Thursday, February 19, 2009

Alan Wong's Hawaii

A couple of days before I was to fly in for my 4-day jaunt in Hawaii, I emailed my sister, "Wouldn't it be nice if we ate at Alan Wong's," to which she shot back a "not likely at this late date!" (Celebrity chef and James Beard award winner Alan Wong played host to the Top Chef finalists a couple of seasons ago. He rocks.)

But we were in luck. A last-minute cancellation meant we were headed to the downtown Honolulu restaurant on a Friday night to partake in some super fine Hawaiian regional cuisine, rubbing elbows with the likes of ex-NY mayor Rudy Giuliani (OK, not literally—but he sat not 10 feet away from us ... of course, SP had no idea who he was when I pointed him out. Her defense: "I don't follow NY politics." Hello! 9/11! Ran for president! What what? ...)

Well, never mind about that. Here's what we had:

The amuse bouche: a "Seafood Fantasy" comprising abalone, lobster, butterfish, ahi and kona kampachi with watercress, ponzu gelee and a wasabe-abalone sauce. I went straight for the abalone, it being my least favorite of the bunch so I figured I'd get it out of the way and then savor the rest, but turns out it was pretty easy on palate ... tender, smooth and surprisingly delicious. I enjoyed most everything on the plate except for the ponzu gelee, which was a tad overpowering in its tartness—it made my tastebuds tingle, and not in a good way.

First course: Vanilla butter poached lobster and seared day boat scallop with spiced Hawaiian hearts of palm puree and a citrusy corn salsa. I loved the perfectly caramelized and seasoned scallop. And though I liked the fleshy tenderness of the lobster, the vanilla kinda put me off; it made the shellfish a bit too perfumey for my taste. I think I would've liked it more if they'd gone with something of the meyer lemon butter variety. Oh, and though the corn salsa rocked ... a perfect foil for the protein, the small block of hearts of palm to the right was odd ... left unadorned, it just seemed out of place with the rest of the dish.

The main: Medium-rare and oh-so-tender rosemary oil-poached Maui cattle company beef (fed pineapple tops and sugar cane in their 110-odd days on this earth), sauteed Ma'o Farms lacinato kale and hamakua mushrooms along with a bacon and goat-infused, crispety-crunchy taro croquette, plus a few other bells and whistles. Well done, I say.

The other main: Of course, you always want what you can't have (or didn't order, in this case). My sister got the red wine slow-braised short rib sitting on a fluffy bed of stick-to-your-ribs, rich celery root truffle puree, ringed by subtly sweet roasted baby beets and cipollini onion. The portion size was honkin', fork-tender and fabulous. Plenty to take home for a second go 'round.

Dessert: Kula strawberry shortcake with a macadamia crust and a really fresh, gummy-moist strawberry mochi on the side. The mochi was the highlight of the dish ... one of the best I've ever had—and usually I'll leave rather than take 'em. This time, I took and I wished I could've taken some more ...

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