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Hale 'Aina

The 22nd Annual Hale 'Aina Awards

Click here for the full list of 2006 Hale Aina Award-winning restaurants.

Whether you are a dedicated "foodie" who has to try every new dish, an oenophile toting a wine carrier into a BYOB hot spot or the relaxed type who just wants a bowl of comforting macaroni and cheese, it's safe to say that you have an opinion on restaurants. That's why we turn to our subscribers to determine the best dining options in the Islands, and to honor them with the 2006 HONOLULU Magazine's Hale 'Aina Awards.

Called Hale 'Aina for the Hawaiian words "eating place," the awards debuted in 1984 and were the first to recognize local tastes, rather than those of Mainland publications.

A note on our process: Each year, HONOLULU subscribers fill out a ballot that is included in our August Restaurant Guide. An independent research firm counts the ballots, then HONOLULU gives the winners their plaques and acknowledgement at the Hale 'Aina Awards ceremony.

Here, we take a look at some of the top restaurants, with a spotlight on our two new categories: Best Ambience and Best Wine Program. Our complete list of winners can be found at the end of this article.


Restaurant of the Year
ALAN WONG'S RESTAURANT

Wong credits two groups of people for his success. "Our staff and employees are hard-working, dedicated and loyal," he says, and Wong returns this loyalty by investing in training and development. "If you allow people to have the same passion as the company's passion, you have something going there," he notes. Second, he values his patrons and their feedback. "Whether they are telling us what we need to work on or telling us what they like, we continue to evolve our service with them."

Alan Wong savors his seventh Hale 'Aina Award for Restaurant of the Year.

Wong has put a lot of mileage on his chef's jacket this year. In Peru, he discovered the country's culinary inflection has been shaped by Chinese and Japanese immigrations, evolving into an inspiring Contemporary Peruvian Cuisine. "It parallels what happens in Hawai'i; new people come and change the culture and the way we cook, sometimes just with new ingredients."

"We were in the land of ceviche, and a close cousin to that, tiradito [another fish dish "cooked" using acidic ingredients, rather than heat]. Ceviche is like poke, while tiradito is cut thinly, like sashimi. We learned how they make authentic ceviche. To see it done in front of your eyes, to taste it each step of the way, you see the root of the dish. We often have only a bad impersonation of ceviche in the U.S."

So will we see ceviche all over his menu? Sort of. "People would rather eat poke or sashimi than ceviche; maybe they haven't had good ceviche yet," Wong says. "It has some time to go still. I can put it on a tasting menu, but not on the regular menu yet. It makes for a good special."

In Singapore, Wong sampled black-pepper crab, and has now created a black-pepper sauce for his restaurant. He also traveled to Japan three times, visiting his restaurant there to create seasonal menus. "I ask them to gather all the seasonal ingredients for me, and after about three days of cooking we have the menu. That is always a learning experience."

Seafood Salad from the kitchen of Alan Wong.

The low-carb craze has come and gone, but diners are still increasingly interested in their health, says Wong. "I see a growing group of people who are in tune with what they want to eat and what they want to put in their bodies. They're looking for hormone-free, organic foods and are more sensitive to what is good for the animals and what is good for the environment. I'm trying to meet that demand."

Wong continues to work with farmers on that front. "We've always done business with Doc Lum and his North Shore beef. Hawai'i has less pork and chicken, so that is coming from the Mainland, but they're all free-range and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. The meat tastes different, smells different. Once you've had it, it's hard to go back. And I now serve only wild Alaskan Salmon. I prefer to buy a salmon that comes out of a natural habitat."

This year, Wong plans to close his restaurant for a short period of time, just to spruce things up a bit. "We're going to take care of some kitchen needs, as it's 11 years old," says Wong. But don't expect many other changes, as Wong prefers to leave well enough alone. "It's established itself as a little restaurant on King Street," he says. And it will stay that way, no matter how many Hale 'Ainas come his way.


