PREMIUM SELECTION | MORIMOTO WAIKIKI
I hate to drop names (not true, actually I love it), but in 2002 I had a short conversation with Masaharu Morimoto. It was just after he’d opened his first restaurant, in Philadelphia, and he talked about his plans for many more: "Hawaii, San Francisco, Chicago … whatever," he said. "If I have the people and the power, if I have the spirit, it will come."
People, power, spirit — all that comes across at Morimoto Waikiki, opened in 2010. Everything you eat here will be bold yet balanced, presented with artistry yet no fuss or bother.
MORE ILIMA AWARDS
My ideal dinner starts with the chef’s signature poke, ahi with balls of bocconcini (mozzarella cheese) and avocado wasabi "sorbet," enlightening, even for those who think they’ve had poke every way possible. Next: Ishi Yaki Buri Bop, his take on the Korean rice dish bibimbap, but made with slices of hamachi seared at the table in a hot stone pot. Pickled carrot, fiddlehead fern and sesame spinach are all brought together fabulously with a sauce of citrus, sesame and soy — and in true bibimbap fashion, a raw egg. Dessert would be Chocolate Shiso: both those flavors in cake, mousse, ice cream — with a toasted marshmallow.
My long-ago interview with Morimoto took place at a food festival on the Big Island, where he was constantly interrupted by autograph seekers. For each he wrote a message in kanji — "Big dreams on a deep foundation." He now has 10 restaurants across the country and that message seems prophetic.
1775 Ala Moana Blvd.; 943-5900
Lunch, dinner. $$$-$$$$
Come for the pancakes. Stay for the Benedicts, fried rice and sandwiches.
My Cafe has brought a quality breakfast menu to the west side, accompanied by congenial service that attracts lines of diners even on weekdays.
The draw? Well, the pancake flight — lilikoi, chocolate-taro-haupia and Cookie Butta Lova — is quite photogenic and popular with online reviewers, but for me that’s the least of it. I plan to eat my way through all the eggs Benedicts, from kalua pig (with lomi tomato) to blue crab (with asparagus). My first, the Veggie, was chosen because it came with a Parmesan crisp, a generous layer of shredded cheese baked into a sheet that was the perfect foil to the eggy, saucy goodness of the rest of the dish.
All the breakfast specialties have this appealing mix of textures and flavors, from the Kamaaina Fried Rice with its sprinkling of crunchy bean sprouts to the Loaded French Toast covered in berries and toasted coconut flakes with a haupia-taro sauce.
My Cafe emphasizes locally sourced ingredients that give everything that extra boost of freshness.
After breakfast, order a sandwich to eat later. Several turkey choices are packed with tender chunks of meat mixed in a variety of ways: with cranberries, bacon or avocado. There’s also a panini I have my eye on: grilled cheese with bacon. Guess I’ll have to get in line.
563 Farrington Highway, Kapolei; 200-5737
Breakfast, lunch. $$
The Waipahu location of this venerable Hawaiian food outlet has long been a favorite pit stop — a friendly, bustling place where every craving for luau leaves and salted salmon, imu-licious pork and fried akule could be met.
Highway Inn has been a family concern, sailing a steady course, since 1947. The business took a leap two years ago with the opening of a Kakaako location, also expanding its point of view. This Highway Inn serves beer, wine and cocktails, and offers live music on Fridays.
Chef Mike Kealoha, formerly of Tiki’s Grill & Bar in Waikiki, has an aim of putting a contemporary spin on Hawaiian food.
The menu is still weighted toward the traditional Hawaiian plates that Highway Inn has always done well. But in Kakaako you’ll also find the Smokin’ Moco, a delicious take on the good old loco moco made with smoked pork instead of a beef patty, with sauteed onions and an aioli made with the drippings from the smoker. Pulehu Moa is broiled chicken with a chili reduction and furikake rice; Pulehu He’e on Nalo Greens is grilled octopus in a salad with lilikoi dressing. On the appetizer menu: grilled uala (sweet potato) chips with smoked marlin. Classic Hawaiian food and preparations with a new view.
As Kealoha says, "Oh yeah, here we go."
94-226 Leoku St., Waipahu, 677-434
680 Ala Moana Blvd., Kakaako, 954-4955
Breakfast, lunch, dinner (no dinner on Sundays). $-$$