Vein Brings Mediterranean-Asian Fusion to Kaka‘ako
Make reservations or get ready to wait at this stylish newcomer with some memorable, if pricey, main dishes.
Vein's rib-eye with gorgonzola and warm heirloom potatoes.
photos: Wendy Awai-Dakroub
It’s been a busy year for Kaka‘ako’s dining scene. Each time a restaurant opens its doors in Honolulu, we wonder if it will make a dent in an already super-competitive market.
Enter Vein, a Mediterranean-fusion venue and the latest addition to SALT’s newest roster of up-and-coming restaurants. There is plenty to like about this stylish eatery, with its eclectic menu, rustic decor and welcoming staff who make sure you leave with a full stomach and a smile.
But does it really have the flare to edge out a long list of competitors?
It does make a great first impression. Intimate, relaxed and bustling on a Friday around 7 p.m., the restaurant was packed with people engaged in excited conversations. About 50 people filled simple wooden tables inside and in a covered outdoor area.
The outdoor seating area.
Unfortunately, we failed to make reservations (not smart) and had to wait an hour and a half before a table would be ready for our party of three. We opted for drinks at the bar next door and waited for our text informing us our table was ready.
It came exactly at 8:30 p.m. We were promptly escorted to our dining area. The outdoor setting, which overlooks the courtyard at SALT, was perfect for spending a nice evening out with friends.
The menu concept at Vein is seasonal yet simple, and combines everyday Mediterranean dishes with ingredients from Asia and Hawai‘i. With a focus on locally sourced produce, meat and seafood, executive chef Dell Valdez, previously of Tommy Bahamas and Mariposa, knows how to entertain the palate by blending the flavors of the different cuisines.
Starving, we quickly chose our drinks, appetizer and entrees, which wasn’t particularly difficult since the menu is fairly small.
Drinks arrived first. It would practically be illegal not to mention the Mai Tai 44 ($12). Based on the original 1944 Trader Vic’s recipe, Vein’s version is a well-balanced sweet-and-sour masterpiece. Loaded with fresh mint and remnants of a clean soju, it was a perfect opener for our meal.
roasted bone marrow with garlic persillade and uni butter.
For starters, we ordered the evening’s special, a roasted bone marrow topped with a vibrant herb-and-garlic persillade and uni butter ($26). The smooth, velvety texture was there but was missing that salty “nuttiness” we’re used to. It was tasty, if not particularly memorable.
I believe you can always judge a restaurant by its most popular dish. At Vein, it is the uni carbonara. Adorned with an egg yolk “confit,” guanciale, chives, pecorino and bucatini ($34), the pasta is the perfect marriage of carbonara and uni creaminess. We loved the added creaminess and briny sweetness of the uni.
The inch-thick grass-fed rib-eye topped with persillade and Gorgonzola and served with warm heirloom potatoes and onions ($44) was juicy and tender. For a medium-rare steak, the flavor was beefy without the gaminess that can come with it, and accentuated well by the saltiness of the cheese. It’ll melt in your mouth.
Meanwhile, our chicken alla plancha served with cavolo nero; a “charred” Kahuku corn relish; and a beautiful soubise vadouvan, an old-school French curry sauce ($28.50), was also delightful. This true fusion dish, where Mediterranean flavors are paired with local ingredients, tasted like huli huli chicken.
chicken alla plancha
As much as we enjoyed the main dishes, the dessert did not wow us. The créme brûlée ($9.50) was more like pudding and not the creamy custard we expected.
Though each dish was well-executed and appetizing, the prices match the swanky area. Our meal totaled a little more than $170 for a cocktail and three soft drinks, an appetizer, three entrees and a dessert.
Overall, there are more pluses than minuses, which reminds us that Vein is still fairly new. With a promising fall menu dropping the first week of November, we’re keen to see what’s featured next month.
The bottom line: almost brilliant, but not quite there yet.
Open daily 11 a.m.-2 p.m. for lunch. Monday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m. for dinner. Sunday, 5-9 p.m. for dinner. Vein at Kaka‘ako, 685 Auahi St., Bldg. 2, Suite 121, (808) 376-4800, veinatkakaako.com.