MW Restaurant Reopens Today at a New Location in Kaka‘ako Across From the Blaisdell Center
Upstairs, it’s upscale new MW; downstairs, it’s chic-casual Artizen Café. Here’s an upstairs-downstairs taste.
After a three-month hiatus, MW Restaurant reopens for dinner today in a new spot at Kapi‘olani Boulevard and Ward Avenue, just upstairs from the more casual Artizen Café, which reopened in January after an even longer closure. How do the sister eateries compare to their originals? Here’s a look.
MW’s original home in the old KGMB-TV station a few blocks away was the definition of bare-bones upscale. The new MW inside Symphony Honolulu is a step up: You head to the second floor, past gleaming Ferraris and Maseratis to a bar that segues into a long, glass-fronted dining space of organic neutrals and muted seafoam accents. It feels like an evolution as much as an acknowledgment that this MW shares an address with a luxury car showroom. A chain of events that started with the ending of MW’s lease led to an old classmate offering a new home in the empty spaces left by Viaggio restaurant and Italica Bar & Café. For MW’s Michelle Karr-Ueoka it was also gut instinct. “You know how you have that intuition that this is the place?” she says. “The only other time I had that feeling was when I saw [original] MW.”
The menu, too, is an evolution. Your old favorites from the dinner menu? Still there: the fried chicken appetizer ($15), mochi-crusted kampachi ($35), 12-ounce Brandt beef rib-eye steak ($59), Karr-Ueoka’s brûléed tropical fruit Creamsicle and her Kula strawberry shave ice, both now $13. All are tweaked, a signature trait of Wade Ueoka, Karr-Ueoka’s husband and driver of the savory side of the menu, so the kampachi (at lunch the fish will be monchong) no longer comes with Korean banchan sides, but okazuya-style kimpira and namasu; the coils of somen that rested underneath are now an add-on option. Soy-braised short ribs ($40) have added red wine in the sauce and a teriyaki-based truffle glaze.
There are new dishes, among them fist-size Kona lobster rolls in house-made pretzel buns ($18); a new $38 dinner teishoku combining portions of miso-and-honey-glazed butterfish, scallop and Kaua‘i shrimp and the short rib; and a $225 tomahawk steak dinner for two with appetizers, sides and desserts. Speaking of which, the strawberry shortcake now includes a seasonal cherry panna cotta among its layers of mochi dango, tapioca, strawberry-shiso sorbet and shaved strawberries. There’s a new affogato-inspired dessert of Ka‘u chocolate cake with chocolate consommé and vanilla cream, a tarte tartin with miso apples and sesame ice cream, and a new floating island. Not on the dinner menu but of note for meat eaters are steamed bao buns stuffed with a slice of juicy rendang-style beef crowned with Thai basil; get this if you see it.
For drinkers: MW for the first time has a beverage director in Jen Len, who trained under noted sommeliers and mixologists at places like Cana Rum Bar and Drago Centro in Southern California, Las Vegas’s Jammyland cocktail bar and Downtown’s Encore Saloon. Len is curating MW’s wine and spirits list and creating seasonal, locally sourced cocktails and mocktails.
MW reopens today, April 6, for dinner and April 20 for lunch and happy hour. There’s valet service, a few self-parking stalls in the building (enter from Kapi‘olani Boulevard) and limited street parking nearby. —MT
We had a relationship with Artizen by MW at HiSAM. We weren’t just dating or Insta-stalking, the HONOLULU Team had a full-on commitment to its grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, specials and desserts. We would walk the two blocks from our office down Hotel Street for brainstorming sessions, planning meetings, hello and goodbye lunches or to scoop up discounted salads at the end of the day. One of our HONOLULU Family writers was even addicted to Artizen’s breakfast sandwiches. So when it closed last year, even though we weren’t working in the office, I mourned the loss of the 5-minute walk to the jidori fried chicken bento box, Cobb salad, furikake fries and, (although it feels cliché to say it) my favorite mochi-crusted opah or tofu.
So I met the news of Artizen’s move with relief and regret: relief that it was back and regret that I would now have to walk farther. Artizen’s new spot in Velocity, a snazzy spot with tables now facing cars, a V-shaped counter for ordering and pickup and a few outside tables looking out at busy Ward Avenue. There are a few parking spaces, an upgrade from its HiSAM location, but they fill quickly. But that’s an aside. After all, I’m there for the food.
And that is comfortingly familiar. The move didn’t cause any major menu shakeups. There is the $8 morning sandwich with meat, OK Farms egg and cheese now on mochi bread instead of a bagel for breakfast, the mochi-crusted fish or tofu, Artizen burger and a niçoise salad in the afternoon along with Michelle Karr-Ueoka’s desserts. Artizen has also added a few smoothies but I’m most intrigued by the new Save It For Later section, featuring six frozen dishes to take home, something Karr-Ueoka and husband, Wade Ueoka, began offering when dine-in service stopped last spring. So when I stopped by for takeout during a now rare day in the office, the bulk of my two-bag haul was snacks and dinner for later.
First, lunch. I’m sorry to say that the Ludovico Farms Chicken and Tofu Menchi Katsu ($12) sat in its closed container during an hour-and-a-half meeting (I don’t like to eat on Zoom) so the likely crisp patty was no longer. But it was still a hearty, flavorful bite, accented by the crunch of water chestnuts, enhanced by my multiple dunkings in the ponzu sauce. The vinegary notes of the delicately sliced pickled cucumber added a nice pop of acid as I quickly polished it off.
Thankfully the won ton chips that came with the spinach and mushroom dip did not suffer from my delayed snacking. In fact, the fried pi kept their serious crunch for three days and are the perfect complement to the creamy dip that is reminiscent of the typical sour cream and spinach-based blend, but gains a hint of earthiness from diced mushrooms. I allowed my husband two bites then didn’t share the rest.
The frozen meals received mixed reviews in my house. I enjoyed the rich flavors of the Oxtail “Beef Stew Style” ($15 for 32 ounces) and the vegetables were cooked perfectly–they didn’t turn to mush when reheated–but the oxtail appeared to be charred, leaving the meat a bit crunchy and dry rather than the tender, long-braised oxtail I expected. The pork and butterfish lau lau ($15 for two) looked diminutive compared to those massive Hawaiian plates you see in other places, but the meat-to-luau leaf ratio was just right and it worked well as a lunch for two. The meaty MW chili ($15 for 32 ounces) has been a staple of the lunch menu for years and the shortrib, beef and Portuguese sausage stew, as expected, easily freezes well for a homey, warming meal that happily fed our family of four. The next item on my must-try list is the weekend brunch.
A traffic accident that day left me in such a rush (see aforementioned Zoom meeting) I didn’t have time for my planned survey of the dessert case. So, I am ashamed to say I left without dessert but with Karr-Ueoka at the helm, there is no doubt it is a mistake no one else should repeat. I certainly will not. —CY