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Two at Turtle Bay

There’s more to eat on the North Shore than shave ice and shrimp-truck lunches.

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I am in such a North Shore frame of mind, I can barely write. If you go to Turtle Bay Resort’s Web site, you hear, in the background, the sound of the surf. It’s making me so relaxed, I think I’ll just … zzzzzz.

No, no. Duty calls. Fortunately, duty called me to spend two days at Turtle Bay this month. I picked up a slight tan, and some restaurant news.

Outside of the shrimp trucks, which now seemed parked every 100 yards in Haleiwa town, the North Shore has not been a place you’d go to eat—especially now that Kua Aina has brought its burgers to town. However, Turtle Bay, that often embattled country cousin of Oahu’s tourist industry, turns out to have not one, but two, restaurants worth a visit.

Ola at Turtle Bay Resort
57-091 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku // 293-0801 // Breakfast daily 8 to 10:30 a.m.; lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., pupu 3-10 p.m. // Validated Parking,  Major Credit Cards  // www.olaislife.com

Island soul food: five-spiced, braised short ribs on corn mashed potatoes.

Photo by Olivier Koning

I miss chef Fred DeAngelo in town. He was the chef who got both Palomino and Tiki’s off to a rollicking start, before departing for the North Shore—and his own restaurant.

DeAngelo and wife, Cheryl, opened Ola in December 2005. At that time, I promised I’d come up and try it. That promise was approaching its “sell by” date by the time I braved the 60-mile journey from Hawaii Kai.

Rather wish I’d gone earlier. 

Short of a beach picnic, Ola is one of the few places you can eat with your feet in the sand, literally, at the beach along Kuilima Cove. You cannot build a Hawaii restaurant that close to the water anymore. What the resort did, before leasing the property to DeAngelo, was expand its beach concession. It couldn’t build an enclosed space, so what went up, with some help from Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo, was an open-air pavilion that looks simple and rustic, but no doubt cost a fortune.

A high-tech roof is supported by trunks and branches of ironwood trees cut down on the property. In case nature turns nasty, there are some nicely engineered sliding glass doors to shut out the elements. You can check this casual setting in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which spent five nights filming there.

But, hey, setting isn’t everything. It’s what’s on the plate that matters.

I like DeAngelo’s plates for two reasons. First, there’s nothing particularly fancy or fussy about his presentations. The appetizer sampler, for instance, crowds a plate with kalua pig nachos, ahi cakes and a softshell crab. There’s stuff and sauces happening in every direction.

Second, DeAngelo puts flavors together with real nerve. The kalua pig nachos are “nachos” in quotation marks. Kalua pig sits on crisp, fried wonton skins, topped with layers of textures and flavors. There is an Asian guacamole, which allows DeAngelo to sneak in both garlic and chili paste. There’s fresh ginger sweetened with a little plum sauce. To round off and soothe those flavors, there’s melted goat cheese and pepper jack cheese. And, if that’s not enough, there are drizzles of Maui onion sour cream across the top.

To finish off the platter, the ahi cakes come topped with tobiko aioli, and the softshell crab comes on spinach, baby bok choy and Hamakua mushrooms, all done up in a roasted garlic butter.

Not convinced yet? You might try DeAngelo’s rib eye poke. Yes, rib eye, as in grass-fed steak from Kaulana on the Big Island.

“Poke doesn’t mean raw, it means cut up,” says DeAngelo, who went to Kamehameha. He seasons the steak with alae salt, togarishi spice mix and a touch of raw cane sugar, then sears it rare, so it’s a little red, just like ahi poke. It comes chockablock on the plate, colorful with grape tomatoes, onion, watercress and sea asparagus. Sea asparagus is called samphire in Europe, where the edible seaside plant is usually harvested wild. Here, it’s cultivated by University of Hawaii professor Wenhao Sun, just down the street from the restaurant.

Sea asparagus naturally concentrates salt, so it’s a seasoning as well as a vegetable. It’s not seaweed, but it adds the faint marine flavor that ogo would add to a more traditonal poke, but with a more appealing texture.

There were four of us at dinner, and, logically, we should have quit right here. DeAngelo makes the best pupu in town, perfect for that casual evening drinking wine with friends. But we were undeterred. We ordered another bottle of Adelsheim pinot noir, which had rich fruit for an Oregon pinot, and plunged into the entrées.


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,June

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