Pai Honolulu (Finally) Launches Happy Hour with Rotating Bites and Cocktails
Downtown workers have been waiting.
PHOTOS: CATHERINE TOTH FOX
When Pai Honolulu first opened in June last year, chef-owner Kevin Lee hadn’t planned on running any happy hour specials.
It just wouldn’t have fit what he was trying to do: prix fixe menus with dishes painstakingly plated and purposefully delivered in a specific order and pace. Happy hour would mean shareable plates, a quick turnaround and mass chaos!
OK, so we’re exaggerating on that last part. But happy hour would definitely change the vibe.
Or would it?
Lee never wanted to run a stuffy restaurant that intimidated diners. In fact, that was the reason behind the name—Pai is shortened from the Hawaiian word hoʻopai, which means to encourage or rouse. And he wanted his staff to be creative and playful in the kitchen. This new happy hour menu, which launches Tuesday and runs nightly from 4:30 to 6:30, allows for all of that.
“This is a totally different dining style,” Lee says.
And yet, it seems to fit.
Consider the initial lineup for the launch: Kumamoto oysters topped with njdula (a spreadable spicy pork salami, pronounced en-DOO-ya) and butter, then broiled and finished with lemon juice ($4 for two pieces); a salad of smoked saba mixed with shredded cabbage, thinly sliced onions and a ginger vinaigrette ($6); and a gorgeous spinach and peekytoe crab (a variety of Atlantic rock crab) dip in a house-baked sourdough bread bowl and served with pork chicharrones, sourdough crisps and shrimp chips ($18). (Lee has been working on perfecting house-made breads for the past five months.)
These are not your typical pau hana plates.
“We’re in Downtown and we wanted to provide something new for happy hour,” says the general manager—and Lee’s wife—Justine Kadokawa Lee.
A must-try on the menu is an adobo-flavored pork head cheese terrine that’s breaded and deep fried and served in a soft bao bun ($4 per piece). What seals this dish is the adobo crème fraîche and pickled Fresno chili on top. We loved the combinations of influences—Filipino, Chinese, European—and with such familiar flavors, you won’t really care that you’re eating jellied pork heads.
The dish we suspect will become Pai’s most popular during happy hour is the house-made tater tots ($5), tossed in furikake and served with a roasted garlic and tare mayo that’s crazy addictive. It’s pau hana comfort food.
From left, Pai 55, Drift Away, Bucket List
Three cocktails are available only during happy hour, at $8 each: the herby, spicy and lemony Bucket List (H by Hine cognac, Bénédictine, Yellow Chartreuse and lemon), the bright and bubbly Drift Away (El Tesoro tequila, Falernum, grapefruit and soda), and the refreshing Pai 55 (Plymouth Gin, St. Germain, lemon and sparkling wine). The latest drink menu—it changes often—also features a $5 glass of white wine, a $7 glass of red and two $5 draft beers.
Dishes and cocktails on the happy hour menu are exclusive to pau hana and not available on the dinner menu. Lee is giving the kitchen creative freedom on dishes that will change regularly, based on ingredients and inspiration.
He has also created new à la carte options for the dining room—the restaurant had only offered a prix fixe menu in the dining room and a prix fixe tasting menu at the chef’s counter—to give diners more flexibility. Later this month, the dinner menu will change, too, to celebrate the restaurant’s one-year anniversary.
Tuesday’s happy hour launch coincides with the completion of the restaurant’s outdoor seating. Another two-dozen people can enjoy the existing prix fixe and new à la carte and happy hour menus outside. (The tasting menu is still only available at the chef’s counter.)
Pai just gave us one more reason to stay in town before heading home on a weeknight.
Harbor Court, 55 Merchant St., Suite 110, happy hour runs from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in the bar, lounge and outdoor seating, (808) 744-2531, paihonolulu.com.
Bring the family down to the Best of Honolulu Festival July 14 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Honolulu Hale civic grounds. Eat at ‘ono food booths, shop local designers in the marketplace, bring the family to the keiki zone for face painting, balloon animals, rides, games and more. For more information, visit honolulumagazine.com/bestofhonolulu.