2013 Hale Aina Awards: When to eat where
Our readers named the best restaurants in the Islands. To help you navigate the wealth of great dining, we lead you through a year-long itinerary of Hale Aina eating: when to eat where.
(page 8 of 9)
House-cured ikura and uni nigiri at Sushi Sasabune.
Photos by Rae Huo, Alan Wong
Halloween used to be a really quiet time for Sushi Sasabune (Best Japanese, bronze), when you could easily snag a seat at the bar. Not so much now. Maybe people decided the Sushi Nazi was scarier than haunted houses? More likely, it’s an oasis to escape the zombies, witches, bad puns and assorted Halloween madness outside. Sushi Sasabune has spruced up its environs recently with faux maple trees that reflect the progression of seasons. What hasn’t changed: the jewels on the plate that command your attention. The orbs of house-cured ikura, not too salty, actually look like precious gems, and pristine cuts of fish—scallop dusted with yuzu kosho (a citrusy, peppery condiment); mackerel topped with translucent pickled seaweed—crown rice that holds together between your chopsticks, but disperses immediately in your mouth. In fact, there’s nothing scary at Sushi Sasabune, not even the sushi chef.
Predicting the seasons for seafood can be as difficult as predicting the weather, especially in this global-warming era. There’s a quota on bottom-fish (snappers such as opakapaka and onaga) and, in previous years, the fishery closed for a few months out of the year. Last year, the fishery stayed open, but, generally, the best bet for bottom-fish is winter—when the fish are biting and when bigger fish like ahi, mahi and swordfish don’t lure the fishermen away. So this is the time to catch the ginger-crusted onaga at Alan Wong’s (Restaurant of the Year, silver; Best Oahu restaurant, silver; Best Service, bronze; Best Dessert, gold). The delicate, flaky fish is crowned with oil-scalded ginger and scallion and set in a pool of miso sesame sauce.
Alan Wong's pineapple shave ice.
PHOTO COURTESY BY Alan Wong
Absolutely save room for dessert. Alan Wong’s pineapple shave ice seemingly came out of nowhere. Then suddenly, it was everywhere on the food and wine circuit—its technique versatile, the end result beguiling, and you just couldn’t get enough of it.
It could have been this shave ice alone that cinched the Hale Aina gold for Alan Wong’s. Yes, shave ice. But this isn’t Waiola’s shave ice, as fine as that may be. In classic Alan Wong fashion, pastry chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka took our Island favorite and spun it for white-tablecloth fine dining. She freezes compressed pineapple marinated with vanilla bean and shaves it (by hand!) over haupia sorbet, tapioca and vanilla panna cotta. No sugar syrup and ice here, just straight up, pure pineapple.
The other desserts are just like that shave ice: upscale comfort desserts. Waialua chocolate “crunch bars” with milk chocolate macadamia nut crunch and bitterwsweet chocolate mousse are what Kit Kat bars dream of being when they grow up.