Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Alan Wong's Honolulu

Alan Wong's
1857 S King St
3rd Fl
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 949-2526

On our next to last night in Honolulu this fall, Mr. FST was feeling the affects of our travel in his tummy and we begged off a family dinner. After some quality snooze time, D awoke feeling much restored and we high tailed it over to Alan Wong's for a late supper.

Martinis made from Pau Maui pineapple vodka. NOT pineapple infused or flavored vodka, but a vodka tasting vodka made from pineapples grown on Maui. The pineapple flavor dissipates during the process of distillation. Available, sadly, only in Hawaii.  

Alan Wong is one of Hawaii's premier chefs. Along with 11 others (Sam Choy, Roger Dikon, Mark Ellman, Amy Ferguson Ota, Beverly Gannon, Jean-Marie Josselin, George Mavrothalassitis, Peter Merriman, Philippe Padovani, Gary Strehl, Roy Yamaguchi) he is one of the co-founders of a food movement called Hawaii Regional Cuisine.  Hawaii Regional Cuisine is characterized by a fusion of many ethnic cuisines including Japanese, Fillippino, Chinese, American, Korean, Polynesian, and Portuguese sourced from agriculture imported from around the world but grown in Hawaii. The basis of this regional cuisine was taking the common hotel cuisine of the tourist industry the islands rely on heavily as part of their economy and elevate it using these multi-ethnic approaches and regionally sourced produce.

I have had the pleasure of dining in Alan Wong's unassuming room several times during my annual trips to O'ahu.  But this is the first time I have been in several years.  Typically, dining with my Hawaii based family, we eat more family friendly food at lower price points and without all the fancy. Zippy's, Maguro-Ya, Du Vin, Izakaya Nonbei, CPK when the boys were younger, etc.




5 Course Menu Prix Fixe.


And a long list of specials for the evening.


D started with the Ohini Shooter.  Local Limpet in Spicy Tomato Water, Fennel Basil Ume Shiso Essences.  One is supposed to down the entire shot in one gulp to experience the holistic flavor sensation. While it was fun to eat, he was meh about the flavors.

We sat at the chef's table, which is really just the bar overlooking the kitchen. They do kind of  make much ado about sitting at the chef's table, and while I enjoy watching the cooks work I was glad you could order a la carte as opposed to having the tasting menu be your only choice.


I also love watching the expediting. For some reason, one of my favorite things to watch is the wiping of the plate's edge before walking a dish onto the floor.


I started with one of the evening's specials.  Mochi crusted unagi with quail's egg and BBQ sauce. How do I start here? Flavor profile or portion size? Big, big, very big flavors here.  The BBQ sauce basically drowned out the taste of egg, which is a shame because they are so beautiful. I was really wanting to taste egg yolk soaking the mochi crust, but the BBQ sauce effectively hegemonized anything subtle about this dish. And size wise, this was enough appetizer for three people. I could only eat 1.5/3.  They asked me if I wanted it wrapped to go, and sadly I didn't think it was worthy of coming home (hotel) with me.


After his shooter, D ordered the special soup, on the menu just for Thanksgiving. Turkey and bacon chowder.  Our wonderful server told us it tastes just like turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, it did it did.


While it definitely tasted good, it was a low brow taste of goodness.  There was nothing subtle about this dish, it hit you over the head like a bowl of Campbell's Chunky Soup.  The flavor reminded me precisely of the filling in a Swanson's Chicken Pot Pie. As a child on the rare occasions Mom and Dad went out in the evening, Mom would leave Swanson's Chicken Pot Pies for the babysitter to pop in the oven. This tasted exactly like that.


For an entree with barely room left in my tummy after my gut bomb of an appetizer, I was served a beautiful pan steamed opakapaka with shrimp pork hash, truffle nage, gingered vegetables, tapioca pearls. Bok choy added a bright green pop to a round flavored dish, with a few truffle shavings in evidence if not really big in the flavor.  Opakapaka was beautifully fresh, moist, yielding, with the tapioca pearls underneath adding a lusciousness texturally.  This was the most successful combination I tasted all night.


D ordered beautiful scallops for his main and was.not.happy.  Red barley miso, eggplant, Tokyo turnips and breakfast radishes.  Texturally, he said it reminded him of baby food *gasp* because all the textures were soft, the veggies resembling a ratatouille flavor and texture wise. And strangely, he said it was so much food it made him feel weird. Granted, it was a pricey dish. But the scallops were huge. really huge.


I did love the carb options for each dish on the menu. I tried the barley, quinoa and eda mame mixture instead of rice and it was beautiful. Some crunch, al dente whole grains, a little Maui onion.  What a lovely option for the health and flavor conscientious. Other options were white or brown rice, and mashed potatoes.


Chocolate covered macadamia nuts, Wong's signature goodbye offering.

I reflected that evening upon the universally rave reviews of Wong's, and the disparity of our experience. Service was really beyond compare. I would like to carry our server in my pocket as my personal restaurant valet, he struck the prefect balance between professional and personable.  High quality elements in the dishes. Ingredients are locally sourced for the most part, and Wong has been approaching ingredients this way long before the slow food trend hit headlines and home cooking practices, when exotically imported ingredients were still desireable. I applaud Wong and his peers for making the best use of the bounty offered by the islands, supporting the economy and the health of our planet long before Leo drove a Prius and we discussed using solar paneling to go off the grid at cocktail parties. What was lacking for me was something profoundly important in a meal of this stature, subtlety & finesse.  To me, this is fine dining for people who love the Cheesecake Factory. Behemoth flavors and equally massive portions. This was not a bad meal, it was an experience meant to dazzle the above average diner. It just missed my mark by, oh, I don't know, 22.5%? That's still a solid C+.

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