Best New Restaurant, Gold
SHOKUDO

"A lot of Japanese restaurants are either food court level or very expensive. Our prices are pretty reasonable and the service is casual," points out Yuki Yokoyama, Shokudo's marketing manager. "Our food is good and a lot of people have commented about the dŽcor, that it looks very fresh."

Ishiyaki Salmon Rice, from Shokudo.

This mix of high style and an accessible menu have won Shokudo a Best New Restaurant, Gold award. Shokudo, which means "dining room" in Japanese, opened in March. "We didn't have a room just for dining in Old Japan," explains Yokoyama. "Western culture came in and brought the concept of a dining room; we chose the name to show the concept of mixing the various cultures."

Shokudo's dish, Seared Garlic Marlin on Hot Plate.

The restaurant's bold design is by a well-known Japanese interior designer, Yasumichi Morita. "He did the design for Megu, in Tribeca," says Yokoyama. "Young people in Honolulu are more keen to look for fashionable environments now."

Popular dishes include the fried chicken with tartar sauce and the Ishiyaki, a rice dish that comes in a heated, stone bowl. "You don't see that dish in other restaurants here; it's actually a Korean dish," says Yokoyama. "We assimilated it."

The bar, with everything from beer and sake to cocktails (try the Lychee Vodka Soda), is another draw. "We get a younger crowd later, as we're open until 2 a.m.," she says.

In the next decade, the company that operates Shokudo, Dream Dining Honolulu, also plans to open 50 more branches of the restaurant throughout the United States. This year, the first of the expansions will open, on the West Coast.


Best New Restaurant, Gold
TOWN

"My main goal was to have a neighborhood place, a comfortable place," says Town's chef/owner Ed Kenney. Town is also a Best New Restaurant, Gold winner.

"We seem to be known for our pastas, which are made here daily," says Kenney. "We always have three: our gnocchi, a pasta and a risotto. Depending on the fresh ingredients available that day, we add the sauces. The one item we haven't been able to take off is the 'ahi tartare. Luckily we have 'ahi year round."

Town's deceptively simple looking dishes are actually quite sophisticated.

Kenney works with Dave Caldiero, his operating partner, to collaborate on the menu. "The thing we continually said is, 'We hope people get it.' People are used to Hawai'i Regional Cuisine. We're the opposite; five ingredients max on a plate."

Kenney says he's had opposing feedback from patrons: "Never change the BYOB" on one side, and "Why don't you have a wine list?" on the other. Both sides are likely to be pleased this year.

"We're having our final liquor hearing and, if all goes well, we should have a liquor license," says Kenney. "I'm building a wine list in the $30 to $40 a bottle range, with interesting, boutique wineries. We'll have a good representation of Old World wines, to match the food, lots of wines from France, Italy and Spain, and an interesting cocktail list, about five or six, that will change seasonally, such as during mango season and lychee season."

At the same time, the restaurant will allow you to bring in your own wine, with a $3.50 glass charge remaining in effect.

Next, Kenney plans to turn his attention to curing meats to create prosciutto, salame, sopressata or pancetta. "We've been working on it. We've thrown out a lot of meat," says Kenney. "All the research I've done says that's normal."

But whether he's serving food or testing out new ways to preserve it, Kenney stands by his mantra: "Local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always."


Best Ambience, Gold
BALI BY THE SEA

Compete with Mother Nature? Not if you're smart. "Our decor is very understated and subdued," says Alicia Antonio, manager of Bali by the Sea, a Gold winner for best ambience. "We don't want to distract from the ocean. It really captivates our diners; people come in to the podium and say, Wow!"

Bali by the Sea makes the most of its oceanfront location, opening at 6:00 p.m. in time for sunset, and offering wide, comfortable chairs so that patrons can relax.

If you haven't been to Bali by the Sea in a while, the winter's a good time. "The sunsets are better now," says Antonio. "Reflections in the ocean are purple, fiery red, blue. It's different every night. I'm in awe, and I see it every day."


Best Ambience, Gold
E&O TRADING CO.

Toss back a couple of Monkey Business cocktails, and between the booze and the creative dŽcor, you'll swear you've traveled from E&O Trading Co. to another country. And that was the idea, says Kenwei Chong, partner in the restaurant.

