Hawaii Regional Cuisine is a relatively new concept that was coined in 1991 by twelve fledgling island chefs, including notables such as Sam Choy, Philippe Padovani, Roy Yamaguchi, George Mavrothalassitis, Peter Merriman, and of course, Alan Wong. The idea was to develop a style of cooking that borrowed from the various local culinary influences and ethnic flavors found in Hawaii.
Of course, this concept of Hawaiian fusion thrived long before 1991. Fusing the various ethnic flavors was common place during the height of Hawaii’s plantation days. Back then, it wasn’t unusual for plantation workers of various ethnic backgrounds to share whatever it is they had for lunch with one another. It was from this blending of foods that dishes like the loco moco were born. Chefs like Wong, Choy, and Yamaguchi simply refined the style that is now globally known as Hawaii Regional Cuisine.
In my opinion, there’s no better place to experience the one-of-a-kind Hawaiian fusion stye than at the flagship Alan Wong’s restaurant on King Street. Food aside, one of the great things about Alan Wong’s is their attention to detail. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, the staff will make sure that you know that they know, by mentioning the celebration on the menu and even autographing it for you. At the end of dinner, they’ll roll it up, tie it with twine, and send it home with you as a souvenir.
To start, bread and butter, of course. The real winner here is the house made aioli spread, which is soft and creamy, and comes with some cayenne kick. Thinking about skipping the bread here to “save space” for your entrees? Forget it. This bread and butter combination is to be embraced and enjoyed.
Four of my closest friends joined me for a belated birthday dinner and we all decided on the A Tasting of the Classics tasting menu. This is a six course meal that features some of Alan Wong’s most notable dishes. To start, we had the Soup And Sandwich, which featured chilled vine ripened Hamakua Springs tomato soup, and a grilled mozzarella cheese sandwich stuffed with foie gras and kalua pig. I should note that the second course comes plated with the Soup and Sandwich. On this night, we had the seafood cake, featuring lobster and crab. Normally, though, this tasting menu will come with the chopped ahi sashimi and avocado salsa stack.
I’ve had the opportunity to experience this tasting menu twice now, and the Soup and Sandwich is always a delight. There’s something to be said about mixing something so innately childish as a grilled cheese sandwich with something as sophisticated as foie gras. Throw in some kalua pig and you’ve got a mouthwatering hit. This “grilled cheese sandwich” is begging to be featured on the menu of some trendy food truck on the streets of New York City.
The butter poached Kona cold lobster at Alan Wong’s is probably one of the most tasteful and succulent lobster dishes that you can get on the island. It features Keahole abalone, Hamakua heritage eryngii mushrooms, and green onion oil. With each bite, your eyes will get bigger and bigger as your taste buds become more and more satisfied.
The Ginger Crusted Onaga is one of Michelle’s favorite dishes at Alan Wong’s, with its miso sesame vinaigrette, organic Hamakua mushrooms and corn. This dish in particular probably personifies the idea of Hawaiian fusion and Hawaii Regional Cuisine the most. It features an amazing combination of flavors and textures, with the ginger crust adding a nice amount of kick to the dish. Many consider the ginger crusted onaga to be Wong’s signature entree.
Probably my favorite dish on the Classics tasting menu is the twice cooked short rib. This to die for piece of beef is soy braised and also grilled “kalbi” style. On the side, you also get gingered shrimp with kochu jang sauce. The twice cooked short rib is so soft, moist, and tender. It will melt in your mouth.
My friend Monette had a special seafood pasta, in lieu of her twice cooked shot rib. In my opinion, that was a mistake. That said, she did seem to enjoy it.
We enjoyed a selection of desserts, however, the crème de la crème is the signature Alan Wong’s coconut. The Coconut features a haupia sorbet in a chocolate shell, and is garnished with tropical fruits and lilikoi sauce. I’ve had The Coconut both at both his flagship restaurant and at Amasia, his latest restaurant located at the Grand Wailea in Maui. It’s a showstopper. It’s that long note in Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You. It’s Michael Jordan’s final shot in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. It’s the perfect way to end your meal at Alan Wong’s.
Thanks to these awesome people, I got to eat really good food. Thank you!