First Look: Artizen by MW

The new takeout eatery in HiSAM adds fresh flavors to the downtown dining scene.


Artizen by MW opened Dec. 1 at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox


You can find just about anything you want to eat in Downtown. Hanoi-style pho, shrimp and kim chee ramen, chicken tajine, French onion soup, poke bowls, hand-tossed pizzas, burritos that weigh more than your Kate Spade shoulder bag.


But, somehow, chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka of the award-winning MW Restaurant have come up with something new and exciting for lunch at their new venture, Artizen by MW, in the Hawai‘i State Art Museum. The grab-and-go eatery opened yesterday.


Artizen took over the space recently vacated by Grand Café & Bakery, which closed in May. (It’s also the location of Ed Kenney’s popular Downtown restaurant, which operated there for five years before closing in 2012.)


By 11:30 a.m., there were about a dozen people waiting in line at the counter, milling around the grab-and-go bentos and sandwiches, or just staring at the flat-screen monitor displaying Artizen’s 15-item menu, which included a spicy Korean pork bowl ($10), kim chee Portuguese bean soup ($6) and a hot turkey sandwich with gravy ($13).


“It’s steady and not crazy, so that’s good,” said Karr-Ueoka, emerging from a busy kitchen to deliver some of her desserts to customers. She also baked all the breads used in the sandwiches and created new desserts especially for Artizen, such as the chocolate-haupia éclair and Hawaiian rocky road brownie.


The plated desserts, which change daily, by pastry chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka.


Artizen also sells pre-bagged cookies and other baked items, perfect for that afternoon snack attack.


Monday’s menu featured a beef taco ($9) with refried mung beans and avocado salsa; the Artizen Burger ($11) that uses local ground beef and smoked Gouda cheese; three sandwiches ($12–$13), a roast-duck and pork-hash mushu ($13); three salads ($7–$10); two soups ($6); miso-braised short ribs ($10); a spicy Korean pork bowl ($10) topped with a local egg; a chili bowl ($10); a bento box ($10) with kalbi, Portuguese sausage, house-made Spam and lemongrass chicken; and mochi-crusted opah ($15) on somen noodles. There were also pre-made bentos, sandwiches and salads for those who didn’t want to wait. (The menu may change, depending on availability of ingredients and popularity of dishes.)


One of the grab-and-go bentos ($7). This one featured kim chee fried rice and house-made luncheon meat.


The Artizen Burger had the right meat-to-bun balance. There was just enough bacon—yes, sometimes you can have too much bacon—and the smoked Gouda was a nice touch. The ‘ahi and basil pesto sandwich ($12) was everything you’d want this sandwich to be: The ‘ahi katsu was firm but not dry, the basil pesto was well-balanced and not overpowering, and the Hawaiian cacao bread went surprisingly well with the tomato tapenade.


The Artizen Burger ($11), made with local ground beef, bacon and smoked Gouda cheese.


The ‘ahi and basil pesto sandwich ($12), with ‘ahi katsu, basil pesto and tomato tapenade on house-made cacao bread.


The "Mixed Plate" sandwich ($13), with kalbi, fried chicken and spicy Korean pork on a potato roll.


One of the only menu items at Artizen that would be familiar to MW Restaurant fans: the mochi-crusted opah ($15) on somen noodles with a soy-yuzu kosho vinaigrette. 


But my favorite was the “Mixed Plate” sandwich ($13), which featured bites of kalbi, crispy fried chicken, spicy Korean pork and taegu watercress salad on a house-made potato roll. It was like eating the best parts of a Korean plate lunch with your hands.


Artizen also has a nice array of Karr-Ueoka’s cookies, banana bread and other baked goods, all packaged and ready to take. She’s even bagged the furikake bagel chips ($3) she served at the opening of Bloomingdale’s at Ala Moana Center in November. These crispy bagel chips, doused in white sugar and salty furikake, were a hit at the event.


It’s always challenging to review a restaurant on its opening day, to judge the food and service while the staff is still working out the kinks. (For example, one of the cash registers went down for a bit during the lunch rush, but the staff remained calm and moved the line to a second register devoted to grab-and-go items. It all worked out.) But Artizen delivered, a credit to a seasoned team in the kitchen and behind the counter.


And it should only get better from here.


Artizen by MW, Hawai‘i State Art Museum, 250 S. Hotel St. 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Hours subject to change.