Sneak peek: Hale Ohuna

After months of waiting … and waiting … and waiting, chef Lee Anne Wong’s newest restaurant is finally opening to the public Friday night. It seems quite fitting that the name is Hale Ohuna (which means “secret house” in Hawaiian), since her trial runs Sunday and last night were for  insiders only, and invitees were forbidden to post anything significant on social media, much less blog about it.

Usually someone from Frolic might bust in and get some early food shots, but since we are dealing — ahem — with one pushy Chinese broad to another, the best we can do is give you a peek at what it looks like inside.

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Hale Ohuna is in the former Salt space, which is still owned by Kevin Hanney of 12th Avenue Grill and has the same urban, loft-like layout. The first floor has a long bar and features spirits near and dear to Lee Anne’s heart, like top-notch whiskies (many Japanese) and exclusive sakes not found in Hawaii. There’s also certain beers and some other items that are exclusive to this restaurant, thanks in part to Lee Anne’s contacts in New York.

One of the main things Lee Anne did was transform the walls with pops of color and texture from local artists, curated by Sarah Tamashiro. The art you see all over the restaurant is fresh, contemporary, and for sale, making it as much of a Hawaiian art gallery as it is a modern noodle bar. A lot of the wood furniture — done by Daniel Anthony and other local woodworkers — has a rustic look but feels refined and ergonomic when you sit on it. The custom lighting was done by local artist Mark Chai, all unique art pieces in themselves. And yes, the furniture (within reason) and the lighting is for sale, too.

It’s still a hale, so Lee Anne brought the rest of the space to life with photos and pieces from her own home, so you feel like you are in a longtime kama’aina house. (See if you can find the one of her dressed as a mouse for Halloween.) Here’s a look at the space, the art, and the thought behind Sarah and Lee Anne’s process.

 

My favorite spot is the Green Room, a little hideaway on the second floor.

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Inside, you’ll find more furniture by Daniel Anthony and lights by Mark Chai, with vintage sounds (thanks to Hungry Ear Records) giving it a very exclusive, “hidden opium den” kind of ambience. You don’t need a secret password to get in, either.

Hale Ohuna opens on Friday, September 4 at 5 p.m. for dinner. See you there!

Hale Ohuna
3605 Waialae Ave. (formerly Salt)

Something new: Urban Bistro

Urban Bistro in 808 Center.

Urban Bistro in 808 Center.

I’ve been waiting to see what that new building on the corner of Rycroft and Sheridan (behind Walmart) would turn into since they started building it last year. Recently, two hair salons have opened in there, and last week, the first of several restaurants turned on their lights for business.

Chef Greg Chun, Jr. (left) and manager Richard Smith during construction.

Chef Greg Chun, Jr. (left) and manager Richard Smith during construction.

Urban Bistro is owned by Margaret Lin, who owns other restaurants in Waikiki. She brought in Greg Chun, Jr. to develop the menu, and Richard Smith relocated from the Bay Area to manage it. The concept is, well, very urban, with elements from various big cities like the New York subway and a street in Boston.

One of the cool things is that Urban Bistro is a no-tip restaurant, because “it’s our pleasure to serve you,” said Smith.

This post isn’t meant to be a review; as you’ll see from the following photos, the menu is still evolving. It’s meant to give you an idea of what the dishes and flavors are like, and a peek inside the new venue. Plus, in the spirit of disclosure, the restaurant has since hired my company to do their social media. Prices below are for dinner; lunch is slightly less.

Bo'Urban wings, $8.

Bo’Urban wings, $8.

I ordered the Bo’urban wings because Gregg and Shawnee Hammer of Krater 96.3 were there before me and raved about it. These wings are coated in bourbon apple sauce and fried. They’re tender and tasty, with a pronounced sweetness. But wait! The menu said there was ranch dressing with it. Turns out, the restaurant was toying with not serving it with the wings. I asked for the ranch, and…

Chef Greg's nine-spice ranch dressing.

Chef Greg’s nine-spice ranch dressing.

…this was what was missing: Chef Greg has a nine-spice blend, which you’ll see on other things. He made his own ranch dressing and added the blend, and when you dip the wings in it, it’s like magic. I seriously think he should bottle this stuff. Every time I go in, I’m going to ask for it on the side so I can slather it on everything.

Hummus, $8.

Hummus, $8.

The nine-spice blend is also on his hummus. Most people like hummus, right? But this tastes so different with the spices — there’s an added layer of complexity. I guess I could spread this on my sandwiches instead of the ranch sauce.

