The Brilliant Ox Serves Savory Pub-Style Fare, Even at Brunch
There are nearly 100 eateries at Ala Moana Center now, ranging from takeout poke spots to sit-down restaurants with ocean views. So how is a new place supposed to stand out?
Teriyaki beef short ribs.
Photos: Steve Czerniak
That’s the challenge for The Brilliant Ox, a gastropub that opened in January in the cavernous space of the former Pearl Ultralounge on the mauka end of the center’s Ho‘okipa Terrace. Helmed by chef Brian Gremillion (formerly of Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in New York City and Delfina in San Francisco), the restaurant is striving to be a go-to spot—for lunch meetings, pau hana, breaks between shopping and, most recently, languid brunches on the weekend.
Its menu is full of comfort-food favorites: gooey poutine, roasted chicken with twice-cooked potatoes and a glorious burger that pays homage to the classic Big Mac. When it first opened, the menu was fairly small, with about a dozen dishes served at both lunch and dinner. But over the next few months, Gremillion played with the lineup, adding and removing dishes, creating a separate lunch menu and expanding the dinner options. He launched brunch in April with a croissant French toast with liliko‘i custard, kim chee omelet with crispy pork belly, and a surprisingly popular fried green tomato BLT inspired by Gremillion’s upbringing in New Orleans.
Scotch egg katsu, with ground chicken sausage, Bull-Dog tonkatsu sauce, cabbage and bonito flakes.
“We had a few struggles early on,” he says. “But now we’re hitting our stride.”
The first time I walked into The Brilliant Ox, I was immediately transported to 2009, when my (single) girlfriends and I would head to Pearl for pau hana cocktails, networking events—remember Asian Table?—and GNOs. The décor has been updated with dark wood floors and clusters of pendant lights hanging from the ceiling. Other design touches include a large sculpture of an ox at the front door and a red phone booth—a nod to the pubs of London—where you can snap a photo and upload it directly to social media. The restaurant’s got a very modern Western vibe, for sure.
I first had lunch here in February, about a month after it opened. The menu featured pub-style dishes with local flavors, many of which are still on the menu: roasted bone marrow with pickled ali‘i mushrooms and shallots ($14), crispy pork belly with a chili-garlic sauce and grilled cabbage ($21) and a Scotch egg katsu using ground chicken sausage and Bull-Dog tonkatsu sauce ($12). Replacing the mochiko chicken thighs is a spicy chicken sandwich with shredded Romaine lettuce, pickled onions and a shiso-ranch sauce served in a sesame seed bun ($13). Gremillion has also added a grilled avocado toast with seared ‘ahi ($18, lunch and brunch only) and a beer-battered fish sandwich with green papaya slaw and a tartar sauce brightened with charred jalapeño peppers ($15 for lunch, $20 for dinner.
The popular Okinawan sweet potato croquettes feature a meaty and sweet lup cheong jam and sambal mayo.
One of the most popular starters since the restaurant opened is the Okinawan sweet potato croquettes ($10), which, on their own, are fine. What takes this beyond just another plate of deep-fried mashed potatoes is the house-made lup cheong jam, which is both meaty and sweet. The spicy sambal mayo is a nice touch, too.
We enjoyed the golden marinated beets ($12), a collection of red and yellow beets stacked on a slather of goat cheese mousse with a red beet umeboshi relish and topped with locally grown microgreens. It’s a delightful starter, both fresh and refreshing.
Golden marinated beets come stacked atop goat cheese.
The teriyaki beef short ribs ($26) are another popular item, playfully plated with the cleaned-off rib bone. “The idea is mainly to show that this is not some random act of meat,” Gremillion explains. The meat is tender and tasty; the flavors are very local though not surprising or different. The accompanying Brussels sprouts and grilled pineapple add to the dish, though not in any remarkable way. It’s a tasty plate of food but pricey, especially for lunch.
The standout dish, however, is the Ox Burger ($14.50), a ridiculously juicy and delicious burger featuring two 4-ounce all-beef patties with melted American cheese, lettuce and tomato slices between freshly made La Tour Bakehouse buns. What makes this burger so spectacular, at least to me, is the Ox Sauce, Gremillion’s take on McDonald’s Big Mac special sauce. He combines ketchup, mayo, mustard, paprika, white miso and vegetarian kim chee to create a crazy-good sauce that he should seriously consider bottling and selling. The matching Brilliant Ox Fries ($10) are equally tasty, topped with oxtail gravy, an aged cheddar fondue and black pepper.
“It’s a classic burger that, when you taste it, it’s just really, really good,” Gremillion says.
Unique to dinner is the spice-roasted chicken, brined in chili water and cooked in garlic butter and lemon, served with twice-baked potatoes ($21). The roasted bone marrow that’s offered at lunch is served as a platter at night.
Gremillion is taking full advantage of the current brunch trend, offering eight inventive dishes from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. (It’s currently the only restaurant at Ala Moana Center with a distinct brunch menu.) Instead of basic pancakes and omelets, think scrambled eggs paired with bone marrow and cheddar fondue ($15) or the Brilliant Benedict with a hollandaise sauce made with oxtail ($14). Gremillion has put a lot of thought into each dish. Even the croissant French toast, which sounds simple, takes more than the usual effort. He dries out the croissants for a day to get them hard and crunchy before soaking them in a house-made liliko‘i custard to create something Gremillion admits he craves.
The Ox Burger comes with a crazy-good sauce of ketchup, mayo, mustard, paprika, white miso and vegetarian kim chee.
“We didn’t reinvent brunch,” he says. “It’s just our take. I wanted to make sure brunch was something everybody would love. It’s something people are familiar with but with a twist on it. That’s been our food from the get-go.”
Don’t expect much in terms of dessert; the restaurant only offers one—a liliko‘i parfait that’s fairly forgettable. But Gremillion, who confesses he’s been too busy focusing on lunch and brunch to worry about dessert, is planning to expand it soon. And he’s considering serving ramen, maybe with oxtail and bone marrow, on Sundays. He’s working with Sun Noodle on a dish right now.
“I base everything on how empty the plates are when they come back to the kitchen,” Gremillion says. “And we’re bringing back a lot of empty plates.”
Lunch: Monday to Friday, 11a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner: Daily, from 3 p.m.; Happy Hour: Daily, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.; Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m; The Brilliant Ox, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., #3230, 377-4803, thebrilliantox.com
You can’t go wrong with the Ox Burger, especially balanced with the golden marinated beets. The poutine is heavy and should be shared. And plan on getting dessert somewhere else. Good thing you’re at the mall!