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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Town’s vegetable sampler of market veggies. Here, it includes baby corn, Hakurei turnips and beets.

photo: mark arbeit

Town

Restaurant of the Year, Finalist
Best Little Neighborhood
Restaurant, Silver
Best Vegetarian, Gold

Gnocchi has been on the menu at Town since the day it opened, but the recipe and technique have evolved over the six years since. The recipe “used to have two eggs to every five or six potatoes,” Ed Kenney says. “We would make it twice every week and freeze them and then boil them straight from the freezer. After some trial and error, now we make it every day, and we got it down to one egg to every 10 potatoes.” Other secrets to Town’s super-light gnocchi are baking the potatoes for the dough and a deft touch when shaping them, the latter acquired after years of practice.

Another menu item years in the making is the salumi platter, which has at least five different salumi every night. It might include salami, lardo (cured fatback), capicola (cured pork shoulder), soppressata (a spicy salami) or head cheese. “It took a while for us to figure out the formulas and the whole process and how [charcuterie] works,” Kenney says. “Sometimes we’d get a batch that was delicious, and sometimes we’d have a whole batch that we’d have to throw away.” After years of experimenting, Town finally has the salumi platter on the menu, a success Kenney also credits to its now well-seasoned meat curing box, which he likens to a cast-iron pan. “It’s got a little ecosystem in there. I’ll put in a piece of meat, and within 48 hours, it’s covered in beneficial white mold without even having to use a cultured starter. So, yeah, it’s working well.”

Kenney is a self-proclaimed pork guy, but his restaurant also won a silver Hale Aina for Best Vegetarian, an award he attributes to Town’s approach to vegetables as more than a garnish. Restaurants might be “focusing on the braised short ribs and the green peppercorn sauce. And maybe [the kitchen] will put a couple baby carrots on the plate just because they need to. For us, the vegetables have as much importance on the plate as the protein.” On any given night, it might be baby corn with smoked paprika butter; bitter greens braised with pine nuts, raisins and garlic; broccoli with breadcrumbs; bok choy with red salt; grilled escarole with vin cotto and fresh mozzarella. It’s not on the menu, but vegetarians in the know will order the vegetarian platter, a chef’s choice of five or six vegetables served over polenta. 3435 Waialae Ave. #103, 735-5900.
 

Michel’s at the Colony Surf

Best Restaurant for a Date Night, Gold

Michel’s turns 50 this year and, fittingly, its tuxedoed waiters continue to serve classic dishes with tableside flourish. Now, its dishes are so retro as to be en vogue again. The lobster bisque has been on the menu since its inception. For the soup, Maine lobster heads are split and roasted, then added to a stockpot with rendered bacon, mirepoix (a flavor base of onions, celery and carrots), fresh tarragon, smoked paprika, tomato and strong fish stock made from scratch. After simmering to extract and meld flavors, the whole thing, shells and all, is chopped fine and strained before adding a touch of cream. To finish, a waiter flambées fresh lobster meat in cognac tableside and adds it to the lobster bisque.

Click here for the full list of winners from the 2012 Hale Aina Awards.

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,January

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