Elmer Guzman gets us "hooked" in Waikiki

Elmer Guzman with his "fish and chips" ($14.95), two kinds of ahi dip with taro chips.

Everyone in Hawaii knows chef Elmer Guzman for his fresh, innovative menu at The Poke Stop ... out in Waipahu and Mililani. Now he's got a spot in the Luana Waikiki, so townies and tourists will have an easier time accessing his poke and some new cooked items.

Inside Fish Hook Cafe. There's one large communal table and a few smaller two-tops. The poke case is on the left.

Fish Hook Cafe has actually been open 11 weeks, and I tried to go in early on to try it, but Guzman wouldn't let me on the grounds that he wasn't ready. Two months and 20 texts later, I finally barged in with other food writers while shaking my fists. Twice. And as with his other restaurants, the food did not disappoint. He's lucky I didn't whack him with my slipper!

The menu, as he calls it, is indicative of "responsible dining." Most of the produce, eggs and fish served are sourced from Oahu, from spots like Mari's Gardens and Peterson Farms. Everything is made to order, and you get to watch them make use of that tiny kitchen as they do.

Unless you're a big eater, you'll need to share the shrimp and waffles deluxe ($18.95), which is actually one waffle with a local "s" on the end. It's topped with fried, breaded shrimp tossed in kabayaki sauce, plus bacon, assorted pickles, chilled sesame bok choy, and a sunny side up egg. It's sweet and savory, of course, but that kabayaki sauce gives it a very local flavor.
One of the most addicting things on the menu is his pork belly donburi ($13.95), braised pork belly with house made pickles over white rice and with two sous vide eggs. The dish itself is good, but the sauce that's drizzled on the pork has a magical sweet-savory balance that brings all the flavors together.
I was a big fan of the torched kim chee salmon bowl ($14.95). The salmon sashimi is covered in a seasoned mayonnaise (think of the dynamite sauce in fusion restaurants), then torched for a subtle grilled flavor. It's topped with bubu arare, ikura and micro shiso and served with kim chee for added spice and texture.
Some of the best things are created on the fly, right? One day after breakfast service in the hotel, Guzman had a lot of Cinnamon Toast Crunch left over. And, as it happened, he needed something to make a crust for his salmon. He crushed the cereal, rolled the wasabi salmon in it, fried it up and drizzled kabayaki sauce on it. Genius! The cinnamon is subtle, but it adds a mysteriously alluring flavor to the dish — kind of like when you add cinnamon to your fried chicken. And don't worry, the frying helps to cook a lot of the spiciness out of the wasabi. ($15.95)
It sounds so simple, but the sous vide ribeye steak ($24.95) was one of our favorites as well. The tender steak is topped artfully with roasted ali'i mushrooms, potatoes, arugula, crumbled bleu cheese, and pearl onions. It sits on smear of creamy pecorino, so be sure to wipe that up. This also comes with a bowl of Guamanian finadene sauce, which is good, but the dish doesn't need it.
The avocado toast ($18.95) is totally a matter of preference. Many people love the indulgent mound of avocado, buttered lobster, radish, tarragon aioli and Mari's Garden micro greens piled on the bacon fat toast. Don't get me wrong, it's good; I'm more of a plain avocado toast kind of gal.
Caesar salad? More like Cèsar salad! Guzman's Pinoy twist on a classic uses Filipino fish sauce instead of anchovies. You probably can't tell the difference, but the flavor is a little more delicate than its mainland counterpart. ($9.95)
We're hooked on the smoking gun hamachi ($18.95), Guzman's take on lox and bagels. He uses a smoke gun to impart that flavor to the nori-charred hamachi, then serves it with toasted bagel chips, honey whole grain mustard, sesame cream cheese and assorted pickles. For you purists, this doesn't taste like salmon, it tastes like hamachi! It's got an unexpected blend of flavors that work well together, with the fresh fish, tart pickles and the creamy spread.
If you like eggs, you'll love the sous vide egg shooter ($3.95), served in a calamansi soy lime sauce and with bacon fat toast. The best way to eat it? Yes, take it like a shot and let it all burst in your mouth. The calamansi isn't too strong, either — it imparts a delicate citrus flavor with the mildly salty shoyu.

They're not serving dinner yet; that will roll out in 2018, which is — yikes — just around the corner. There's no self parking in the building, but valet parking is free, so if you don't live or work in Waikiki you still have access.

Fish Hook Cafe
2045 Kalakaua Ave.
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.