2012 Hale Aina Awards
You voted, we counted, and here they are, the best 128 restaurants in Hawaii. On these pages, you’ll find a complete list of the winners and a closer look at some of the specific, delicious dishes that put these eateries on top.
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Restaurant of the Year, Gold
Best Oahu Restaurant, Gold
Best Service, Gold
Best Seafood, Silver
Best Dessert, Bronze
If you think Roy’s Waikiki chef Jason Peel is content to churn out Roy’s signature dishes night after night, you’re wrong. Braised short ribs and blackened ahi? As it is, Peel tires even of his own specials, changing them whenever he gets a fun new product. At the moment, it’s Kona kampachi. He sears a kampachi filet skin-side down to get it crisp, crusts it with chili, garlic and lemongrass, and serves it alongside a coconut polenta with lime and roasted corn. In a more avant garde preparation, kampachi crudo is accompanied by red curry pickled cauliflower, carbonated pineapple and coconut bubbles (more aptly described as coconut suds). It’s a study of contrasts—fatty kampachi playing against sweet, sour and spice—flavors that pop, literally, thanks to the fizzy pineapple. Peel’s dishes are bright with touches of acid and a profuse use of herbs, inspired by Thai cuisine.
The evolution of Roy’s is best represented in Peel’s beet duo: on one side, a relatively traditional salad of roasted beets and goat cheese mousse, on the other, an arugula shave ice, beet gelato and goat cheese condensed milk. Peel, as part of a successful 23-year-old restaurant brand, is well-versed in the classics while keeping current in modernist cuisine. He’s a chef of Roy’s restaurants, where you can have something old and something new, hoisin baby back ribs and beet ice cream. Multiple locations, original Roy’s at 6600 Kalanianaole Highway, 396-7697.
Restaurant of the Year, Silver
Best Oahu Restaurant, Silver
Best Service, Silver
Best Dessert, Finalist
Alan Wong’s most popular dish is the same as 16 years ago, when his namesake restaurant first opened: ginger-crusted onaga. Its origins go back to when Wong was cooking at the Canoe House at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel. “I wanted to create cold ginger chicken,” Wong says. “It became hot ginger chicken, became ginger steak, ginger mahi mahi, ginger everything. And, finally, the one that really took off, that the customers really enjoyed, was ginger-crusted onaga.” The onaga is served on a bed of Hamakua mushrooms and Kahuku corn, in a pool of sweet and nutty miso-sesame sauce. What ties the onaga to Chinese ginger chicken is the oil-scalded ginger and scallion spooned over the onaga. The Chinese technique of scalding raw ginger and scallion with smoking-hot oil softens the bite of the ingredients while opening up their aroma. Wong has tried taking the onaga off the menu many times, but, every night, the restaurant would get special requests for it.
“People say, ‘Ginger-crusted onaga, that’s the only thing you can do, you’re not creative.’ Really? I can be,” Wong says. “But the customers say they want this, so why reinvent the wheel here? It’s a balance of keeping some of the signature items and evolving.”
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