First Look: Herringbone Waikīkī

A preview of this frisky al fresco arrival in the International Market Place shows Brian Malarkey stretching his California Coastal Cuisine game.
Top Chef alum Brian Malarkey oversees Herringbone, which just opened at the International Market Place, with a menu featuring local fish, meats and greens.
Photos: Aaron K. Yoshino


There are soft openings, with missed cues and dishes to forget, and there are hard, Imax-quality openings. A Tuesday private preview showed the trim, spike-haired Top Chef veteran and chef-founder of four Herringbone restaurants obsessing all evening alongside Herringbone Waikīkī chef de cuisine Chad Horton, his kitchen crew and crack waitstaff.


As we walked out of a sultry sunset into the cool bar area, ahead of us was a living wall of floor-to-ceiling greenery; overhead was a tall ship’s-worth of rigging, tight lines that entangled dinghies and skiffs. Near the back, a skeleton of a whale loomed like an escapee from the Museum of Natural History. A quarter-turn to the right revealed a glass-walled kitchen fronted by a display bed of crushed ice spiked with tuna tails and crustaceans. Behind it, the white-jacketed kitchen staff had a clear view of the lānai and its diners—and vice versa.


The dining area had a relaxed, white-tablecloth-meets-fish-shack ambiance—but not too relaxed. Though Malarkey calls San Diego home, there’s a lot more Paris brasserie than Cabo cantina in Herringbone’s DNA: bright chrome railings and fixtures, lights suspended from thick rope cradles, brick facings on walls and pillars, leather-backed banquettes in the bar.


Herringbone’s spacious open-air lānai opens onto the third floor of the International Market Place.


The raw bar platters that greeted arrivals to the third-floor, 2,000-square-foot open-air lānai were overflowing with top-flight Kona lobster, Kualoa Ranch and Washington State oysters, Alaskan king crab and shrimp. Raw bars can be a prop supplying visual impact and are usually approached with caution by serious pescophiles. And for a restaurant to proclaim it’s serious about seafood in Hawai‘i is like leading with your chin in boxing—you’d better land the first punch, and keep on landing them, because the competition won’t let you off the floor if you miss.


But Malarkey and Horton are calling their regular pau hana “Oyster Hour” and treated this as their opening flurry in Round One. The oysters were exceptionally clean-tasting and succulent, while the lobster quarters tasted like those you’d grill after diving off Kona at midnight. Even the sauces and aioli drew respectful attention, which sounds like a foodie faux pas, since oysters should make it on their own naked charm. But the kim chee mignonette really is worth painting on an otherwise superb bivalve; it’s not even that kim chee-ish, though packing a fascinating fiery note.


Herringbone offers seafood platters in three sizes: the $75 Skiff (four oysters, a quarter-pound of Alaskan king crab, a half Kona lobster, two jumbo shrimp), the double-down Sailboat ($115, times two the Skiff list) and the if-you-have-to-ask Yacht (OK, it’s $155, for a dozen oysters, one pound of Alaskan king crab, one-and-a-half pounds of Kona lobster and eight jumbo shrimp).


Find Seafood galore at Herringbone.


The lānai is reminiscent of Búho Cocina y Cantina’s rooftop citadel, but fancier and more protected from the elements, thanks to a retractable roof, which we got to see in action. A brief closing prompted by a passing sprinkle was followed by an all-clear, leaving us to enjoy the night sky under a scimitar moon. This is a romantic spot, with glass walls that produce an inner courtyard, oasis feeling.


Although a preview review should be taken with a grain of salt, the fact that we were part of a larger group—perhaps 50 people—did duplicate a few of the strains that a kitchen will face during a dinner service. The tasting menu consisted of two greens, two appetizers, three entrées and two sides, served family-style, concluding with three desserts. Every dish that hit the table for sharing looked finished—some very polished, like the Yellowtail Crudo appetizer ($23 at dinner), which resembled a lei due to a tiny garden of edible flowers, and the Buffalo Octopus ($17 at dinner), which looked like a battle between flowers and herbs and some undersea creature.


Overall, freshness stood out. Spicing and saucing ranged from assertive, but never overdone, to confidently unembellished. We enjoyed our Better Mules & Gardens, a tall pink refresher which surprised with rhubarb bitters, along with a tickle of strawberry purée, cucumber bitters, Grey Goose and just enough ginger beer.


The burrata with tomatoes and prosciutto.


The Buffalo Octopus proved a crowd pleaser at the preview dinner.
Photo: Courtesy of Herringbone


Three dishes that could’ve had a “greatest hits” familiarity—burrata with tomatoes and prosciutto, charred Brussels sprouts and an octopus appetizer—broke the mold. Each element of the burrata ($18 on the dinner menu, viewed online) tasted like it was interacting for the very first time. The thick-cut heirloom tomatoes and the shavings of sushi-pale prosciutto counterpointed the lush clouds of cream and mozzarella. The most ubiquitous vegetable of the decade, brussels sprouts ($12 at dinner), here came roasted so that the outer leaves crisped while separating slightly—it resembled an unpointy artichoke. Something in the spices used in charring sparked a feeding frenzy at our table, scattering the “crispy candy pecans” that attended the dish.