Caprese sliders on the first day.

Caprese sliders on the first day, $10.

This is how the sliders started: three to a plate. Tomato, arugula, crisp parmesan, mozzarella and balsamic vinaigrette. This is a nice vegetarian option.

Pork sliders, evolved.

Pork sliders, evolved, $13.

This is how the sliders evolved. Now the plate has two sliders and a side of wedge fries. You know what goes well with the fries? That ranch sauce. The fries, also available as an appetizer, are dusted with the nine-spice blend, as well. These pork sliders are pretty good, but I think at this point all I wanted was the rest of the fries and ranch sauce.

Deconstructed pork tacos, $13.

Deconstructed Greek tacos, $15.

You know what else you want to put that sauce all over? Ladies, please. I’m talking about the tacos. The deconstructed Greek tacos are actually nice with its own mint-tsatziki sauce, since the lamb and beef mixture is seasoned to taste a little like gyros.

Shrimp BLT tacos, $15.

Shrimp BLT tacos, $15.

But the BLT shrimp tacos are pretty amazing with the ranch sauce. These juicy shrimp are grilled with bacon, the perfect combo.

Escargot boursin, $8.

Escargot boursin, $8.

The escargot boursin is a good intro for people who are squeamish about having snails, and easier to eat. The snails and boursin cheese are mixed into a spread, which works because it’s got a richness almost like foie gras. (Please note, I don’t mean it tastes like foie.)

Vina dosh ribs, $13.

Vina dosh ribs, $13.

The vina dosh ribs are an appetizer, made Portuguese style with red wine vinegar and garlic. I can see this on a plate lunch with rice!

Rycroft salad, $11.

Rycroft salad, $11.

I’ve been hearing vegetarians say they appreciate the many veg-friendly options, and the salads are some of them. I tried the Rycroft salad, which is Greg’s take on a Waldorf. It has romaine, arugula, red onion, candied walnuts, apples and home made ranch dressing (not the nine-spice). It’s very light, with a touch of sweetness.

Moroccan pizza, $17.

Moroccan pizza, $17.

There are several personal-sized pizzas, cut into wedges so you can easily share. I liked the Moroccan pizza, which features the lamb and beef mix seasoned with a special spice blend (the menu doesn’t say if it’s the nine spices, but I think it is), with bell pepper, and mint-tsatziki sauce. Instead of cheese or tomato sauce, it’s a queso and hummus base. I liked that the queso uses a balsamic reduction for sweetness.

Pier 39, $20.

Pier 39, $20.

Pier 39 is a tomato-based seafood stew of fresh fish, shrimp, calamari, and mussels served with a side of corn pilaf. This was the first time I had ever had corn rice, which apparently a lot of my friends already knew about. I kind of like it! The rest is good, pretty straightforward as far as seafood stew goes.

Bistro shrimp scampi, $15.

Bistro shrimp scampi, $15.

The bistro shrimp scampi features shrimp in garlic, butter and white wine (I think they also dust it with the nine-spice blend). This is easily a favorite.

Chicken and pudding, $15.

Chicken and pudding, $15.

I think the chicken and pudding dish will get mixed reviews. When I tried it, I liked it, but it’s so unusual that I don’t know if the general public will understand it. The chicken breast is grilled, not fried, so it’s healthier, and it’s served with grilled sweet potato bread pudding. There’s a little mix of vegetables drizzled with maple mustard sauce, which I also liked. So far I’m hearing different reactions from my friends who have tried it, mostly positive. Try it with an open mind.

S'mores pie, $7.

S’mores pie, $7.

One of the most popular items already is the s’mores pie, an individual serving of rich chocolate pudding baked over a graham cracker crust topped with toasted marshmallow and drizzled with chocolate. It’s served with a scoop of ice cream, too! There are other light dessert options on the menu, but so far this is a fan favorite.

Roasted garlic creme brûlée.

Roasted garlic creme brûlée.

The roasted garlic creme brûlée was just a special, but I’m showing it to you in case they make it a regular menu item. It sounds weird, right? But everyone I know who’s tried it so far has liked it. Roasting the garlic brings out the sweetness, and when you eat it like this, you don’t taste as much garlic, only the creamy and sweet elements. It’s definitely something they should enter in some kind of garlic recipe contest.

Home made ginger ale.

Home made ginger ale.

