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This New Hawaiian Cajun Eatery in Waikīkī Brought in a Michelin-Star Chef

This new restaurant gives its chef and house-made cocktails a chance to shine.


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The seafood combo. 
PhotoS: Gus Downes 

 

Waikīkī’s new Crackin’ Kitchen is best seen as an amalgam of current food trends, right down to the faux rustic interior with aged wood. It’s got the chalkboard sign, the cocktails in mason jars and a superbly talented chef punching way below his weight class on a comfort-food menu stressing local ingredients.

 

The restaurant is touted as “Hawaiian Cajun,” in what was once Matteo’s and more recently Blue Hawai‘i. The meal experience is similar to that of other Cajun restaurants on the island. You can order seafood ingredients as a combo or a la carte. The kitchen will then cook them in your choice of sauces and bring them to your table, along with vinyl gloves and tools for shelling, so you can get to work. The crackin’ is done at the table, not in the kitchen.

 

The “Hawaiian” part comes from the local ingredients. As a rule, if it can be sourced in the Islands, it is, from the ginger in your cocktail to the cacao in the black sauce and the shrimp on the table.

 

Chef Takeshi Omae with the rainbow dessert. 

Chef Takeshi Omae earned a Michelin star at the restaurant Omae XEX in Tokyo and has another acclaimed restaurant in Las Vegas. He was brought in to make sauces for seafood dumped from a plastic bag onto your table. Those sauces are what the staff T-shirts are referring to with the question “Red or black?” There is also a white sauce.

 

Red is a Hawaiian chili pepper sauce, tangy, and as spicy as you want it. White is a garlic sauce featuring Maui onions that’s pretty much a scampi, but much more subtle and refined than anything you’d find at a North Shore shrimp truck. The black sauce is the one most worth ordering, for the simple fact that it’s so unusual. Made with local cacao, it tastes like a Mexican mole sauce, but lighter, and bright enough to stand up to the seafood.

 

Of all the seafood options, the clams and mussels work best, with the concave shells acting as scoops for the sauce. The crab legs are delicious, as crab legs often are, but don’t soak up much of the stellar sauces. When we went, some calamari pieces were still raw, but tasty, and the local shrimp were reliably good.

 

There’s also a creamy avocado dip topped with lobster meat, served with house-made potato chips dusted with sea salt and cayenne pepper. The dip manages to be hearty and rich without any greasiness. The chips are tasty but too thin for the dip and crack under the pressure.

 

The chicken wings come in a sweet guava shoyu sauce. While the glaze on the wings was delicious, it made the chicken skin soggy. So the wings were, believe it or not, overshadowed by the delicious spinach salad they were served on, which is tossed with honey, lemon and crushed macadamia nuts.

 

General manager Taku Teramoto worked with beverage director Jonathan Tobon at Megu in Tribeca in New York City and wisely brought him over to craft the new cocktail menu. The drinks are stellar. The ocean mule (a Moscow mule with Ocean Vodka), features a house-made ginger syrup that’s satisfyingly heavy on the ginger. The sangria, which comes infused with kaffir lime, is light, and just fruity enough. The “Lost” is their version of a Manhattan. It’s simply made and expertly mixed: Four Roses bourbon, Carpano Antica vermouth, garnished with an Amarena cherry.

 

The standout cocktail is the Pele: chipotle-infused tequila (made in-house, of course) mixed with liliko‘i and lime. The first sip starts off spicy, then mellows, allowing each flavor to take turns on the back of the tongue.

 

When the meal is over, the butcher paper comes off and the tables are wiped down. If you order dessert, a server prepares the audacious “Rainbow.” This dessert is a spectacle of color and sugar that hits or misses depending on where you sit along this rainbow. A server brings a tray of fruit, pastries and syrups in shot glasses and paints the table into a beachscape, with a fruit syrup rainbow and blue sugar sky. For “sand,” assorted pastries and fruits are assembled along the horizon line, and the word “Aloha” is written in chocolate. You can eat with a spoon, or get another pair of gloves and go to work. As for the pastries, the malassada fell short, but the cheesecake was phenomenal, a creamy and fluffy confection that has yet to be added as a standalone addition to the menu.

 

This is neither casual eating nor fine dining. It’s event entertainment. It may be messy, but there’s a phenomenal amount of talent in the restaurant. It will be exciting to watch as they tweak and refine their menu.

 

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