New Chef, New Menu, New Flavors at Hōkū’s
Avid fisherman and chef de cuisine Eric Oto brings his passion for the ocean to The Kāhala.
Eric Oto, The new chef de cuisine at Hōkū’s, gives us a peek at some of his new seafood-based dishes.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
Eric Oto was only 4 years old when he caught his first fish with a bamboo pole—and he was hooked, pun intended.
His family taught him how to clean and cook the fish he caught, to not waste anything, to be respectful of the resources.
“I have a deep respect for the ocean,” he says. “And that has helped me as a chef.”
This August, Oto, still an avid fisherman, took on the role of chef de cuisine at Hōkū’s, the signature restaurant at The Kāhala Hotel & Resort, creating a new menu with very personal dishes that express his passion for the ocean. Previously, he worked at The Fish House at the Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu and spent 10 years at the Halekūlani.
The new menu features his version of an ‘ahi crudo ($16), served with tsukemono, ponzu and a green scallion oil, with toasted buckwheat kernels and wasabi tobiko. And there’s a shellfish ravioli ($37) with Keāhole lobster, fresh scallops and shrimp grown at Oceanic Institute by Makapu‘u, where Oto interned when he was contemplating majoring in marine biology. (Lucky for foodies he switched to culinary arts.)
The ‘ahi crudo with tsukemono and ponzu.
One of Oto’s favorite dishes from the new menu is this seafood ravioli using shrimp grown at Oceanic Institute.
The most personal—and easily the most interesting—dish we tried at a recent tasting was the amuse bouche: Oto served two kinds of deep-fried whole fish he, his dad and uncle caught that morning, with a side of dry-box pipi kaula. One of the fish was ‘upāpalu, a cardinal fish, and the other was mamo, Hawaiian sergeant major—both not considered prized catches. But it was his way of dispelling the myth that only certain fish are good enough to eat, much less served at an upscale restaurant. “My dad says there’s no such as junk fish,” Oto says.
The crispy-fried fish was also part of a very special memory for Oto. When he was in intermediate school, his uncle was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and wasn’t eating. One of his favorite things to eat, though, was small fish fried whole to a crisp, like the ones Oto prepared for the amuse bouche. Oto caught some fish, fried them up and brought them to his uncle. He hadn’t eaten in three days—but he ate everything Oto brought over. “From that moment,” Oto says, “cooking became that much more meaningful.”
This amuse bouche may not be served at every dinner, but it was an important and deeply personal dish for Oto that he shared at a recent tasting.
The new menu also features a tasty bisque made with locally grown corn, leeks and Big Island abalone with crispy lentils for texture ($14); day-boat scallops with a nori purée and a light, dashi-flavored cauliflower foam ($14); and braised adobo pork cheeks with stewed mung beans, Asian-style gremolata, seasonal root veggies and house-made chicharrónes ($39).
The corn-and-leek bisque with Big Island abalone.
Day-boat scallops sitting in a dashi-cauliflower foam (or espuma).
Braised adobo pork cheeks with a salted lemon gremolata and stewed mung beans.
Executive pastry chef Michael Moorhouse added to the new menu with a gorgeously plated no-bake cheesecake atop a speculoos biscuit and paired with sudachi, a slightly sour citrus fruit, and strawberries.
This sudachi cheesecake, with strawberry-hibiscus sorbet and lehua-blossom balsamic gastrique, is almost too pretty to eat.
While all of Oto’s dishes are available à la carte, most are also available on the restaurant’s prix fixe and tasting menus.
5000 Kāhala Ave., (808) 739-8760, thekahalaresort.com
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