First Look: The Brilliant Ox at Ala Moana Center
This new gastropub mixes pub fare with local flavors. And no, there’s no ox on the menu.
The Okinawan sweet potato croquettes, left, and Brilliant Ox fries are on the menu at The Brilliant Ox, which opened in January at Ala Moana Center.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
When Pearl Ultralounge, which hugged the makai end of Ala Moana Center’s Ho‘okipa Terrace, closed five years ago, it left a void not only at the mall but in my heart.
It had been my go-to place for drinks with single girlfriends, usually at parties marketed as “networking events.” (We all knew why we were there.) And when it suddenly closed due to infrastructure issues—water damage and mold—we were left with nowhere to go.
That’s OK—we aged out of these events anyway, got married, had kids. No reason to go back.
Except now—but for entirely different reasons.
Last month, The Brilliant Ox, a gastropub helmed by chef Brian Gremillion (formerly of Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop in New York City and Delfina in San Francisco), took over the cavernous space, updating the decór without making it unrecognizable to Pearl regulars like me. The dining room spreads across two rooms with their own bars—a plus!—and feels spacious, 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 booth phone—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.
The ox is the clue you’re in the right place.
Inside The Brilliant Ox, which occupies the old Pearl Ultralounge space.
The lunch menu—which, when we ate here two weeks ago, was the same as the dinner menu—features dishes that blend pub-style foods with local flavors: a platter of roasted bone marrow with pickled ali‘i mushrooms and shallots ($25), mochiko chicken thighs with yuzu-black pepper and shiso ranch ($13), Scotch egg katsu using ground chicken sausage and Bull-Dog tonkatsu sauce ($12).
(Gremillion says the new lunch menu, which will launch soon, will feature more sandwiches and donburi options.)
One of the most popular starters since it 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. This is a delightful starter, both fresh and refreshing.
The lup cheong jam makes the Okinawan sweet potato croquette dish.
The golden marinated beets feature a goat cheese mousse and a red beet umeboshi relish.
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 itself 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 but not in any super interesting way.
The standout dish, however, is the Brilliant 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 the 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.
The popular teriyaki beef short ribs come with Brussels sprouts and grilled pineapple.
The standout at The Brilliant Ox is the burger with a house-made Ox Sauce that gets its umami from white miso and kim chee.
Happy hour starts this Friday and runs every day from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. Brunch is scheduled for late March or early April. And people are already asking for late-night menus, with some old Pearl regulars coming in just for old times’ sake.
Oh, I can relate.
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., #3230, in the old Pearl Ultralounge, (808) 377-4803, thebrilliantox.com
Brunch like you mean it at HONOLULU Magazine’s BrunchFest presented by American Savings Bank on Sunday, March 25 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at SALT at Our Kaka‘ako. Embrace the relaxed Sunday Funday vibe with seven local chefs, live entertainment, lawn games and a photo booth during this unique dining experience. Tickets on sale now. Click here.