4 Ways to Eat Outside of the Box in Honolulu
Someone out there in restaurant land was doing some unconventional thinking, perhaps just to keep me from getting bored.
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Hale Macrobiotic Restaurant
THE TEMPEH REUBEN AT HALE MACROBIOTIC RESTAURANT. THE SAUERKRAUT IS WONDERFUL. THE TEMPEH? THAT DEPENDS HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT SOY BEANS AND FUNGUS.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF HALE
I took my family, including my two semi-adult and highly opinionated children, to Hale Macrobiotic Restaurant. Perhaps a mistake. “What’s macrobiotic?” demanded the older of the two.
“It’s a nutritional theory that has no basis in fact,” I said. “It holds that foods have metaphysical properties like yin and yang. But there’s no dietary theory so nuts that somebody in America doesn’t believe it.”
“The sign says Natural and Vegan,” she said as we pulled into the parking lot. “Please tell me this isn’t raw food again.”
“I think it’s cooked.”
“We’re just down the street from Sorabol,” she said. “If this place is too weird, we could walk up there and order octopus. I love their octopus.” Proving at least that what’s weird to one person is ono to the next.
Thank heaven, Hale is not your standard under-capitalized hippie health-foodery. It’s in the former Makaloa Street location of a restaurant called Okonomiyaki Kai —which I enjoyed very much until it was overshadowed by the owners’ similar, but even better restaurant, Kaiwa, in the Waikiki Beach Walk.
Rather than close Okonomiyaki Kai, the two transformed it into Hale—from the Hawaiian for house, the Japanese for sunny and the English for healthy, as in hale and hearty.
What you end up with is a crisply run, professional, well-designed Japanese restaurant with a menu that eschews refined sugar, dairy products, eggs and red meat, and goes heavy on whole grains and organic, local produce. None of this in and of itself is a terrible idea, though in sum it poses certain culinary challenges.
My children looked at the menu with dismay. “They have french fries,” I said hopefully.
So I ordered the fries—which were quite nice, by the way, with some sort of housemade catsup. Then, emboldened by a glass of organic chardonnay (a wine list! In a macrobiotic restaurant!), I just kept ordering food for the table, hoping someone would like something.
My wife and I liked almost everything. There was a kale and Kula strawberry salad, with a dense tofu dressing. This looked like a Christmas tree, rising off the plate roughly cone-shaped, with strawberry stars on top and a base made from braised gobo. My daughters tried to pick off all the strawberries, a good choice because they had that real fresh deep strawberry flavor. Kale is too tough to be my favorite leafy green—but this was cooked tender and was quite tasty.
The next dish, in contrast, looked like a mess. A half avocado was strewn with shreds of myoga ginger (not really ginger, but a flower bud) and ogo. The ogo was remarkably fresh, translucent green and crisp. “This is the way we used to get ogo when we were kids,” said my wife. “You never get ogo this good anymore.”
Next up was a puffy, whole-wheat pita bread with thick and garlicky hummus. It was a hit, less so the sushi variations, made with brown rice. A “sushi” cake was topped with chickpeas, avocado squares and radish, all in a veggie-naise that made you appreciate mayonnaise. The thoroughly lackluster “California roll” was accompanied by remarkably freshly pickled vegetables.
Of the entrées, the most popular was the fish burger on a whole-wheat bun, with sweet potato chips and a small round of grilled corn on the cob. I rather enjoyed the “Reuben” sandwich with fresh sauerkraut, but it was made with slices of tempeh instead of corned beef. Tempeh is made from fermenting whole soy beans with a fungus, Rhizopus oligosporus. The fermented beans are actually held together by the mycelia of the fungus. Tempeh has its good qualities, more protein, fiber and vitamins than tofu, and the fungus fights off nasty intestinal bacteria.
Is it good? Only if you can’t stand the thought of eating meat. Otherwise, it leaves much to be desired in flavor and, especially, texture. My kids ordered it in a TLT, which was the tempeh-variation of a BLT. They muttered something about it tasting like cardboard. They’re spoiled: It’s way better than cardboard.
In fact, the food was, within its limits, pretty darn good. Things perked up at dessert, although by that time the restaurant was full and we had to wait nearly 15 minutes for it.
The hit was the brownie with soy-milk ice cream, which tasted all the world like a real brownie. Equally good was the mochi-flour waffle with berries, although the waffle had been made too far ahead and was too hard.
What I liked best was the little bowl of sherbet, which wasn’t really a sherbet. It was more like a granita, frozen and then chipped out of the container, so it was chunky—doubly chunky with raisins and bits of pineapple and pomegranate. It wasn’t like American ice cream, so the kids shunned it, but I thought it a fine finish to a meal that was far from the usual stuff.
For four, it cost $152 with tip and my single glass of wine.
1427 Makaloa St., (808) 944-1555, Tuesday through Sunday, lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m., limited free parking, major credit cards, halemacro.com