The Buffalo Octopus was voted dish-most-likely-to-be-talked-about at our table. The thick tentacles swim in a thin red sea of what may well be Frank’s Red Hot, clutching at the ranch-slicked, pearl-like black-eyed peas and slivers of carrot. Crisp outside, warm and soft within, the octopus is obviously Malarkey’s pride and joy; he couldn’t wait to hear what we thought when he stopped by the table.


One entrée made a strong impression, and said something nice about the kitchen: the crispy-skin onaga. It arrived, five fish fingers to a plate, atop creamy watercress and a red pepper relish. A cut of the crispy skin broke the tension holding the white flaky flesh together and it sprang upward. Freshness and on-point broiler work were all the dish needed, and the coulis lent a subtle supporting touch.


The onaga made a welcome contrast to the current over-fussy treatment of fish in several Island white-tablecloth and hotel joints, which seem to be engaged in an arms race to see who can layer on the thickest crust of local-style add-ons. Furikake, sesame seeds, li hing mui, panko, cornflakes, crushed arare, azuki beans, Froot Loops—well, maybe not the latter—but the madness has got to stop. What works for the diner and a portion-control slab of tilapia ruins a good cut of auction-sourced fish—especially when that crust receives a mandatory drenching of sauce.


Our onaga needed none of that.


The regular dinner menu shows a similar restraint and respect for high-quality seafood: the market-price whole fish (sea salt, extra-virgin olive oil, lemon, herbs), monchong in a citrus miso glaze ($45), shutome in sake and ginger beurre blanc ($38), Hokkaido scallops with corn and heirloom tomato risotto in citrus gremolata ($44) and ‘ahi in a blackening spice and Romesco sauce ($41). The touches of Greece, Italy and Catalonia in the whole fish, gremolata and Romesco treatments may recall a hot sirocco wind blowing over a stony seacoast. Almost every dish is accompanied by farmers market or Mari’s Gardens vegetables.


These Hokkaido scallops come with corn and heirloom tomato risotto in citrus gremolata.


The beautifully plated onaga.


Our other preview entrées for sharing were well-received. Seconds were requested of a house special Mushroom “Carbonara” that married the always-comforting fat udon noodles, coated with a burst poached egg and studded with mushrooms and just a few snap peas ($34).  The Prime Beef Rib Cap’s medium-rare slices were succulent and brushed with a smoked seaweed and wasabi butter (nicely underplayed). The beef lay on long strands of wilted Okinawan spinach which I first mistook for broccoli rabe, and worked the same bitter-greens magic.


You know a dish is good when, nearing the end of a long, multicourse meal like this one, your fork keeps straying back to the other side of the table’s platter. This was the case for the Buffalo Octopus, the onaga, the Brussels sprouts and the prime beef rib cap and its Okinawan spinach. The only disappointment was the dramatically named Death by Potatoes, a basin of pommes whipped up with Parmesan, mascarpone, butter, bacon and scallions. Can’t miss, right? It was a dish eagerly attacked by all, but tasted average. Seriously, if you’re going to promise death, you’ve got to deliver.


The dinner menu’s meat options, viewed online, will include the eight-ounce Center Cut Filet Mignon ($51) with a chimichurri and a yuzu brown butter hollandaise, soaked up, presumably by some Okinawan sweet potatoes. The Pono Pork Chop ($38) comes with roasted squash and a vinaigrette (Pono Pork is the supplier). A crispy skin Half Roasted Local Chicken ($36) is given the Grecian treatment: capers, lemon, herbs. And furikake.


Also at dinner are three flatbreads, a margherita ($18), Manila white clam ($22) and the Pig & Pineapple ($19), crispy pancetta and Maui pineapple.


Desserts included a delightful Macadamia Nut Cookies & Horchata, which turned out to be an ice cream sandwich; the Herringbone Fruit Plate, which was as good as it was gorgeous; and the Mini Liliko‘i Pot, which included madeleines for dipping. On the dining menu it’s called Liliko‘i Panna Cotta, which gives a better idea of its heavenly qualities. 


We departed Herringbone agreed that it was a rare Waikīkī restaurant to merit a return visit, one in which we would even pay full freight. That was before we scoped out the dinner prices, which are steep.


One way to enjoy some of the notable dishes at a lower price point would be to make the pau hana, or Oyster Hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the bar and lounge. Normally $3.50 each, during Oyster Hour the price is $2 apiece. The price also drops for the amazing Buffalo Octopus (from $17 to $9), Mussels Tikka ($19 to $9) and so on. A draft beer is $5, wine $6 and there’s a quartet of $7 cocktails: the Rye Old-Fashioned, a Pear 75 (a summer fruit twist on the French 75), a Strawberry Tarragon Caipirinha and the Zesty Refresher (vodka, cucumber juice, ginger, cane sugar).


Herringbone, 2330 Kalākaua Ave., International Market Place Grand Lānai, open Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m., (808) 797-2435,