Also in the works, but still being tweaked: home made ginger ale. Perfect for ending your meal.

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Currently Urban Bistro is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, but those hours may change as they find their groove in the neighborhood. When the building’s parking structure is done, there will be more options, but for now you can park on the street or, ahem, in a nearby lot. As of this writing, it is BYOB until they get their liquor license. For more photos, click here.

Urban Bistro
808 Sheridan St.
808-369-7000

 

 

Popping up with Jonathan Mizukami

When Vintage Cave mysteriously closed earlier this year, it sent several top-notch chefs out into the foodie wilderness … and this is a great thing for food lovers who previously couldn’t get to (read: afford) the exclusive dining venue. Now, on any given week, you can find those chefs putting on pop-ups and classes around Oahu, featuring their talents in more approachable spots with more approachable prices.

One of those is Jonathan Mizukami, who has been popping up at MW Restaurant on Mondays. So far it’s been alternating weeks of an a la carte pasta menu and a family-style, prix fixe “summer supper,” showcasing his range of culinary expertise.

I was fortunate to be invited to his summer supper last week, and it was a beautiful presentation of real down-home cooking. Here’s a look at what we ate. If you want to try his next pop up tomorrow at MW, it will be the a la carte pasta menu, which I hear is pretty fabulous. Call ahead for reservations as they still have their regular dinner service, as well.

Salad

Farmer’s market salad.

The salad looked so simple, with vine-ripened tomatoes, Japanese cucumbers, haricot vert and roasted beets tossed with lettuce and croutons. But the flavor — accented with the light herb vinaigrette — had us scooping the bottom of the bowl for more.

Braised short rib

Braised short ribs on hand-cut spaghetti.

At first we thought this was saimin, but it’s actually hand-cut spaghetti topped with 48-hour braised short ribs, wilted kale, crispy shallots and caramelized onion jus. We were too tired to drink wine, but this is definitely one for pairing. Lots of big flavor with delicate textures.

Cheese plate

Kalehua crottin.

The cheese platter — featuring Kalehua crottin (goat cheese) — was one of my favorite simple pleasures, especially since I love black mission figs. We took a bite of each with the white Hawaiian honey and roasted macadamia nuts.

Hoe cake

Strawberry “hoe” cake.

Hoe cake? According to a popular Southern story, hoecakes got their name from the slave practice of cooking them on field hoes because it was so hot out there. Whether that’s fact or crap, hoecakes are dense, cornmeal-based cakes made with a lot of butter in griddles. Here, it was served with whipped creme fraiche and stewed strawberries.

My hoe cake.

My hoe cake.

Here’s how I made mine. I’m a big fan of Southern fare, so this was perfect for me. I could actually just eat it with the cake and creme fraiche. But it was a nice ending to the meal, and a very unique one, at that.

Mizukami pops up on Mondays at MW Restaurant, at least until the end of August. To find out more, click here.

Jonathan Mizukami’s pop-ups at MW Restaurant
1538 Kapiolani Blvd.
808-955-6505

 

Preview: Asian cinema night at Wang Chung’s

On any given night, Wang Chung’s karaoke bar is packed with locals and visitors looking for a fun time in Waikiki. But once in a while, owner Danny Chang changes things up with special theme nights — and tomorrow, you’re in for a real treat. Our very own Will Chen is the guest chef for “Asian cinema night” at Wang Chung’s, and has created some twists on familiar Asian flavors.

I don’t mean local Asian flavors, with the overdone shoyu-sugar combo. Will is taking us deep into our Asian roots, with tastes of street food and hawker stands. And since it’s been so hot, his noodle bar will be about cold noodles.

Peking duck fat popcorn, $5.

Peking duck fat popcorn, $5.

Peking duck fat popcorn was one of my favorites. It is salty-sweet, but slightly more on the sweet side (think of char siu). You also get sprinkles of chicken skin cracklins for extra crunch and flavor. Eat this fast, though — it’s best when it’s still warm or hot.

Egg and prawn soldiers, $7.

Egg and prawn soldiers, $7.

The “egg and prawn soldiers” is a dish full of Southeast Asian flair. You get an onsen egg with Maggi seasoning (Will and Danny said Asians are all about the Maggi seasoning), herbs, and sesame. The sesame toast, which you see all over the homeland, is cut into dainty slices. I wish more people served this here; I’ve seen it at a couple of farmer’s market booths lately.

How to eat egg toast.

How to eat egg toast.

