You Can Only Try This Exclusive Local Menu at Forty Carrots in Honolulu

Most locations of the chain restaurant Forty Carrots are identical, but the new one that just opened in Bloomingdale’s at Ala Moana Center is different, thanks to chef Jon Matsubara.


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Kaona Bowl ($19) 
Photos: Steve Czerniak

On one recent weekday for lunch—the busiest time for Forty Carrots here and nationwide—the restaurant was half full, with slender moms eating salads with chopsticks, and well-heeled professionals gossiping over bowls of yogurt. Our server rushed over to get our drink orders—freshly brewed Hawai‘i-grown coffee, iced and sweetened with liquid sugar—and went over the daily specials. The soup de jour was a miso soup flavored with pork and kim chee (a trade secret, Matsubara says). The daily juice special was made from liliko‘i grown at Frankie’s Nursery in Waimānalo thickened with plain yogurt.


About 80 percent of Matsubara’s menu is locally sourced, with ingredients that include Shinsato Farm pork and sea asparagus from Kahuku.


The dishes are diverse, too. There are several appetizers—under the category of ‘Ekahi—that range from fresh local oysters on the half shell with toasted bonito and yuzu ($3.50 per piece) to a unique combination of smoked-trout caviar with nori-dusted potato chips and wasabi-lemon crème fraîche ($15). It’s a play on a dish that pairs Osetra caviar with Utz potato chips and crème fraîche that Matsubara learned while working in New York City. “This is how the cooks ate ‘real’ caviar,” he says. “I wanted to re-create the simplicity of this by using the affordable smoked-trout caviar. It’s funny, people think it’s fake ikura (salmon roe), even though we tell them it’s not.”


Matsubara’s unexpected take on familiar dishes, commitment to sourcing locally and a creative approach to flavor combinations set this Forty Carrots apart from others. In fact, this spot isn’t just for mall shoppers; it should be a destination for any locavore looking for something new and different.


“I’m trying to keep the spirit of Forty Carrots … but with a local flair,” he says.


One of the most popular dishes is the Kaona Bowl ($19), Matsubara’s version of a poke bowl. Instead of a simple preparation of cubed ‘ahi tossed with shoyu, limu and inamona, this hefty bowl features a mix of ‘ahi and hamachi, tender kālua pork, lomi lomi ‘ōpae (not salmon) with diced tomatoes, thinly sliced radishes and a generous portion of house-made kim chee, all topped with locally grown microgreens and tossed with garlic-soy vinegar. Somewhere under this mound of food—which my husband calls “the best parts of a baby lū‘au”—is a bed of white rice. It’s a dish Matsubara, who grew up in Hawai‘i Kai, says he can eat every day.


“This dish represents my culture and my style of cooking—using the best products for simple dishes,” says Matsubara, who, on two separate occasions, raved about the poke and pasteles from Alicia’s Market in Kalihi.


This is where his years of cooking in some of the best restaurants here and in New York City translate into kitchen experience: The Kaona Bowl, like other items on the menu, duplicates ingredients from other dishes, which keeps his costs down.


The kālua pork, for example, also goes into the popular Bloom-Mi ($15), a banh-mi-inspired sandwich with porchetta-style pork from Shinsato Farm. The pork is roasted with garlic, herbs and white wine, then shaved and paired with pickled carrots and daikon—so Ba-Le!—cilantro and house-made pâté. The sandwich bread is grilled with escargot butter, which gives it a smoky, crispy element. Then he smears on some spicy sambal mayonnaise and serves it with a pickled chili dipping sauce on the side. It’s all the best parts of a Vietnamese sandwich, only better.


A popular starter here is the smoked-trout caviar—not salmon roe—with nori-dusted potato chips.


Matsubara is also serving Ni‘ihau lamb, which started showing up on menus at Alan Wong’s, Square Barrels and 12th Ave Grill last year. He gets 60 pounds of this free-range lamb from Makaweli Meat Co. on Kaua‘i delivered once a week and slow roasts the meat in white wine, garlic and herbs. Using lamb is a slight departure from the original Forty Carrots concept, which doesn’t serve red meat or anything deep-fried. That said, the French Dip ($19) here, using the lamb and locally grown kale, has quickly become one of the restaurant’s best-sellers. The meat is perfectly seasoned, tender and so juicy the dish comes with a packet of wet wipes. The natural jus—not too oily and just salty enough—ties it all together.


But the most buzzed-about dish here is the over-the-top Local “Lobster” Moco ($45), a sumptuous version of the classic loco moco dish with Keāhole lobster tail, sautéed foie gras, mushrooms from Hāmākua and toasted bonito rice, topped with a perfectly cooked local egg. Matsubara cooks Italian black truffles in a Madeira sauce to perfume it, adding another layer of richness to an already-decadent dish. (The original dish included filet mignon—priced at $65—and is now only offered as a special, usually on the weekends.)


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