The Story Behind Alan Wong’s Newest Menu Item: Eland, African Antelope
How Alan Wong brings eland from Ni‘ihau to your plate.
2016 Hale ‘Aina Awards: Best O‘ahu Restaurant, Gold — Alan Wong’s
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Photos: Steve Czerniak
When an African antelope started making pop-up appearances on the menu at Alan Wong’s, this year’s Hale ‘Aina gold winner for Best O‘ahu Restaurant, we had to find out the story behind it. To make it even more intriguing, the eland came from Ni‘ihau. How did that happen? Did an ark run aground on “The Forbidden Island”?
Not quite. A barge did offload 13 original pioneers in 1998, remnants of Moloka‘i Ranch’s exotic zoo. Set loose to multiply, the herd was up to 1,500 after 15 years—which is when Alan Wong visited Makeweli Beef to sample the company’s Kaua‘i cattle. “I meet the guy in charge, Jehu Fuller,” recalls Wong. “We hit it off. I didn’t know Makaweli Beef was part of the Robinson family that owns Ni‘ihau, so we started talking about Ni‘ihau lamb and eland.”
Fuller proposed a trip. “Russell Hata of Y. Hata, Roy Yamaguchi and I get on a helicopter,” says Wong. “We go to Ni‘ihau. Bruce Robinson, the owner of Ni‘ihau, goes off and catches a couple of eland. They dress it right in front of us. We even take a small piece of it raw right there.”
Wong was intrigued. “Hawai‘i is not a big game-eating culture. Game is a European thing, like cheese. But this tasted very clean. It wasn’t gamey at all. None of that taste of blood, of iodine, that you get with venison.”
We got game: Eland’s bright taste soars in a tartare, left, or as an entrée, at right.
The backstory of eland is also, well, clean. The animals run free, foraging on kiawe leaves. They’re also free from fear. “These aren’t like any other eland in the world,” says Fuller. “In Africa they’re getting chased by lions, whereas here they laze around, get big and fat.” Yet their meat runs lean, as game tends to. “Half the calories of beef, and two times the protein,” says Fuller.
To entice diners, Wong presents eland as a tartare and as an entrée, flash-seared; both show off its bright clear taste. “We don’t mask it with sauces.” For Wong and Robinson, the new game promises jobs for some of Ni‘ihau’s 150 residents, especially with a slaughterhouse set to open by February pending federal approval. “Bruce wants to make the island more sustainable, help the people make a better living,” says Wong. “I respect that. That’s the reason the Robinsons trust me.”
In the end, though, Wong needs the customer’s approval. “We’re right at the beginning of a launch, testing the waters.”
Alan Wong’s, 1857 S. King St., #208, 949-2526, alanwongs.com