How do you eat it? Swirl your toast in the bowl as you break the yolk and mix it with the herbs and spices. Bite. Repeat.

Hong you chao shou (chili wontons), $8.

Hong you chao shou (chili wontons), $8.

…And this dish is one of the reasons I wish my father were alive to meet Will. Other than the fact that my dad liked to hang out with loud, funny Chinese guys, Will’s cooking and use of spices would have wowed him. The chili wontons are plump and meaty, with a straightforward spiciness that cuts across your tongue but doesn’t make you cough. (You know what I mean, right? Some people use spices that grab the back of your throat.) The herbs and nuts give it subtle added layers of flavor and texture. I wonder how it would be with some noodles so I could scoop up the rest of the spicy sauce?

Make this again for me, Will!

Ho's bowl, $12.

Ho’s bowl, $12.

(Everything grown by) Ho’s bowl is a fresh, colorful presentation of watermelon radish, pickled long beans, eggplant miso, tomato tare and okra tempura — all grown by Ho Farm. Wait, eggplant miso? Brilliant. Mix it together to get the full effect, and it is a nice celebration of summer in your mouth. Wang Chung’s Chef Randy admitted that he’s a true meat-eater, but really enjoyed this.

Kung pau hana ban mian, $12.

Kung pau hana ban mian, $12.

The kung pau hana ban mian (means “cold noodles”) was another colorful bowl. It has massaged kale (what?), pickled carrots, za cai (also known as 榨菜 or pickled pressed vegetable), peanuts, sesame sauce and black vinegar on dan dan noodles.

How to eat the kung pau hana ban mian.

How to eat the kung pau hana ban mian.

Be sure to mix this well when you get it! Danny mixed the bowl first, and we both thought it was missing meaty flavor, the way we usually enjoy dan dan. Will grabbed the bowl, mixed the meat to the top, and voila! Perfection. Cue Will’s eye roll at us. Mix it properly and it’s a filling as well as refreshing bowl of noodles.

Chili crab noodles, $14.

Chili crab noodles, $14.

What’s not to love about a bowl of noodles that features soft shell crab, a soft egg and Heinz ketchup? This is as close to Singapore as I’m going to get until October, and I loved that Will used crab that’s easier to eat in public. This is rich, earthy, and spicy, and probably something you won’t want to share. I loved the mix of flavors and textures here, too. Actually, I also loved the way Will threw this at me to eat, like a definitive “Boom!”

"My mom Joanna's somen, kind of," $12.

“My mom Joanna’s somen, kind of,” $12.

You can’t have a taste of the homeland without a taste of your childhood, too. Will did a spin on his mom’s cold somen, topped with onsen egg, poached chicken, shaoxing (Chinese rice wine), dried shrimp, green onion, mushrooms, garlic chips and frozen broth (like a granita). It’s super refreshing and all of the flavors are very light and delicate, plus you get a savory crunch from the garlic. I liked that it wasn’t too heavy, so you have room for more items from the menu. In  a way, I felt like this unlocked a little of my inner FOB, too.

Check out Wang Chung’s tomorrow night, whether you stay for the movie at 8 p.m. or not, at least go for the food and see what Will Chen’s Asia tastes like. Hopefully he does these dishes again!

Asian cinema night at Wang Chung’s
7 p.m. (movie starts at 8 p.m.)
Featuring “The Last Dragon”
2424 Koa Ave.
808-921-9276

 

Hidden gem: Natsunoya Tea House sushi bar

I’d been wanting to try the hidden sushi bar at Natsunoya Tea House since Garrett Wong (now of Sushi Ii) was there. I knew it was tiny and had its regulars, but somehow never had the time to think about making my reservations a month in advance.

The first time I actually saw it last year, I was at a party in the main hall. I poked my head in through the noren (doorway curtains) and the regulars turned and shooed me out, saying, “Don’t eat here. Junk.” You know that meant I had to try it!

Sushi with my classmates Melanie Pang, Randall Platt and his wife Keiko, Wina Silva, Derek Kanehira, and Toni Kim Kanehira.

Sushi with my classmates Melanie Pang Ah Sam, Randall Platt and his wife Keiko, Wina Silva, Derek Kanehira, and Toni Kim Kanehira.

I finally got to go recently with my classmates, many of whom are now foodies and into sake. It was a large group — eight people — and we found  out after the fact that they don’t let all of you sit at the bar. They said they need to leave seats open for other customers, and a party of our size overwhelms the sushi chef, Sho-San. If you go, the best size party is two; try not to have more than four. (There are a total of 12 seats at the bar and two, two-tops. Large parties can also opt to get a private room upstairs, but that’s probably no fun.)

