Eat Here Now: Six New Restaurants in Honolulu

Hawaii is a great place to eat, and it seems to get better all the time. Here are six of our favorite new eateries that have opened in the past year.


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Roasted maitake mushroom, pickled hon shimiji and cauliflower puree at Prima.

Panna cotta is served as an appetizer, paired with fennel marmalade and coffee salt. A tandoori preparation does away with meat; instead, half a pear is blackened with warm, Indian spices and cooled with yogurt, grapefruit and mint. These are dishes like no other in Hawaii. The presentation alone will tell you that. What sounds like a simple mushroom salad is presented like a creature from Prometheus, though the tail, a swoosh of cauliflower puree, causes a wide swath of gustatory satisfaction, rather than death and alien procreation.

Prima will source ingredients as carefully as Alan Wong’s, but this is a technique-driven restaurant; what’s more interesting than where the food came from is what the chefs have done with it.

One section of Prima’s menu that hews traditional, however, are the pizzas, Neopolitan-style with thin, chewy crusts. The Prima chefs made a name for themselves with their pizzas at V-Lounge, which were devoured by gourmands, families who eschew Chuck E. Cheese and breakdancers sobering up at 3 a.m. Maybe it’s the $20,000 Stefano Ferrara oven, or Prima’s more refined interior, but the pizzas here seem better. They are the perfect complement for the menu’s series of small plates, to round out the meal, and the crusts the perfect utensils for sopping up any of the sauces, from the poached egg and chicken jus to the panang curry left over from the clams.


Takanori Wada at work in the kitchen, where the cabinets are made of the same cherry wood as the dining room tables.

photo: olivier koning

Wada

611 Kapahulu Ave., 737-0125, restaurantwada.com.

Seiji Kumagawa, the chef of Sushi Sasabune, came into Wada one night and ate at the bar. As Takanori Wada, the chef of his eponymous restaurant, tells it, Kumagawa said the food was very good, but with time and instruction, Wada could be an even better restaurant, like Sushi Sasabune.

Wada didn’t think much of the comment (“His rice is too warm,” Wada says). I don’t think he’ll be seeking Kumagawa’s advice anytime soon. Wada’s more of an I-can-do-it-myself type anyway. He’s worked at Man Ray, a now-closed French restaurant in Manhattan, and Sushi Samba, both in New York and Chicago, and now he’s doing his own thing. The menu is his, of course, and so is the design of the restaurant, from the kitchen to the tables to the cherry-wood walls. (The wood panels run out about three-quarters of the way through the restaurant, due to a miscalculation.) Wada even makes the ceramic dishes, which tend to have simple, organic shapes. They cradle some sublime combinations: duck slices and yuba, soft, fresh beancurd sheets in a thickened shoyu sauce; fried mozzarella in a light dashi. The sashimi here is impeccable, the quality rivaling Honolulu’s top sushi bars. But don’t expect sushi; there’s only one, with raw Washugyu beef (a cross between Wagyu and Angus) and uni. Much of the menu is unfamiliar. You’ll need a sense of adventure to try shuto ae, basically fresh, raw seafood in fermented fish guts, or fried-squid cartilage with steamed Manila clams. But the ishiyaki hirami is a crowd-pleaser: tender nuggets of beef and a mound of garlic, onions and mushrooms cooked quickly tableside on a stone grill.
 


Bob McGee of The Whole Ox Deli demonstrates how to eat the half-pound dry-aged burger. You're gonna need that napkin, Bob.

photo: matt mallams

The Whole Ox Deli

327 Keawe St., 699-6328, wholeoxdeli.com. (Open for dinner this month.)

The Whole Ox has perfected the porchetta sandwich, each bite yielding tender pork, fat and crackling skin. A touch of fennel marmalade brings a light sweetness to this composition. The porchetta comes at the sacrifice of a pig, deboned, brined for three days in brown sugar, salt and fennel seed, rolled up like a log and cooked slowly over the Labesse Giraudon rotisserie, until the skin is crispy.

It is just one of the satisfying sandwiches at The Whole Ox, an eatery where Bob McGee, formerly of Apartment3, 12th Ave Grill and Salt, hopes to “save the world, one sandwich at a time,” he says. He uses whole, local animals for his meats, which is no small feat—the process needs a lot of refrigerator space as well as butchery know-how and patience. Patience in waiting for the brisket to cure for two weeks and transform into pastrami for the reuben, patience in collecting all the meat bits (non-steak cuts and innards) to press into terrines.

Andrade Ranch on Kauai supplies the cows for Whole Ox’s dry-aged hamburger, Malama Farm on Maui the pigs for breakfast sausage and Canadian ham, Shinsato the pork for the porchetta.

Honolulu artists Satoro Abe and John Koga were so taken with The Whole Ox's philosophy, they have placed in the restaurant's care some of Jerry Okimoto’s last sculptures: a cleaver and chef’s knife, each made with pressed plywood, each over ten feet tall. Abe thinks the sawdust from Okimoto’s woodwork is what eventually killed him, just as I imagine McGee’s meat-heavy, delicious sandwiches will be the end of us. But what a way to go.

Click here to watch our web exclusive video featuring Prima and The Whole Ox Deli.

 

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