"For us, the dŽcor comes from a story line. Each of our restaurants falls somewhere along the story line, it gives continuity. Our first one in San Francisco is like a trading warehouse. In Marin County, it's a Southern Thailand retreat, more playful. Honolulu is an outdoor Asian marketplace."

The dŽcor at E&O Trading Co. features many items imported from Asia, such as these umbrellas, from Thailand.

At E&O Trading, which also won a Hale 'Aina, Silver, for best new restaurant, you'll see elements of both the indoor and the outdoor. "The bar and kitchen have their own roof lines, and we use brick fa?ades with awnings and doorways," says Chong. "We didn't want Disney, but we wanted to take people away. The Hawai'i diner is becoming more sophisticated, the value perception is no longer about food quality and quantity. Now it's about the whole experience, food, service and ambience."

E&O is a popular spot for Thursday night live music, and you can find a bar/lounge atmosphere on Fridays after 10 p.m.

The best selling dishes, says Chong, are Indonesian Corn Fritters and a Char-Sui Styled Smoked Mero (smoked sea bass filet). "We continue to rotate the menu, to keep it fresh. For cocktails, our glasses are twice the normal size, so these drinks can sneak up on you."

No wonder you leave feeling transported.


Best Wine Program, Gold
FORMAGGIO

I have a friend who always orders vanilla martinis at Formaggio, and indeed, it's the kind of relaxed spot where no one is required to be a wine expert. That said, it's a great place to try an ever-rotating assortment of reds and whites. The two-ounce tasting portions make it easier, too, to sample several different wines.

The appetizers, sandwiches, salads and pizzas on the menu are as well prepared and thought out as the wine selection, but it's also hard to resist the good, old-fashioned cheese plate. The place is, after all, called Formaggio.


Best Wine Program, Gold
VINO

Vino has won a Gold honor for its wine program, but it also backs that up with solid service and tasty, interesting food.

"We feature hearty, rustic, robust, contemporary wines at Vino," says master sommelier and wine consultant Chuck Furuya. "We try to find wines that are made from indigenous grapes, that have a sense of culture and of heritage. The two key things that we try to show through our wine program is there's over 10,000 different grape varieties, and that different foods need different wines."

Furuya says that Vino has a wine dispensing machine that replaces the air in a bottle with nitrogen to keep the bottle fresh for three to four weeks. "We have 20 spigots so that we can serve 20 wines by the glass," he explains. The restaurant takes good care of its Riedel glasses, too, with two dishwashers dedicated to cleaning them and keeping soap residue at bay.

The menu includes Italian favorites such as house-made gnocchi in sage/brown butter sauce, as well as more daring options, like the Asparagus Milanese, which features a sunny-side-up quail egg. "We try to show people interesting, artisan wines," says Furuya, "but the fun really starts when you pair it with food."

22nd ANNUAL HALE 'AINA AWARDS

Restaurant of the Year

Alan Wong's Restaurant
1857 S. King St. 5th Floor
949-2526

Best O'ahu Restaurant, Gold

3660 On The Rise
3660 Wai'alae Ave.
737-1177

Assaggio's
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., #1259
942-3446

Bali By the Sea
Hilton Hawaiian Village
2005 Kalia Rd.
941-2254

Chai's Island Bistro
1 Aloha Tower Dr.
585-0011

Chef Mavro
1969 S. King St.
944-4714

Hoku's
Kahala Mandarin Oriental
5000 Kahala Ave.
739-8780

Kincaid's Fish, Chop and Steak House
1050 Ala Moana Blvd., #3001
591-2005

La Mer
Halekulani
2199 Kalia Rd.
923-2311

Le Bistro
5730 Kalaniana'ole Hwy.
373-7990

Mariposa
Neiman Marcus, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., #2101
951-3420

OnJin's CafŽ
401 Kamake'e St.
589-1666

Palomino
Harbor Court
66 Queen St., mezzanine level
528-2400

Roy's Restaurant
6600 Kalaniana'ole Highway
396-7697

Ruth's Chris Steak House
Restaurant Row, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., #6C
599-3860

