A lot happened while I was on vacation in Israel. Bruno Mars played at Aloha Stadium, Restaurant Week and Hawaii International Film Festival came and went — and Goen Dining + Bar opened in my Kailua hood. My roommates texted a picture of the menu with the caption: “Let’s go here for our next GNO!”
If they didn't tell me that Goen was the latest restaurant by Roy Yamaguchi, I wouldn't have guessed it. Roy's restaurants have been around for as long as I've been alive, and they're all over Hawaii and the Mainland. I've always considered Roy's Hawaii and Yamaguchi's newer Eating House 1849 restaurants as upscale places for special occasions.
But Goen's energy and vibe are completely different. Think trendy but casual, contemporary and unpretentious. Goen is basically my new go-to neighborhood pau hana spot, perfect for a casual dinner, girls' night out or first date. Bonus: Prices are lower and there are more shareable plates so a small group can easily try the entire menu in two or three visits.
Huge tip: Make reservations. We called last Monday hoping for early dinner reservations on Wednesday, but the earliest time we could get was 7:30 p.m. A friend of a friend booked for Saturday and couldn't get in until 8:30. Indeed, when we got there, every seat at the bar was taken and the restaurant was packed.
Start things off with one of the craft cocktails. Each is made to order and they all have fun names. We get the Rip Tai’d ($13), which is similar to a Mai Tai, and Roy’s Prosecco Superiore ($13), aka sparkling wine.
FYI: The dinner menu changes daily, depending on the availability of fresh produce and other local ingredients.
Get at least one fry basket, and if you’re with more than three people, get two. The mushroom fries are thick and gloriously crispy, but before you feel guilty, remember — they’re basically fried veggies. I like the creamy truffle aioli, but the bell pepper pesto is great if you like tomatoes. Of all the things we tried, these fries stayed on my brain and I was still raving about them on the way home.
I love bao, so I enjoyed these even though the bread-to-chicken ratio is 2:1 or greater. The chicken is tender and flavorful, and the kimchee adds a welcome kick.
Of the three entrees we ordered, the salmon was my favorite. You can’t really go wrong with salmon, but the flavorful kalbi glaze took it to the next level. The crispy garlic and hijiki seaweed offered a nice, contrasting crunch.
Ikura in pasta? This was a Japanese pasta touch that only worked, but surprisingly well. I almost adopted my roommate's bowl. I loved the umami-richdashi cream, and the squishy ikura were fun pops while the crispy kale topping added crunch.
I’d pass on the Point Break poke bowl. It tasted fresh, but I’d only get it if I had a serious chirashi craving.
Be sure to save room for dessert. All four sounded fabulous, but at this point we were trying to exercise self-control so we chose two to share among three of us.
The Goen Halo should be your go-to if you prefer fresh and fruity desserts. There was a lot goen on (pun intended) in this one, and while ube isn’t my favorite, I liked the different textures and flavors.
Once I heard “cream cheese cookie dough,” I was sold on the chocolate cake. It was light and fluffy, and the intense chocolate flavor sent me into dessert euphoria. The only way this could be better would be if the scoop of luscious marshmallow ice cream were bigger.
I’m definitely coming back soon — for another dinner, to check out lunch, and for sure once Goen opens for brunch.
GOEN Dining + Bar (in Lau Hala Shops)
573 Kailua Rd.
Daily 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.