Highlights from the 28th annual Hale Aina awards




Photo by Kevin Uehara

Mingling at the 28th annual Hale Aina awards

Almost 900 guests packed the lawn of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel last night for the 28th Annual Hale Aina Awards. I spent the evening dodging Iona dance troupe's larger-than-life birds, bees and flowers, bouncing between nine grazing stations, and talking to players in Honolulu's dining scene. Chefs are so much more affable once they’ve been drinking, whether it’s to celebrate or to drown their disappointment. Some of the chefs in attendance: Savas Mojarrad of Olive Tree Café (celebrating), Kevin Hanney of 12th Ave Grill (celebrating), Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero of Town (a little of both), Sean Priester of SOUL (cruising after feeding fried chicken and waffles and shrimp and cheesy grits to the 350 attendees during the award presentation).

As far as the grazing plates went, my favorites included Alan Wong’s seared onaga on a mung bean crepe, and 12th Ave grill’s super soft pork belly topped with mango chutney.

And the awards themselves? You can find the full list here, but here's my take on a few:

Most interesting 180: Morimoto Waikiki. Last year’s Best New Restaurant winner was SOUL, a little wedge of a restaurant in an unlikely Kaimuki location, where the fanciest dish might be the fried chicken and waffles. This year, though, the honor goes to Morimoto, housed in uber-hip The Modern Honolulu (the hotel formerly known as the Edition), where each dish is like a runway model, so haute, so aloof, so beautiful.

Most predictable: Roy’s and Alan Wong’s as Restaurants of the Year (gold and silver, respectively). These guys are such institutions, and have dominated the Hale Ainas for so many years, the only suspense these days is in which one will take the gold.

Most amusing juxtaposition: Town restaurant deemed Best Vegetarian the same night it's auctioning off a whole hog dinner.

They were robbed! Cheesecake Factory for Best Dessert, really? How about Morimoto pastry chef Daniel Skurnick’s haupia semifreddo, or Alan Wong’s pastry chef Michelle Karr’s pineapple shave ice, or Nobu pastry chef Rachel Murai’s grilled goat cheese pound cake? There's an entire world of restaurant desserts beyond sweetened cream cheese and crumbly cookie crusts.

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