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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Keeping current is important; Wong’s customers travel a lot more than they used to. “They’ve eaten so many things from around the world,” he says. “Their palates are more sophisticated than they were. The majority of them have been to the French Laundry and Per Se, restaurants in Paris and all over Europe. Maybe some of them have been to El Bulli and dined in Spain. Then there’s Japan, and people going to Southeast Asia and going to Singapore, Vietnam and Bangkok.” Wong says he and his chefs travel as well, and they incorporate international influences into their menus.
But every time Wong creates a dish, the goal is: “We want our guests to taste Hawaii.” To do this, he draws on Hawaii’s plantation immigrant history. “The Europeans keep going back to Escoffier,” Wong says. “We keep going back to what we used to eat, back in the plantation days.” 1857 S. King St., Third Floor, 949-2526.
Chef’s Choice Winner
Best Oahu Restaurant, Bronze
Best French, Gold
If success is in the details, it becomes immediately obvious why Le Bistro is ever popular. Chef and owner Alan Takasaki is meticulous even in his descriptions of each dish preparation. On the foie gras appetizer: “We take a cippolini onion, caramelize it, add some brandy, some Banyuls vinegar, a little bit of sugar. In a separate pan we’ll add some quince. We’ll caramelize it almost black and then cook it all together … We cook the foie gras for a really long time and it takes on a texture almost similar to the quince, kind of firm but yet it melts.” Why quince, an apple and pear relative (though virtually inedible raw), which is practically nonexistent on Hawaii menus? “One of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco is Quince,” Takasaki says. “I dream of their pasta … I saw quince (the fruit) there, and I wanted to do something with it. The foie gras was a good match.” On the Banyuls vinegar: “I like the fruitiness of it. It has that really cider-y, almost apple-y taste—that’s probably my favorite vinegar.”
Le Bistro’s black cod is another beautiful dish: black cod marinated in grated apples and bay leaf. “Then we just brown it, get it black,” Takasaki says. “We’ll make a sauce with ginger, white wine, a little bit of butter. We’ll finish the dish with that, a splash of yuzu, a garnish of tangerine or blood orange … The apples give the fish a nice glaze [and] it cuts all that fishiness and richness. When I taste the residue, it reminds me of a sour miso.”
Takasaki, like Wong, has noticed diners’ palates becoming more worldly over the years. Paradoxically, the more sophisticated the diners become, the more Takasaki finds he can simplify his menu. “People really understand that you don’t have to do too much to fish,” he says. “As long as you have a really beautiful fish, you can showcase it. You can go lighter. You can go subtler and they’re going to appreciate that ‘Wow, that’s a beautiful, fresh fish.’” 5730 Kalanianaole Highway, 373-7990.