After Six Months, XO Restaurant Keeps It Interesting
Don’t worry, the adobo fried chicken is still on the menu.
XO Restaurant launched a new menu, which includes this pork belly with soy-ginger scallions.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
Most restaurants, after six months of opening, are still trying to figure things out. The chefs may be experimenting with dishes, adding lunch or happy hour menus, trying to find that proverbial sweet spot.
Or they’re just trying to survive.
Not XO Restaurant.
This Kaimukī eatery, which opened in May, seems to have already hit its stride.
Kenny Lee and Aleina Chun have already gone through a couple of menu changes—and not because they had to. They just like trying new things, offering something different to lure diners back.
And this new menu, which launched last month and will run through January, definitely strikes that balance between interesting and innovative.
From left: Chef de cuisine Aleina Chun, chef-owner Kenny Lee and sous chef Harry Ines all met while working at Senia.
For starters, there’s a plate of crispy and slightly spicy chicken skins ($16) accompanied by a crème fraîche dip with smoked trout roe, dill and chives. Then there’s a loaf of Breadshop furikake focaccia ($9) with a side of spreadable furikake Spam butter. (Yes, that’s Spam from the can.) Lee created this green pâté of sorts by finely chopping canned Spam and frying it. Then he puts furikake in a blender and pulverizes it until it’s a fine powder. He combines the two and stirs the mixture into butter, and there you have it. It’s meaty and strange but interesting.
Thai-style lemongrass sausage comes with three different kinds of pickles.
One of the standouts is a plate of burrata, prosciutto, tomato jam and Breadshop rye ($14) that, when combined, is a nice bite of flavors and textures. Our table of diners politely fought over a plate of lemongrass sausage and pickles ($11). The Thai-style sausage, unfortunately not made in house but crazy tasty, is spicy and fatty, all of which is offset by pickled red onions, shimeji mushrooms and cucumbers.
This plate of burrata, prosciutto, tomato jam and Breadshop rye was a hit with our group of diners.
This tomato risotto is a new vegan dish on the menu.
The menu features a couple of new vegetarian dishes, too. The banh mi salad ($10) was another favorite, with spinach, pickled carrots and daikon, big croutons, fresh herbs and peanuts. All the best parts of the sandwich but without the meat. And it worked. The tomato risotto ($13)—actually vegan—is packed with tomatoes and incredibly comforting. It’s the kind of dish that, when you finish it (and you will), doesn’t make you hate yourself after.
Then there are the wow dishes. Brown butter confit cauliflower toped with Asiago cheese and thin slices of seasonal truffle (market price) placed in a squid-ink sauce with kombu and shiitake mushrooms. Dots of a sour coconut sauce—made from the combination of coconut milk, coconut juice, vinegar, sake and mirin—surround the cauliflower. It’s a heavy dish, very sticky and meaty, and the combination of truffle and Asiago cheese makes it funky. You gotta love these flavors.
Another impressive dish is the fried striped bass ($25), served whole with a side of addictive finadene sauce—a salty, sour shoyu-based sauce that's a common condiment in Guam.
Beautifully plated cauliflower with a squid-ink sauce and sour coconut dots.
The plates at XO, including this crispy rice with either unagi or lup cheong, are sharEable.
Other new menu items include a plate of crispy rice with either unagi tare ($16) or sweet lup cheong tare ($12); sous vide duck breast with a plum almondine ($26); slices of pork belly with soy-ginger scallions ($23); wok-seared rib eye topped with a sauce of Thai chilies and roasted garlic and crispy onions ($21); and its popular fried chicken smothered in shiso-ranch dressing ($21) instead of the usual adobo butter sauce.
XO’s popular fried chicken now comes topped with shiso-ranch sauce.
The entire restaurant was recently renovated, too. The tile floor was ripped out, the tabletops are all new, and the bar menu was revamped to include wines picked out by Senia’s sommelier Chris Ramelb.
But some things haven’t changed—adobo fried chicken, ginger fried rice and XO scallops, for example—and that’s a good thing.
3434 Wai‘alae Ave., (808) 732-3838, @Restaurant_XO on Instagram