summer truffle tartan

Finally! Small plates, lunch, happy hour at PAI

The latest at the innovative restaurant makes it a must-try
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Kevin Lee
PAI owner/chef Kevin Lee.

PAI Honolulu won Editor's Choice for Best New Restaurant at Honolulu Magazine's Hale Aina Awards last weekend, a well-deserved accolade for a spot that is still, after a year, a bit of a hidden gem in downtown. What, you've never been, either? Well, now's a good time to go, since they've rolled out many new menus and programs.

PAI started as a dinner spot with two tasting menus, and they stuck to this format for a whole year before adding lunch, small plates, and happy hour. Hallelujah! This is great news for the majority of downtown denizens, who had not tried PAI yet because they were intimidated by (or not hungry enough for) the entire tasting menu. And it's a good way to get a taste of Chef Kevin Lee's style, so you can come back for dinner to actually do the whole tasting menu. Here are some of the highlights from the new items, but please note that there's way more to the menus.

Joe Arakawa
Joe Arakawa with three of his handcrafted cocktails: No Fashion Sense ($14), Fancy Beet Farmer ($14), and PAI Old Fashioned ($12).

I'll start with the newest thing at PAI: their new bar manager, Joe Arakawa. If he looks familiar, it's because I've blogged about him before when he was at Avenues Bar & Eatery in Kaimuki. He was most recently at the short-lived Le Radici, but Lee took notice of Arakawa's skills and scooped him up before the doors even closed.

No fashion sense
Arakawa smoking his No Fashion Sense. Keep your iphone ready for the instagram video.
Fun Guys Monks Pirates
"Fun Guys, Monks and Pirates" ($14) is comprised of shiitake infused Kikori, Ramazzotti, Ferreira tawny port, and green chartreuse. 

You can get wine, beer and standard cocktails, but for a real treat, try the handcrafted cocktails. Arakawa has revamped the cocktail menu in his style, making unusual infusions and combinations that create playful, enjoyable drink experiences without going too over the top ... maybe. I liked that the drinks were innovative and unique, and average about $13 to $14 — fairly approachable prices for such cocktails, with no pretentiousness.

The most popular items on the happy hour menu are the tater tots and the adobo headcheese katsu bao buns, which were in line with my favorites, as well. I also really liked the peekytoe crab and spinach mornay dip in a sourdough bread bowl, served with chicharons, shrimp chips and sourdough crisps. 

adobo headcheese bao buns
Katsu adoo headcheese bao buns ($4 each).
furikake tater tots
Furikake tater tots ($5).
peekytoe crab dip
Peekytoe crab and spinach mornay dip in a housemade sourdough bowl ($18).

Lunch is still picking up, although they launched it earlier this summer. The most popular items are the burger (of course), the sandwiches and the cioppino. If you're feeling fancy, try the summer truffle and roasted vegetable tartine, which infuses a little bit of indulgence in your day. I'd also recommend the risotto if you want something easy to eat.

pai burger
The PAI burger ($19) is probably the best burger in downtown Honolulu, with 90-day dry-aged beef, a house bun and chips, roasted shallot mayo, garlic butter, and veggies.
charcuterie sandwich
Charcuterie sandwich ($16), with soppressata, mortadella, salami, provolone, cheddar, peperoncini, local Manoa bibb lettuce, spicy tomato jam, roasted shallot mayo, and house-baked ciabatta.
Cioppino ($19), comprised of Manila clams, shrimp, halibut, and fingerling potatoes in a tomato, fennel and saffron broth, served with grilled, house-sourdough.
summer truffle tartine
Burgundy truffle tartine with roasted vegetables ($18) with herbed ricotta, lemon zest, blistered cherry tomato, roasted vegetables, and pea shoots.
maitake risotto
Seasonal vegetable risotto ($17 at lunch, $19 at dinner).

Many people have asked Lee if he will sell his bread, and they may consider it for the future. At the moment his specialty seems to be a very crusty bread.

And finally, you can get a la carte items for dinner! These are just my favorites of the things we tried; if you want to see more photos, check out my Flickr.

eggplant miso hummus
Eggplant miso hummus appetizer ($13). I love the unique (yet familiar) flavors.
whole fried nabeta
Whole fried nabeta (market price), a popular reef fish. 

I've actually been back for happy hour and it was pretty filling. Once you split the bill with your friends, the prices dont seem as high, either. I'm looking forward to the next new things!

PAI Honolulu
Harbor Court lobby
55 Merchant St.