PREMIUM PICK: MUD HEN WATER
3452 Waialae Ave., 737-6000. Dinner, weekend brunch. $-$$
Food can be a most delicious way to explore history and culture, and one restaurant that does this exceedingly well is Mud Hen Water, one of chef-restaurateur Ed Kenney’s four eateries. Mud Hen’s menu presents contemporary, relatable dishes that local diners can trace back to familiar foods from days gone by.
A Preserved Akule pupu, for instance, sparks instant familiarity with just a glance at the menu — fish served with soda cracker, pickles and limu butter. The short list flooded me with memories of childhood, when canned sardines, soda crackers and Japanese pickles were staples in my mom’s pantry. On the rare occasion when we kids ate a frozen pizza or SpaghettiOs, my parents would hover over rice bowls topped with canned sardines and raw onions, their eyes closed in rapt enjoyment of a nostalgic dish from their own childhoods.
I recall being nursed back from illness with soda crackers and room-temperature 7-Up, and Mom sharing how ono a soda cracker can be with a swipe of butter. When the akule came to the table, it was of course elevated and sublime — the fish fresh, the butter savory, the pickles an absolutely perfect balance, with soda crackers the ideal platform, structurally and ideologically, for the ensemble. But the dish was made richer by my own memories.
The rest of that meal functioned in much the same way, displaying the restaurant’s artistry for fusing flavors and ingredients of various local cultures. Yaki o Pa‘i‘ai, for instance, was served up alongside nori and sesame, and seasoned with a shoyu-sugar sauce — mochi, anyone? A small plate of pohole (fiddleneck fern) dressed in an ume-shiso vinaigrette was reminiscent of both Japanese side dishes and tasty Korean banchan. I‘a Lawalu was local fusion at its best, a smoky dish buried in coals, with moist fish perfectly paired with tasty pastele and local veggies such as long squash, carrot, daikon and bok choy.
As with all of Kenney’s restaurants, dishes change based on available, locally sourced ingredients. But one thing that stays consistent is the deliciousness of the offerings, each imbued with food for thought.
514 Keawe St.; 762-0845. 515 Kailua Road; 263-7980. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. $
Hibachi is the kind of place that makes me regret packing a home lunch. I work three minutes from this new addition to the Kakaako food scene, and it takes discipline not to succumb to a plate of fried ahi belly with double-order banchan of sea asparagus salad. Or Kukui Sausage Co. kim chee sausage. Or a spicy ahi poke bowl over sushi rice. Or pork katsu. Or boneless kalbi. Or so many other things.
Aside from the poke, proteins are grilled fresh while you wait. But what takes the menu a cut above is that it starts with fresh, quality ingredients, from fish to local sausage to wagyu beef, and follows up with impeccable execution, from well-seasoned meats to deliciously flavored poke to grilling done just right.
A couple items to note: marinated sirloin skewers, soaked in a subtly sweet teriyaki sauce that’s balanced with a generous dose of sesame oil — perfection; and hearty lamb skewers that are rich and tender. It is these skewer plates, priced at $10 to $12, that reflect some of the best deals of the menu. Served with a choice of white, brown or sushi rice and two banchan items, the plates are plenty generous enough for a meal plus a home lunch to look forward to.
Another Hibachi location serves diners in Kailua.
PU’UWAI ALOHA BAKERY
1670 Lusitana St.; 631-1717. Open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. (Also at FarmLovers farmers markets Saturday in Kakaako and Sunday in Kailua.) Bakery, breakfast, lunch, dinner. $
For all the trendy fuss over gluten-free diets and other kinds of “-free” eating, there’s nothing hip about walking into a restaurant and finding the only thing you can have is a green salad. You don’t feel cool, you feel hungry.
That makes chef Susan Fein’s Pu‘uwai Aloha Bakery a beacon for folks with conditions that limit what they can eat. From her humble shop, located on a quiet Punchbowl street, Fein whips up an impressive, expansive menu of sweet and savory options that address most restricted diets. But the wonderful thing is, her food appeals to all.
Through dozens of baked items that range from loaves of bread and peanut butter cookies (likely her most popular item) to custom birthday cakes, Fein flexes her formidable pastry chops. She even offers savory items that make a hearty one-handed meal, such as a corned beef hash and egg pastry. The lineup in the case changes according to available ingredients — Fein does her best to use local, organic and non-GMO food.
She also cooks grab-and-go dishes, including a popular local ahi green chili with rice, various soups, quiches and more that keep customers coming back.
Joleen Oshiro is food editor of Crave.