2000s Archive

Real Hawaiian

continued (page 3 of 3)

And to anybody sated with the sedate tropicalisms of Waikiki hotel cooking, the food at Alan Wong’s, which occupies the third floor of an office building in an obscure Honolulu business district, has to come as a revelation: salmon with risotto tricked out to resemble yet transcend the green tea and rice porridge that is a staple of Japanese-Hawaiian home cooking; California rolls made with hot lobster mousse where you’d expect to find the rice; a traditional Cobb salad plumped out with fresh soybeans; an elevated version of the grilled huli huli–spiced chicken whose smoke perfumes local Lions Club cookouts; a luau-themed Caesar salad with kalua pig, puréed taro leaf, and a poi vinaigrette. (Wong employs the flavors of the Hawaiian kitchen—kalua pig and taro, luau leaf and lomilomi salmon—with the abandon of Italian chefs using olive oil and garlic.)

Wong’s new Pineapple Room, a sleekly modern restaurant on the third floor of the Liberty House department store, in the Ala Moana shopping center, is even more explicitly Hawaiian, with a menu powered by bento boxes, poi cups, kalua-pig blts, and huli huli–spiced chicken pizzas with macadamia pesto. A lunchtime reservation at The Pineapple Room may be the toughest seat in town.

But where the restaurant shines the brightest is at breakfast, when Wong—and his chef Steven Ariel—really play with their food: eggs “Benedict” with a cake of kalua pig–taro hash substituting for the muffin and a luau-leaf hollandaise; biscuits and gravy inflected with five-spice powder and topped with roast duck; oatmeal surrounded by a moat of miso soup, which tastes better than you can imagine. Wong even takes on the loco moco—a fearsome drive-in concoction of hamburger, fried rice, eggs over easy, and 40-weight brown gravy—and elegantly reconstructs it with a Thai-inspired shrimp patty, a lemongrass-flavored black bean purée, and a single fried quail egg. Spectacular. The Pineapple Room’s multicourse breakfast degustation is Hawaii’s answer to breakfast at Brennan’s in New Orleans, and nobody serious about food should visit Honolulu without trying it at least once.

Wong’s Hawai’i Regional Cuisine Marketplace takes up nearly half a floor directly above The Pineapple Room, a gleaming agora that includes classic pastries and artisanal French breads, T-shirts, and Wong’s line of sauces, as well as Hawaiian-raised meats and prepared local foods that include things like kalua pig and beef poi stew. The aisle of Hawaii-grown produce—including Kurt Hirabara’s lettuces, Sunrise tomatoes, and Best Farms’s incredible volcano-grown cantaloupes—is as startlingly beautiful as anything in the jewelry cases downstairs. Buy a $1 cup of poha, Big Island gooseberries that taste like Technicolor plums, to snack on while you explore the rest of the store.

Alan Wong’s Restaurant, 1857 South King Street, Honolulu, Tel. (808) 949-2526

The Pineapple Room, Liberty House at Ala Moana, 3rd floor, Honolulu, Tel. (808) 945-8881

Hawai’i Regional Cuisine Marketplace, Liberty House at Ala Moana, 4th floor, Honolulu, Tel. (808) 945-8888

Subscribe to Gourmet