Vegan and Gluten-free Dining in Hawaii
Vegan? Gluten-free? Plant yourself at one of these eateries, where less is more.
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Haute Veg Pioneers
Alan Wong’s and Chef Mavro, two of the most lauded restaurants on Oahu, have long had vegetarian tasting menus that are as seasonal and delicious as the “regular” dishes. Chef Mavro posts the menu on its website—the spring vegetarian menu included a vegan dish that presented asparagus in four ways. Alan Wong’s will accommodate vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu requests—all you have to do is give the restaurant 48 to 72 hours notice. The tasting menu might include something like ginger-crusted tofu or kal bi-style grilled eggplant.
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
Five percent—3.14 million—of Americans consider themselves vegetarian, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. About a third of those people are vegans, which means besides not eating meat, they don’t consume any animal products, such as butter and eggs. And, despite all the “nose-to-tail” dinners and bacon blogs, meat consumption in the U.S. is on the decline.
In its long-term projections released last year, the USDA foresees annual average consumption of red meat and poultry falling from a high of more than 221 pounds per capita in 2007 to less than 198 pounds by the end of 2013. Which would explain the increase in numbers of flexitarians (people who follow a plant-based diet but will take a bite of your really delicious beef stew anyway).
Another 3.4 million Americans have celiac disease—an autoimmune disorder triggered by eating gluten, a form of protein found in wheat, barley and rye. In addition, countless others have gluten and wheat sensitivities. These people (including me) can’t stop at a Subway and have a sandwich. They can’t even eat a handful of arare—have a look at the ingredients label.
Last fall, Nobu Waikiki introduced a gluten-free menu. It’s short, but oh so good.
Along with sashimi selections—which you enjoy with wheat-free shoyu—is a hearts of palm pepperoncini ($20) that is the best raw-food dish available on the island. Using a special machine, the kitchen finely cuts the hearts of palm so they are like angel hair spaghetti, and tosses them with olive oil, garlic, chili flakes, salt, dry miso, and chives, with a little toupee of togarashi. The result is an achingly good plate of “I can’t believe it’s not pasta” deliciousness, while highlighting the versatility of hearts of palm. Greens and Vines does a “pasta” with zucchini, but it never rises above being a pile of zucchini.
Nobu Waikiki: Waikiki Parc Hotel, 2233 Helumoa Road, 237-6999
Surprise Waikiki spot for vegans
Executive chef Jason Peel has been doing exciting things at Roy’s Waikiki—like making deconstructed pork belly bao, and honey-glazed duck with a sour beet puree and julienned cantaloupe. And he hasn’t ignored those with dietary restrictions. His four-course vegan dinner is a winner—and a bargain at $41.50. You start with a spicy chickpea “tuna” roll that holds its own against the real thing. Next, Peel reworks the pork bao as a grilled mushroom bao with pickled hearts of palm (for the wheat-free, Peel subsitutes his refreshing watermelon “poke”—a lineup of deep pink watermelon cubes in a Thai-style chili vinaigrette and topped with puffed rice and fresh herbs). Finally, he gives spiced, seared tofu Moroccan flair in the form of preserved lemon-chili-basil foam and a relish of cranberries and candied nuts. Dessert is a fresh strawberry shortcake with whipped coconut cream and coconut-soy gelato (wheat-free folks get Il Gelato sorbetto).
Roy’s Waikiki: Embassy Suites, 226 Lewers St., 923-7697, royshawaii.com
For vegetarians and vegans who eat like they’re not
Simple Joy: The place for mock-meat eaters. At eclectic, all-vegan Simple Joy you can have a “burger,” “chickun” in a slew of pasta dishes, and faux shrimp tempura ($8.95-10.95). But why be a vegetarian if you’re so desperate for animal flesh that you’re willing to eat this food-like substance?
1145 S. King St., 591-1911, simplejoyhawaii.com
Loving Hut: The two locations tout “homemade vegan food” and it takes about as long as someone cooking at home to give you your lunch. Try the veggie take on everything from sweet and sour pork to chicken katsu ($7.50-9.50). Part of the international chain of Loving Huts started by the organization Supreme Master Ching Hai International.
1102 Pensacola St., 626-5626, lovinghut.us/honolulu. 1614 S. King St., 373-6465.