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First Look: Moku Kitchen in Kaka‘ako

Chef Peter Merriman opens a new restaurant concept at Salt geared toward locals.


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Award-winning chef Peter Merriman, along with partner Bill Terry, created Moku Kitchen, a new restaurant concept at Salt in Our Kaka‘ako.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox

 

Moku Kitchen, the newest restaurant concept by award-winning chef Peter Merriman, is a blend of two things: his commitment to scratch-made dishes using local ingredients and a keen understanding that this location, anchored in the Salt complex in Kaka‘ako, will appeal to more locals than vacationers.

 

While you’ll still find Monkeypod Kitchen favorites here, including a variation on the pumpkin-patch ravioli and Jidori chicken wings with house-made tzatziki sauce, Moku offers noodles, tacos, kiawe-wood-fired pizzas, roadside-style burgers and a slew of dishes roasted in the restaurant’s in-house rotisserie—all at a lower price point.

 

“This is an urban market,” says Merriman, who’s been in town for the restaurant’s opening. “We wanted to create something geared more toward local people.”

 

Moku Kitchen, which opened on Wednesday for lunch and dinner, inhabits the largest restaurant space in Salt, sprawling over 7,000 square feet on the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Keawe Street. The restaurant boasts about 290 seats, including a stretch of outdoor seating, and a 46-foot-long bar made from mango wood with 36 beers on tap—served at 29 degrees Fahrenheit—and 12 biodynamic and sustainable wines also on tap. Moku joins several other restaurants in the complex, including Hank’s Haute Dogs, 9Bar HNL, Bevy, Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room and Highway Inn.

 

Moku Kitchen anchors Salt at Our Kaka‘ako, at the corner of Ala Moana Boulevard and Keawe Street.

 

Inside the new restaurant, which features a 46-foot-long bar and nearly 300 seats. It will host live music daily, too.

 

Moku plays with the theme “Upcountry Downtown,” which points to the use of locally sourced ingredients (upcountry) to an urban area (downtown). The kitchen uses Maui onions, tomatoes from Hau‘ula, mushrooms from Hāmākua, greens from Waipoli Farms on Maui, pasture-raised beef from Hawai‘i Island and local goat cheese. And everything—from the ravioli pasta to the hamburger buns—is made from scratch in-house.

 

The centerpiece of the kitchen—maybe the entire restaurant, since it’s the first thing you see when you walk in—is the expo-rotisserie roaster that one of Merriman’s team told me “is hard to find and almost didn’t happen.” From this roaster comes at least nine different menu items, from slow-fire-roasted Big Island prime rib with old-school jus ($28) to a succulent rotisserie duck with ginger, a shoyu glaze and a mole sauce ($31). The herb-marinated half-chicken ($27) practically falls off the bones—you can cut it with a butter knife. It comes on a bed of organic local greens, vine-ripened tomatoes, kalamata olives, feta, mushrooms and tomato compote.

 

The pizzas are a source of pride for the restaurant, too. Baked in a kiawe-wood-burning pizza oven, these 10-inch pies are hand-tossed and made with a crust fermented for three days, which gives it a nice rise. You can get a basic margherita pizza with local tomatoes and fresh mozzarella ($12) or one topped with smoky kālua pork and roasted pineapples with a macadamia nut pesto ($16).

 

The fire-roasted Jidori chicken wings, popular at Monkeypod Kitchen, are on the menu here, too. They’re seasoned with garlic and rosemary and served with a house-made tzatziki sauce.

 

The roasted squash ravioli features local goat cheese, wilted spinach and a walnut-sage pesto.

 

Another Monkeypod staple served here are the garlic-truffle-oil fries topped with Parmesan cheese and served with both whole-grain mustard aioli and house-made ketchup.

 

The herb-marinated chicken is one of several items roasted in an in-house rotisserie. This comes with a Greek salad using local tomatoes, onions and greens.

 

The kālua pork and roasted pineapple pizza features a macadamia nut pesto sauce.

 

Two menu items stood out for me: the noodles—a saimin with pork, broccoli, red onions, peanuts and cilantro ($14) and a Maui-style, dry-mein noodle dish ($13)—and the variety of burgers, from classic thick patties to thin, crispy “smashed” burgers you see at roadside stands on the Mainland. The burgers are served on house-baked buns and are best accompanied with hand-cut fries and slightly tangy house-made ketchup.

 

Veggie fiends will find four substantial salads on the menu, all using local greens and light on the dressing. The bright organic kale salad ($11) is a standout, with shaved Maui onions, golden raisins, oranges and macadamia nuts, all tossed in a miso-sesame vinaigrette.

 

The layer of chocolate in this chocolate-macadamia-nut pie isn’t overly sweet. Still, it makes for a nice ending to lunch or dinner.

 

you can’t go wrong with the classic strawberry cream pie, topped with fresh strawberries and a guava glaze.

 

You can’t eat at a Merriman’s restaurant without sampling the cream pies—and all the favorites are here. Each slice is $8 and you can choose from chocolate-macadamia, banana, haupia or his best-selling strawberry, with an ultra-light whipped cream, guava jelly glaze and fresh strawberries. Consider it your daily fruit serving.

 

Moku Kitchen, Salt at our Kaka‘ako, 660 Ala Moana Blvd., #145, open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, 591-6658, mokukitchen.com

 

READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX

 

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