 949-5959.
Goofy Cafe’s Bowls Rider omelette features corn, Maui surfing goat cheese, spinach, kale and avocado.
Goofy Cafe and Dine
No, it’s not named after the Disney character, but for the right-foot-forward surfing stance. Goofy Cafe, conveniently located near the Waikiki surf spot Bowls, is done up like a surfer’s beach shack, and it serves breakfast all day. It has a lunch and dinner menu, too, but breakfast is really the highlight, with huge acai bowls piled high with fresh fruit and green smoothies poured over chia seeds. Yes, Goofy Cafe’s got the surfer-hippie fare down, but for those requiring something more substantial, there are egg scrambles served in mini skillets and eggs Benedict with pork (but you can’t escape virtuousness, served as a side of raw kale).
Come early or late for French toast that doubles as dessert, topped with creamy Big Island honey and a scoop of fresh whipped cream so thick and delicious it’s like eating ice cream.
Where other surf cafes might have maps of the local surf breaks, Goofy’s shows its farm sources. Its “traceability report” on the menu lists ingredients from Naked Cow Dairy, Otsuji and Shinsato farms, Maui Coffee and Hawaiian Shochu Co., among others. Sit at the bar, and you can get a shochu sour, shaken with that Haleiwa-made, unique sweet potato spirit.
1831 Ala Moana Blvd., second floor, 943-0077, goofy-honolulu.com.