The Bistro at Century Center
1750 Kalakaua Ave., 3rd floor
943-6500

Best O'ahu Restaurant, Silver

12th Ave. Grill
1145C 12th Ave.
732-9469

Aaron's
Ala Moana Hotel
410 Atkinson Dr., 36th Floor
955-4466

Hakone
Hawai'i Prince Hotel
100 Holomoana St., 3rd Floor
Honolulu, HI 96814
944-4411

Hy's Steak House
2440 Kuhio Ave.
922-5555

Little Village Noodle House
1113 Smith St.
545-3008

L'Uraku
1341 Kapi'olani Blvd.
955-0552

Orchids
Halekulani Hotel
2199 Kalia Rd.
923-2311

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar
Waikiki Beach Marriott
2552 Kalakaua Ave.
931-6286

The Cheesecake Factory
2301 Kalakaua Ave., Suite C112A
924-5001

The Willows
901 Hausten St.
952-9200

Best Big Island Restaurant, Gold

CafŽ Pesto
Kawaihae Shopping Center, Kawaihae
808-882-1071
S. Hata Building, Hilo
808-969-6640

Huggo's
75-5828 Kahakai Rd.
KailuaKona
808-329-1493

Kilauea Lodge
19-3948 Old Volcano Rd.
Volcano Village
808-967-7366

Merriman's
65 -1227 Opelo Rd.
Kamuela
808-885-6822

Roy's Waikoloa Bar & Grill
King's Shops
250 Waikoloa Beach Dr.
Waikoloa
808-886-4321

The Seaside Restaurant and Aqua Farm
1790 Kalaniana'ole Ave.
Hilo
808-935-8825

Best Big Island Restaurant, Silver

Hakone Steakhouse Sushi Bar, Hapuna
Beach Prince Hotel
62-100 Kauna'oa Dr.
Kohala Coast
808-880-3192

Hilo Bay CafŽ
315 Maka'ala St.
Hilo
808-935-4939

Ocean Terrace
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
62-100 Kauna'oa Dr.
Kohala Coast
808-880-3192

Teshima's
79-7251 Mamalahoa Hwy.
Kealakekua
808-322-9140

The Hualalai Grille by Alan Wong, Four Seasons
100 Kaupulehu Dr.
Kailua-Kona
808-325-8000

Best Maui Restaurant, Gold

David Paul's Lahaina Grill
127 Lahainaluna Rd.
Lahaina
808-667-5117

Hali'imaile General Store
900 Hali'imaile Road
Pukalani
808-572-2666

I'O
505 Front St.
Lahaina
808-661-8422

Longhi's
888 Front St.
Lahaina
808-667-2288

Mama's Fish House
299 Poho Place
Pai'a
579-9248

Pacific'O
505 Front Street
Lahaina
808-667-4341

Roy's Kahana Bar & Grill
4405 Honoapi'ilani Hwy.
Lahaina
(808) 669-6999

Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar
115 Bay Dr.
Kapalua
(808) 669-6286

The Ma'alaea Waterfront Restauarant
50 Hau'oli St.
Ma'alaea
(808) 244-9028

Vino
Village Course Clubhouse
2000 Village Rd.
Kapalua
808-661-8466

Best Maui Restaurant, Silver

Compadres Bar & Grill
1221 Honoapi'ilani Hwy.
Lahaina
808-661-7189

Gerard's
174 Lahainaluna Rd.
Lahaina
808-661-8939

Hakone
Maui Prince Hotel
5400 Makena Alanui
Makena
808-874-1111

Hula Grill
Whalers Village
2435 Ka'anapali Pkwy.
Lahaina
808-667-6636

Nick's Fishmarket Maui
The Fairmont Kea Lani
4100 Wailea Alanui
Wailea
808-879-7224

