On the site of the former Regal Bakery in the Chinatown Cultural Plaza is something new in the form of a mini food hall, Jolene’s Market. But the bakery never left. It’s presence is felt most obviously in the tea bar Momo’s Desserts & Drinks, where Regal doughnuts are among the desserts. The bakery also continues to own and manage the two food concepts, Bobo Cafe and Da Buttah Lobster.
The idea was to diversify, create a place people can hang out any time of day, and deliver more of the kind of food people who go to Chinatown are looking for.
The market is named for the daughter of Regal CEO Kerry Lau — Jolene Lau, who spent three years helping her mom, Charlene Lau, at the Chinatown location and oversees the new operation. She says they are open to more vendors, particularly someone willing to take over the tea bar to help reduce their workload.
Right now, a small staff manages the two restaurant operations and Folly the Bar so orders are taken at the Bobo Cafe counter, although for Chinese meals, orders are taken at the table when traffic is low. It’s a little loose here, so keep an open mind.
DA BUTTAH LOBSTAH
If you’re into social media, you’ve probably seen images of Da Buttah Lobstah’s lobster roll swimming into your feed and toying with your appetite.
It’s a beauty, with about 4 ounces of lobster meat piled onto a folded slice of toasted, buttered Hokkaido-style bread.
Oahu has never had a lobster roll comparable to the ones in the Northeast. It seems like something so simple and basic anyone could make it by starting with a good toasted, buttered roll, adding buttered lobster meat and a dash of Old Bay seasoning. Maybe no one has the time or desire to crack all those lobsters open for the masses. It’s an effort to deal with just one at the dinner table.
his one comes close to greatness, though with an Asian twist that will keep purists at bay — cilantro and the house Asian Cajun sauce of butter, lemongrass, garlic and other seasonings. For $15, it comes with a small bowl of corn chowder that doesn’t live up to anyone’s expectation of what a chowder should be. Oh well, it does complete the meal at no additional cost when considering a lobster roll alone generally costs about $18. In place of the chowder you can opt for fries for $1.50 more.
Every time I visit, tables are full of people enjoying the lobster roll or its new companion, a lobster grilled cheese sandwich. This one is for those who like ooey gooey melted havarti and cheddar even more than they like lobster. There’s still plenty of lobster flavor, but I think you get more lobster meat on the roll, or maybe it’s just an optical illusion in which the panini style of the grilled cheese compresses the ingredients. The sandwich is $16 and this time comes with a tomato bisque that lacks the creamy quality of a bisque. Again, fries are a $1.50 alternative.
A third option I have yet to try is a spicy sausage roll ($12 with corn chowder); rounding out the menu are various styles of fries.
The highlight is the Chowdah Fries ($9), a diet wrecker of waffle fries layered with cheese, bacon, chowder (somehow creamier here than in the bowl) and green onions. Yum!
Bobo Cafe started life as Hong Kong Cafe, and that sign is still up, but the name has changed to steer clear of any political animosity due to current strife in Hong Kong. Charlene Lau is from China but created a menu aimed at neutrality, with dishes from China and Hong Kong-style dishes more familiar to those who grew up here, though with some nice twists.
That means you’ll find plenty of noodle dishes like crispy cake noodles, topped with chicken or beef and vegetables ($12.95) or more luxe Dungeness crab or lobster (market price). You can also get Hong Kong-style thin egg noodles in soup or served dry with braised beef ($10.95) or small pork-and-shrimp wontons ($10.95) with broth on the side. As much as I dislike filling up on soup, the downside of the dry version is the noodles tend to clump. Ordering these and other proteins such as braised pig feet ($11.95) or ginger chicken ($10.95) over rice is another option.
The funn, or rice noodles, served here are thinner than at most Cantonese restaurants and that makes it easier to eat a lot, which is great for a dish as delicious as steamed funn topped with buttery Asian Cajun-sauced local prawns (market price). Scampi fans take note of this Chinese makeover.
The menu continues to evolve because Charlene Lau clearly loves food and experimenting with dishes, as well as getting to know her customers through what they eat.
You know you’re in trouble when she asks, “Do you eat intestines?” Then when you say no, she disappears and comes back with a mystery dish with instructions to “try this and I’ll tell you what it is afterward.”
I guessed it was intestines ($12.95) and luckily I actually do eat them. It’s just that they wouldn’t be my first, or even 100th choice of favorite foods to eat. What she served was like the Sichuan classic fuqi feipian or “couples lung,” offal seasoned with dozens of spices. It was so good I finished the entire dish, a “told you so” moment for her.
The Singapore classic Hainan chicken on rice ($12.95) is available, as well as a trendier dish of deep-fried fish fillet over rice, baked with mozzarella and creamed corn ($14.95). Talk about fusion. There was a day when lactose-intolerant Chinese, Koreans and Japanese steered clear of cheese. Now this most Western ingredient is everywhere young Asians congregate.
Dishes of yellow curry beef, chicken, shrimp, lobster and crab ($11.95 to market price) round out the menu. Whenever dealing with those market prices, be clear on how many pounds you’re willing to pay for or you could end up paying double what you were expecting.
Portions are huge here, so you may want to start with a smaller order and add on later. For example, a healthful pea sprout soup (market price) with pork and bits of salted duck egg is enough to feed a table of 10. I balked at the cost of uni fried rice ($21.95) and uni steamed egg ($21.95), but the custardy steamed egg was as big as a pie with at least six pieces of uni buried within the egg and topping the dish. The egg had little flavor, which made the taste of the urchin stand out. A few drops of sesame oil on top added dimension.
Chinatown Cultural Plaza, 100 N. Beretania St.
>> Call: 540-1000
>> Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
>> Prices: About $30 for two at Da Buttah Lobstah; $30 to $40 for two at Bobo’s Cafe
Ratings compare similar restaurants:
**** – excellent
*** – very good
** – average
* – below average
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.