Sho-san is all smiles before service begins. I brought my sweet sake from Nakano in Wakayama.

Sho-san is all smiles before service begins. I brought my sweet sake from Nakano in Wakayama.

One of the big draws for the Natsunoya sushi bar is that it is BYOB. They’ll help you put your bottles in ice and provide glasses. Sho-san had worked as a freelance sushi chef for about 10 years, doing more catering jobs, before landing this gig four years ago.

FYI we think this is what the sushi omakase is supposed to look like.

FYI we think this is what the sushi omakase is supposed to look like.

We found out later why Sho-san doesn’t like large parties. He wants to serve everyone at once, and that’s hard to do with too many people. This is what the omakase sushi combo ($36) is supposed to look like.

To start: A bite of seared ahi.

To start: A bite of seared ahi.

You get a different starter each time, I think. This was a nice intro to a delicious meal.

The first set of nigiri to the group.

The first set of nigiri to the group.

To accommodate our group, our omakase sushi combo was served in segments. This first batch included maguro, hamachi, salmon, local fish with homemade “pesto” (with herbs from the garden) and chutoro. These melted in our mouths! We were also fascinated at the size of the rice underneath, which was super tiny.

Second set of nigiri to the group.

Second set of nigiri to the group.

The next plate was snapper, Molokai amaebi, and torched scallop. More fresh, melty goodness.

Remember the Molokai amaebi? These are their heads.

Remember the Molokai amaebi? These are their heads.

The amaebi heads. These were fried so well, I could eat the whole thing. Sometimes that’s hard to do.

Garlic ahi.

Garlic ahi.

The seared ahi with garlic-ginger topping was so good! The topping isn’t overwhelming but adds nice flavor to the sushi.

Unagi (eel).

Unagi (eel).

The unagi melted in my mouth, so I knew it was good quality.

This signaled the end of the omakase, but we didn't know it.

This signaled the end of the omakase, but we didn’t know it.

This plate signified the end of the meal, but there was no announcement, which was a little strange. But we later realized Sho-san was starting to get overwhelmed as the seats around us filled. Was it good, though? Hell yeah.

Sashimi omakase, $30.

Sashimi omakase, $36.

This is what the sashimi combo omakase looks like. When I go back, I’ll probably get a sushi combo, then split this with someone. What a deal, right?

Chicken karaage.

Chicken karaage, $7.50.

I wasn’t a big fan of the cooked food — if you’re hungry, it’s okay to order to fill you up, but it’s not nearly as good as the sushi. This is the chicken karaage with (what we think was) a wasabi aioli sauce drizzled over.

Fried geso, or squid tentacles.

Fried geso, or squid tentacles, $5.

Geso karaage. I didn’t try this, but took a photo to show you.

roll

Spicy sushi roll, $8.

Melanie didn’t order omakase but had a spicy sushi roll comprised of ahi, salmon and hamachi and topped with tobiko, peppers, sprouts and spicy sauce.

Oyster, $2.50.

Oyster, $2.50.

The fresh oyster features Sho-san’s fabulously delicate ponzu topping. We highly recommend this!

Chutoro, $4.50.

Chutoro, $4.50.

I ordered a chutoro ala carte, and was surprised that it looked different from the omakase. Sho-san said it was a different cut. Still melty!

Seared tako! Bonus!

Seared tako! Bonus!

At the end, as we were talking story, Sho-san happened to have some extra tako from another order so he made a sample plate for us to try. It’s fresh Kaneohe tako, lightly torched on the spot. I would order it again as it’s very delicate and tender, and the torching brings out the salt in a subtle way.

He made us poke on the spot.

He made us poke on the spot.

Sho-san also had some extra maguro so he made us some poke on the spot with onions, sprouts, and dehydrated onion for some crunch. This was probably some of the best poke I’ve ever had, and I’m salivating again as I write this. It’s that good!

At $36 for a fresh sushi dinner, especially BYOB, I would say this is one of the better deals in town for sushi lovers. Tips: Make your reservations well in advance, go in a small party no larger than four, and get an early seating. The parking lot may fill up, since the main tea house is servicing large parties, and you may be turned away by the valet.

Natsunoya Tea House sushi bar
1935 Makanani Dr.
808-595-4488
Open Wednesday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.