First Look: Mahina & Sun’s
Ed Kenney’s latest restaurant brings his local roots to Waikīkī.
Half the main entrées at Mahina & Sun’s showcase local and sustainable fish, such as this dish of ‘ahi palaha (white tuna) with a 12-grain rice salad and a limu salsa verde.
PhotoS: Courtesy of Mahina & Sun’s
Chef Ed Kenney is a lot like his latest restaurant, Mahina & Sun’s, which opened last week in the newly renovated, retro-cool Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Waikīkī.
It’s laid-back but hip, it’s vintage in a modern way, and it’s very local.
“It’s like blue jeans and a T-shirt,” says Kenney, a four-time James Beard Award nominee. “Simple yet elevated home cooking with a focus on local, organic produce and sustainable seafood. I seek to reconnect people to the food they eat and those they eat with.”
Mahina & Sun’s is Kenney’s fourth—and latest—restaurant, following Mud Hen Water, which opened last summer in Kaimukī. (Kenney ran the popular Downtown at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum for five years before closing in 2012. Yes, we still miss it.) Like his other restaurants, this casual hotel eatery—his first in Waikīkī—focuses on locally sourced ingredients and seasonal foods. The menu changes with availability, and, as the only restaurant on O‘ahu certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, it only offers sustainably caught or farmed fish. You won’t find imported mahimahi or ʻōpae (shrimp), Atlantic farmed salmon, kajiki (blue marlin) or bluefin tuna here.
“After doing a bit of research, eating around Honolulu, the owners of the hotel found what they were looking for in Town,” Kenney explains. “Our mission ... was perfectly aligned with the vision for their new project. The only difference between Mahina & Sun’s and our other restaurants is that she resides in a different neighborhood, Waikīkī. The commitment to local agriculture, rich stories and simple, nutritious food remains unchanged.”
The restaurant’s name needs some explaining, and here’s what we ascertained from a complicated discussion with the owners: Mahina means moon in Hawaiian, and sun, well, references the star around which our galaxy is centered. The name, Mahina & Sun’s, is a play on family-owned and multigenerational businesses that included “sons” in their names. The idea with “sun’s” being possessive instead of plural is to show ownership, that this restaurant belongs to everyone.
Grammar issues aside, Mahina & Sun’s delivers on its mission to serve elevated home cooking with an emphasis on local and sustainable ingredients.
Its dinner menu features snack plates, starters and main dishes that have broad appeal. It offers avocado tacos ($10) with hot shishito peppers and pickled red onions, Shinsato Farm pork pâté ($11) with sweet-spicy mango mostarda to spread on buttered pao doce, Kualoa Ranch oysters ($14) dressed with a house-made chili pepper water and calamansi, and a hearty Kuahiwi Ranch burger ($18) topped with Russian dressing—sharp cheddar, swiss and uncured bacon, if you want—and accompanied by fries.
One of our favorites from the snacks list is the beignets ($9) with chèvre from Sweet Land Farm in Waialua, the only certified goat dairy farm on O‘ahu, run by 25-year-old Emma Bello. The beignets are airy and warm and filled with just enough chèvre to pair perfectly with slightly sweet beet ketchup and bite of arugula.
These beignets are filled with Sweet Land Farm’s chèvre and paired with a house-made beet ketchup.
The Town aku tartare ($13) is the only dish on the menu that carries over from one of Kenney’s other restaurants. “The [owner] told me I couldn’t have any duplications of any dish from my other restaurants—except this one,” Kenney says, laughing. And it’s just as good here—maybe better because of the vacation ambiance. The tartare—with herbs and onions—sits on a small disc of creamy risotto. It’s a tasty bite and a perfect way to be introduced to the mission of this restaurant.
We tried the grilled he‘e and watercress salad ($18), which comes with green olives, grilled baby heirloom carrots, potato wedges and ricotta cheese, ever so lightly flavored with dill, sesame and a lemon-dijon vinaigrette. The sustainably caught octopus is braised first before being grilled, making it tender instead of chewy.
The pa‘i‘ai ($15) is just as delightful as the Japanese-style grilled version at Kenney’s Mud Hen Water: The pounded taro block is griddled, then topped with a piece of akule (big-eye scad) that’s been grilled on the skin side—to keep it moist—and served in a pool of cherry tomato juice. It’s a fun take on fish-and-poi, with both parts complimenting each other.
