2020 Hale ‘Aina Award Winners: Pai Honolulu Wins Bronze for Hawai‘i’s Best Tasting Menu
Pai Honolulu’s takeout menu has a few meals that are not so hot. And that’s a very cool thing.
ot food takeout is always challenging: Fried foods flop in closed containers, sauces thicken and delicate greens that start the journey perkily on top of plated entrées wilt on the long ride home.
When dining rooms were forced to close, several restaurants offered pre-packed refrigerated servings of favorites. But Pai Honolulu put something else on its menu: the option to pick up chilled dishes as a cooking kit. Everything is prepped and almost finished—roasted vegetables need warming, arborio rice for risotto is just shy of al dente, sauces contain chilled butter ready to melt and keep liquids from seizing when heated—so you can go from stovetop to plate in about 10 minutes and, ideally, using just one pot.
The idea came when chef Kevin Lee and his wife, Justine Kadokawa Lee, were at home with their first baby, born on the first day of the stay-at-home orders in March. “A lot of the time our family spent together was preparing meals, that’s what we looked forward to,” Lee says. Friends echoed the thought. So, the couple began planning ways to deliver the Pai experience.
At first, it was multi-course kits, with YouTube videos of Lee in the kitchen providing guidance. In the fall, the restaurant shifted to à la carte items. Kadokawa Lee, who is Pai Honolulu’s general manager, reads each recipe card to make sure novice cooks can follow the instructions and, so far, Lee says photos on social media show most diners end up with entrées close to what he envisioned. “No disasters,” he says, laughing.