Dining: Crying Uncle
In which I get over my prejudice against restaurants named Uncle’s.
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Here are some things John Heckathorn had to say in past months. Visit our Dining page to read more reviews!
• Tenkaippin Ramen
617 Kapahulu Ave., 732-1211
Tenkaippin Ramen offers four kinds of broth. After trying all four, Heckathorn suggests ordering the assari broth, roughly translated as “light.” “This is essentially a chicken broth with a deeply flavored Yamasa shoyu, topped with plenty of char sui, green onion, bamboo shoots,” he says. The miso broth, with its “heavy dose of bean sprouts, and its sour edge,” was his least favorite. Reviewed in our July 2008 issue.
After the oysters, the tiny Manila steamed clams were a disappointment, not all that many of them drowning in a white plastic bowl of pallid garlic-and-white-wine broth. Give me Murphy’s steamed clams any Friday: more, better and cheaper. Uncle’s were $14.95.
Much better was Uncle’s Signature Poke Stack: a layer of white rice, a thick layer of ahi poke, a layer of guacamole and a layer of finely chopped ahi tartare, topped with tobiko, white sesame seeds and strips of nori.
This comes with some so-so chips. They’re only a distraction. Forget them. The key is to get rice, fish and guacamole all in one bite. This was a fine and generous appetizer—my only quibble being that both the poke and the tartare seemed significantly underseasoned. However, the big cubes of ahi in the poke were fresh and beautiful, an almost translucent red.
We were getting good at waiting. We had another drink from the somewhat limited bar and admired the décor, which Food & Wine magazine, with typical New York condescension, called faux-tiki, though there’s not a tiki in sight.
Uncle’s is all about fishing. Our favorite touch: The inevitable flat-screen TVs showed not ESPN, but old fishing videos. When our friend finally arrived, we’d just spotted a skinny ’70s-looking Hari Kojima cooking on Let’s Go Fishing when Bruce Carter was still the host.
Our friend in place, we ordered entrées. May I say that we were looking at Uncle’s all wrong—as a restaurant. Actually it’s such a casual food place you may feel dreadfully overdressed in a collared shirt.
Being me, I ordered the fanciest entrée, opakapaka topped with lobster and mushrooms. The cornstarchy sauce with the limp sautéed mushrooms only served to disguise the fish, and the lobster, rather than integrated into the dish, was simply sprinkled in small cold chunks on top.
My friend had better luck with the ahi belly. It was coated in a beige sauce, which didn’t add much. But you didn’t need to add much to these three thick slabs of the richest, fattiest part of the fish. “Good, good,” he mumbled between bites.
The best dish—and here’s a lesson—was the fish and chips, lightly battered, big pieces of monchong. Monchong’s a deep-sea pomfret, a by-catch of longline ahi fishing. It was a shock to bite through a deep-fried crust into something so moist, fresh and flaky. “The fish is good,” said our much delayed friend.
“That’s what we’ve been saying all night,” I said. Uncle’s is perhaps inexpensive compared to a more conventional restaurant, but it’s not entirely a bargain. I signed a check for $174, though I realized later that I’d tipped as if I hadn’t had to get up and get all the food myself. The cocktail waitress had a good night.
Uncle Bo's Pupu Bar and Grill
559 Kapahulu Ave. // 735-8310 // Monday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. // $4 paid parking across the street, major credit cards // www.unclebosrestaurant.com
Now that I’d broken the Uncles barrier, I took a friend to Uncle Bo’s. People had been accusing me of neglecting this increasingly popular spot. “It’s so hip,” they’d say. “It’s better than Side Street.”
It’s not, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Co-owner Bo Pathammavong was a chef at two unprepossessing Waikīkī eateries—Ocean House and Lewers Street Fish Co. That’s where he legally shortened his first name to Bo. “Easier for people to remember,” he says.
At Lewers Street, Pathammavong created a dish called Uncle Bo’s Seafood Trap. “The name sort of stuck.” Besides, he says, he’s really an uncle, with “plenty” nieces and nephews.
Uncle Bo’s it is, then. Perhaps you’ll enjoy the irony that it’s in the old Auntie Pasto’s location on Kapahulu, two rooms. The front is the hipper of the two—if banquettes, big screen TVs and lengths of chain suspended from the ceiling meet your definition of hip. The back room is cinderblock dreary, but quieter.
I admired Uncle Bo’s ambition. The menu offers 25 appetizers, seven soups and salads, 28 entrées and a half-dozen pizzas. At a loss to choose, the two of us put ourselves in the hands of the waitress. The most popular of the pūpū, please, four or five, we’ll tell you when to stop.
The friend I’d brought along is a calamari enthusiast. But she found that Uncle Bo’s heavily breaded version sat on top of—and immediately soaked up—a puddle of slightly too sweet Thai chili sauce. “This should be a dipping sauce, not on the plate,” she said. “The calamari’s getting soggy.” She left half, a bad sign.