Hawaii Restaurant Chefs Recommend
Chef Recommends: Everyone envisions chefs laboring away at the hot stove, so much so that we sometimes forget they do venture out of their kitchens, eat at other restaurants, try new dishes and relax with friends around a table.
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Chef Robin Lee of Nobu Waikiki eating the quattro formaggio at J.J. Dolan's.
Photo: Mark Arbeit
Executive Chef at Nobu Waikiki
At his restaurant: Kurobota pork belly, ($20 for small, $40 for large).
"You can’t go wrong with the Nobu classics—yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, black cod miso,” Lee says. “But a special that we do here, that you can’t get at any of the other Nobus, is our pork belly.” For this off-the-menu dish, Kurobota pork belly is cooked slowly in duck fat, then pan-seared “so it’s crispy on the outside, meltingly tender on the inside,” he says. The pork is swiped with spicy miso and paired with sautéed brussels sprouts. Waikiki Parc, 2233 Helumoa Road, 237-6999, noburestaurants.com/Waikiki.
He also recommends: Quattro formaggio at J.J. Dolan’s ($17).
“My latest thing is pizza,” Lee says. He admits he may be starting a pizza war between the J.J. Dolan and V Lounge camps, and, while he turns to both pizzerias to satisfy his cravings, at the moment, the four-cheese pizza at J.J.’s tops his list. It’s not hard to see why: This decadent pie is laden with havarti, brie, Gouda and fontina cheeses. 1147 Bethel St., 537-4992, jjdolans.com.
Chef at Hilo Bay Café
At his restaurant: The fish special (price varies).
"I always recommend the fish special on my menu,” Ketner says. “It changes every day. We get whatever fresh fish in the morning that’s at the market, and we develop the dish to the fish. Each fish is different, so you have to treat it differently.” Recent specials included a pan-roasted bigeye ahi with sautéed spinach and potatoes in a Dungeness-crab curry cream sauce; blackened ono with smoked bacon and sweet-corn polenta, asparagus tips, a green chile sauce and snow-crab guacamole. 315 E. Makaala St., Hilo, (808) 935-4939, hilobaycafe.com.
He also recommends: Prime rib at Kaleo’s Bar and Grill ($25).
Admittedly, it was difficult to get Ketner to name a place—he eats most meals outside of the restaurant at home with his family—but, in the end, he settled on Kaleo’s prime rib. There are few plates as classic as a prime rib with mashed potatoes; it’s apropos that Ketner, who has his own meat and potatoes dish on his menu, orders this on his nights off. “It’s seasoned well and properly cooked, with an au jus that isn’t watered down,” he says. 15-2969 Pahoa Village Road, Pahoa, (808) 965-5600, kaleoshawaii.com.
Chef de Cuisine at Merriman's Waimea
At his restaurant: Loco moco ($12.95).
It's not a really good loco moco— it’s bacon and eggs for dinner. “You don’t see eggs at dinner anymore, it’s kind of an old-school way of eating, and in a lot of Asian cultures,” Hess says. For his interpretation of a loco moco, house-cured, thick-cut bacon is complemented with a poached egg and a coffee barbecue sauce. A soft-poached egg, when broken, becomes the gravy for this not-your-usual loco moco. Macadamia-nut rice sops up any errant yolk. 65-1227 Opelo Road, Waimea, (808) 885-6822, merrimanshawaii.com.
He also recommends: Hawaiian-Style Misoyaki Butterfish at Roy’s (appetizer $19, entrée $39.50).
“All in all, it's a real tasty dish,” Hess says of the misoyaki butterfish at Roy’s. “It has a spicy, lomi-tomato relish, and the fish seared a la plancha gives a caramelized flavor to the misoyaki.” It’s served with rice, which soaks up the richness of the fish and sauce. 250 Waikoloa Beach Drive, (808) 886-4321, roysrestaurant.com.
Chef at Blue Dragon
At his restaurant: Grilled shrimp and scallops with mango habañero coulis ($28).
Bunnell marinates shrimp and scallops in tequila and lime zest before grilling, and then fi nishes the seafood with a mango habañero coulis that’s “very fresh and tropical,” he says. “The sauce is my favorite part about it. It’s kind of spicy and a little bit sweet from the mango.” He serves it with sautéed vegetables—zucchini, summer squash, chard, collard greens, kale, green and yellow beans—“whatever our farm has available that week.” A wedge of grilled avocado provides a perfect, creamy accompaniment. 61-3616 Kawaihae Road, Kawaihae, (808) 882-7771, bluedragonhawaii.com.
He also recommends: Meatball calzone at Café Il Mondo ($10.75).
A café of the world hides in Honokaa. Bunnell’s recommendation comes easy—he’s just returned from lunch at Café Il Mondo, where a variety of calzones draw his appetite. In particular, there’s the meatball calzone—meatballs with marinara sauce, basil pesto, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese, baked into a homemade dough. 45-3626 Mamane St., Honokaa, (808) 775-7711, cafeilmondo.com.