The grilled he‘e and watercress salad comes with potatoes, baby heirloom carrots and ricotta.
The pa‘i‘ai is griddled, then topped with a piece of akule (big-eye scad). It sits in a pool of cherry tomato juice.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
The last starter we tried was the Naked Pig ($17), a very simple, ultra-thin-crust pizza with uncured bacon, chopped-up sweet Maui onions and Naked Cow Dairy fromage blanc. It didn’t have that sophisticated plated look—it reminded us of a flatbread you’d get at a really good bar—but the high-quality ingredients and pleasing combination of flavors made this the dish that got gobbled up the fastest at our table. No leftovers.
The rigatoni ($17) is another simple dish, the recipe of which was borrowed from Kenney’s mom, renowned hula dancer Beverly Noa. The twist? It features a ragù made from local wild boar with cheese and a fresh bay laurel. It’s classic comfort food.
Half the dinner entrées center around seafood—no surprise considering the chef—and we tried the ‘ahi palaha (white tuna) dish ($26). The fish steak is pan-seared so there’s a nice crust on the outside but rare on the inside. It’s served on a bed of a 12-grain rice salad, thinly sliced cucumbers and shaved baby heirloom carrots, with pickled mushrooms and a limu salsa verde. Topping the dish are the green tops from the carrots, which are surprisingly tasty. It’s easy to screw up seared ‘ahi, but this one was perfect, with that right balance of cooked versus uncooked. I might have initially preferred white rice—we’re talking about seared ‘ahi here!—but the 12-grain rice salad has a crunch I didn’t realize I would be missing. And it’s filling without feeling like each grain is expanding in my stomach. (Yes, I was planning to order dessert. See below.)
For dessert, we shared the chocolate mochi with a goma (sesame) gelato crafted by La Gelateria and pohā berry jam, and the apple banana butterscotch pudding with a crust of whole-wheat graham crackers, some bourbon cream and a dollop of house-made whipped cream. These are all familiar, local flavors—mochi, sesame, pohā berry, banana cream pie—but slightly modified to be elegant and still homey. Well done.
Something new to any of Kenney’s restaurants is Mahina’s Family Feast, a shareable dinner for $35 per person plus the cost of whatever fish is used. (The restaurant recommends this for four diners.) The two- to three-pound fish—recently, it was a whole deep-sea snapper—is tossed in mochiko and fried, then served whole. Each person will get three Kualoa Ranch oysters, roasted roots from MA‘O Organic Farms with ogo and inamona, pohole (native fern) salad with crispy baby shrimp, buttered ‘ulu with chili-pepper-water aioli, house-made pickles, hapa rice and a salted mac nut pavlova for dessert.
The décor is worth noting, too. The interior was thoughtfully designed by The Vanguard Theory and features more than a dozen local artists and collaborators who crafted custom pieces inspired by the hotel’s vintage Hawai‘i feel. (The hotel was originally built in 1959, so much of the interior evokes that era.) Artist Andrew Mau designed the custom shaka print wallpaper that lines the restaurant’s dining room. Designer Mark Chai created the sculpture, hand-cut wooden orb lamps. Vintage prints from Tori Richards, founded in 1956, were used for the banquette upholstery (and throughout the hotel guest rooms). The pivoting windows at the bar and grill were inspired by old-school manapua trucks. And the outdoor seating overlooking the pool—with the words “Wish You Were Here” written in calligraphy by Matthew Tapia on the bottom—features hand-painted benches by Jeffrey Gress.
The interior features more than a dozen local artists and collaborators who crafted custom pieces inspired by the hotel’s vintage Hawai‘i feel, including Andrew Mau’s shaka print wallpaper and Mark Chai’s custom orb lamps.
Our favorite touch—and a surprise to Kenney, too—was the oil portrait of his mom by Kamea Hadar that hangs behind the host stand. Town regulars will remember that Noa used to work as a hostess at Kenney’s first restaurant for about seven years, and this is a tribute to her.
Mahina & Sun’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a lunch and evening pūpū served poolside. The restaurant’s craft program was designed by Hawai‘i mixologist Alicia Yamachika and its menu features small-production local and organic spirits and seasonal ingredient-driven cocktails. Best when sipped by the pool, in our opinion.
Dinner here could easily run about $80 for two people, more with drinks, $8 more with valet parking. That’s not bad considering this is Waikīkī.
Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, 412 Lewers St., (808) 923-8882