Thursday, January 13, 2011

Good Eats: Alan Wong's Restaurant

Alan Wong is a mover and shaker in Hawaii's culinary scene using fresh, local ingredients in creative ways.  His specialty is fusion food with an emphasis on regional Hawaiian food.  Alan Wong graduated from the local culinary school at Kapiolani Community College and served in several distinguished restaurants.  Since then he earned several awards, in 1994 he was named by the Robert Mondavi Winery as one of thirteen rising chefs in America and in 1996 he earned the James Beard Award (the Oscars of the food world) for Best Chef: Pacific Northwest.  You also might have seen him in Top Chef, where he was a guest judge in part one of the Season Two Finale.    

His restaurant is located on the 3rd floor of an office building located at 1857 South King Street in Honolulu.  Coincidentally, it is a few blocks from Chef Mavro's Restaurant.  Both restaurants are excellent, both use local ingredients, the difference between the two is style and the diner's personal preference.  Alan Wong's is more casual than Chef Mavro's and serves separate entrees as well as tasting menus, whereas Chef Mavro's only does tasting menus.

You can easily miss the restaurant since it's in a non-descript office building, so the first thing you'll see is the valet's sign for Alan Wong's.  Valets were attentive and you can't beat the price.  As soon as you jump out of the car, walk right into the office building and take the elevator to the third floor.  

On the ride up to the restaurant, the elevator has pictures of Alan Wong at work.  Here he's sampling honey from one of the local beekeepers.  Alan Wong's signature style is creatively using local ingredients in simple dishes and elevating it to the level of gourmet cuisine.    

Call ahead to make a reservation and if it's a special occasion they will customize the menu with your names.  Also, Alan Wong and each chef signs the menu.  After you're done ordering, they will wrap the menu with a ribbon and give it to you after dinner.  There's a lot to like in the menu, but we decided to order the 5 course tasting menu to try a little bit of everything.  Since Alan Wong's uses local ingredients, the menu changes with the seasons.  Depending on when you visit, you might have different dishes.  

I definitely recommend the 5 course tasting menu, everything was made with local ingredients and delicious.  The menu changes with seasonal local ingredients, so when you dine the menu would be different.  The first course is chilled tomato soup with a mozzarella wafer under the Kalua pork sandwich and minute poke.  The soup is designed to be sipped as you take a bite of the sandwich and cheese wafer.  Eu-jeania doesn't like soup and doesn't like tomatoes, but she raved about this course.  The soup is very tasty and compliments the hot sandwich.  This is the wow factor that starts the dinner.  The minute poke is also included in this serving, but it was gone within a minute.  That says something about the food, because Eu-jeania is not a poke fan, but she loved the poke here.  

You can change out some of the items on the tasting menu and the Kona lobster bisque caught my eye.  The chefs were gracious enough to switch the chilled tomato soup for Kona lobster bisque and it was great.  Here is the bisque, minute poke, and Kalua pork sandwich.  I was quick enough to capture the poke on film before it disappeared in a minute.  

The next course was the seafood lasagna.  Sounds strange, but tastes oh so good.  There is a warm mix of different seafoods wrapped in a lasagna noodle topped with melted mozzarella cheese in a shallow pool of ciopinno sauce.  I tasted shrimp, crab, and I think there was some lobster tucked in there.  The seafood was warm and tender, but not chewy or tough.  A playful version of an Italian classic.  

The next course, is the ginger crusted opaka or long tailed red snapper.  Eu-jeania isn't big on fish, preferring a good NY Strip steak, but loved the fish which was warm and tender, but not overcooked and dry.  And the sauce was a miso seasame vinaigrette with corn and Hamakua mushrooms was very flavorful, but did not overwhelm the fish.  

And on to the meat part of the menu.  This is twice cooked short ribs, soy braised, and cooked "Kalbi" style topped with gingered shrimp and Ko Choo Jang sauce.  Ko Choo Jang is red pepper paste commonly used in Korean dishes.  While the sauce has some heat, it doesn't burn the pallet and goes well with the sweet ginger sauce in the short ribs.  The meat was tender and the shrimp succulent and the presentation vaguely reminded me of surf and turf.  The portions might not seem like much, but I'm full at this point.  

Before dessert, they'll ask if you want any coffee or tea.  I need a break between the main course and dessert, so I tried Rusty's Kau Coffee from the Big Island of Hawaii.  Coffee from Hawaii has always been dominated by Kona coffee, which is the western region of the Big Island.  However, in recent years Kau coffee from the southern region of the Big Island is starting to make itself known.  You have a choice of white or brown sugar.  The kau coffee is fresh made from a french coffee press.  Tasty, but strong.  A must for coffee lovers.  

The famous "Coconut" dessert: haupia sorbet in a chocolate shell covered with coconut shavings garnished with fresh, local fruits and a lilikoi sauce.  Haupia is a coconut pudding, but here they take it one step further and make it into a sorbet.  Very smooth, almost creamy for a sorbet and very tasty.  

And here is the finishing touch, our personalized menu gift wrapped and ready to take home.  That's the other thing that stood out about this restaurant, the service.  It was great.  The wait staff was attentive without being intrusive.   

On the way out, there is a picture on the wall by the elevator.  This was taken when President Obama stopped by Alan Wong's Restaurant in December.  The local paper ran a story about one of the guests that stopped by the restaurant that night.  She wondered why she had to walk through metal detectors after getting out of the elevator, then she saw the President.  Not sure what she should do, she quickly stuck her hand out.  
What did the President do?  Like any good gentleman, he graciously shook her hand and wished her a good evening.

And what a good evening it was.  For reservations call (808) 949-2526 or check the website here.  The restaurant is open from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm daily.  If you want to see their menu, check the link here.  And that's it for this post.

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