Prince Court
Maui Prince Hotel
5400 Makena Alanui
808-874-1111

Ruth's Chris Steak House
900 Front Street
Lahaina
808-661-8815

Sarento's on the Beach
2980 S.Kihei Rd.
Kihei
808-875-7555

The Plantation House Restaurant
2000 Plantation Club Dr.
Kapalua
808-669-6299

Tokyo Tei
1063 Lower Main St. Ste. C101
Wailuku
808-242-9630

Best Kaua'i Restaurant, Gold

Gaylord's
3-2089 Kaumuali'i Hwy.
L-õhu'e
808-245-9593

Roy's Po'ipu Bar & Grill
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr.
Koloa
808-742-5000

The Beach House Restaurant
5022 Lawa'i Rd.
Koloa
808-742-1424

Best Kaua'i Restaurant, Silver

Bull Shed
796 Kuhio Hwy.
Kapa'a
808-822-3791

Hamura Saimin
2956 Kress St.
Lihu'e
808-245-3271

The Bali Hai Restaurant
5380 Honoiki Rd.
Princeville
808-826-6522

Tidepools
Grand Hyatt Kaua'i
1571 Po'ipu Rd.
Koloa
808-742-1234

Best New Restaurant, Gold
(Opened in last 12 months)

Shokudo
1585 Kapi'olani Blvd.
941-3701

Town
3435 Wai'alae Ave
735-5900

Best New Restaurant, Silver

E & O Trading Co.
1200 Ala Moana Blvd.
591-9555

Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas
500 Ala Moana Blvd.
533-4476

Best Meal Under $20, Gold

Olive Tree CafŽ
4614 Kilauea Ave.
737-0303

OnJin's CafŽ
401 Kamake'e St.
589-1666

Best Meal Under $20, Silver

Murphy's Bar & Grill
2 Merchant St.
531-0422

Sweet Basil
1152A Maunakea St.
545-5800

Little Restaurant You Love, Gold

Little Village Noodle House
1113 Smith St.
545-3008

Swiss Haus Restaurant
5730 Kalaniana'ole Hwy.
377-5447

Little Restaurant You Love, Silver

Le Bistro
5730 Kalaniana'ole Hwy.
Honolulu
373-7990

Phuket Thai Restaurant
1960 Kapi'olani Blvd., Suite 109
942-8194

Best Service, Gold

Bali By the Sea
Hilton Hawaiian Village
2005 Kalia Rd.
941-2254

La Mer
Halekulani
2199 Kalia Rd.
9
23-2311

Best Service, Silver

Roy's Restaurant
6600 Kalaniana'ole Hwy.
396-7697

The Bistro at Century Center
1750 Kalakaua Ave., 3rd floor
943-6500

Best Ambience, Gold

Bali By the Sea
Hilton Hawaiian Village
2005 Kalia Rd.
941-2254

E & O Trading Co.
Ward Centre
1200 Ala Moana Blvd.
591-9555

Best Ambience, Silver

Indigo Eurasian Cuisine
1121 Nu'uanu Ave.
808-521-2900

Orchids
Halekulani Hotel
2199 Kalia Rd.
923-2311

Best Wine Program, Gold

Formaggio
2919 Kapi'olani Blvd.
739-7719

Vino
Restaurant Row
500 Ala Moana Blvd.
524-8466

Best Wine Program, Silver

Chef Mavro
1969 S. King Street
944-4714

Roy's Restaurant
6600 Kalaniana'ole Hwy.
396-7697

Best BYOB Restaurant, Gold

C&C Pasta Company
3605 Wai'alae Ave.
732-5999

Olive Tree CafŽ
4614 Kilauea Ave.
737-0303

Best BYOB Restaurant, Silver

Mitch's Sushi
524 Ohohia St.
837-7774

Town
3435 Wai'alae Ave.
735-5900

Best Dessert Menu, Gold

Alan Wong's Restaurant
1857 S. King St. 5th Floor
949-2526

The Cheesecake Factory
2301 Kalakaua Ave. Suite C112A
924-5001

Best Dessert Menu, Silver

3660 On The Rise
3660 Wai'alae Ave.
737-1177

CafŽ Laufer
3565 Wai'alae Ave., Suite 107
735-7717

Have Feedback? Suggestions? Email us!

,January

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