International Market Place Dine Around
New eateries come on line
A trio tasting of beef at Stripsteak Waikiki.
There has been a lot of hype and anticipation with the opening of the re-imagined International Market Place (IMP). Once a maze of souvenir stands selling T-shirts and Hawaiiana tchotchkes, the 345,000 square-foot, three-level outdoor shopping center is now the antipode of what it used to be. The only remnant is the 160-year old banyan tree; otherwise, for many local residents, this contemporary center will be unrecognizable. Yet, once all stores come online, it’s bound to become a “destination” for shopping — and dining.
After multiple attempts at opening an outpost in Hawaiʻi, restaurateur Michael Mina has finally hung his shingle at IMP’s third-floor, “open-to-the-sky” Grand Lānai. He has always said he was drawn to Hawaiʻi and its vibrant culinary scene, and now he is part of it. Stripsteak Waikīkī’s contemporary and elegant setting complements the cuisine, which is, as one would expect from a James Beard award-winning chef, stellar — even it was just for lunch. For $37.50 per person, the two-course, prix-fixe afternoon menu offers a relatively affordable introduction to Mina’s cuisine. Of the seven available starter options, the “Instant Bacon” was an immediate hit, given my affinity for Kurobuta pork belly, which glimmered with a black-pepper-and-soy glaze. A close second was the yuzu kampachi, which possesses a high fat content that is nicely balanced by the citrus essence.
Courtesy Stripsteak Waikiki
Enjoy al fresco dining in this swanky atmosphere.
The main selections offer a range of proteins, from mahi mahi and ahi to shrimp and black cod to chicken and ground beef. Any time a chef puts his name in front of a dish, it better be good. “Michael’s Ahi Tuna Tartare” is excellent. Hints of sesame and mint mellow the tartare while an accompanying kale salad with Asian pear and toasted pine nuts add more texture. Those looking for more substance will want to try the Stripsteak burger, which is garnished with caramelized Maui onions and Nueske’s bacon, the smoky essence of which elevates this patty to a gourmet level. For a little whimsy, order a side of the “Tokyo” tots, topped with bonito flakes and tiny strips of nori then finished with a yuzu-infused aioli.
Across the way, Kona Grill evokes more of an upscale mainland chain than it speaks to what one would find at a restaurant on Hawaiʻi Island. Its extensive menu, however, covers an eclectic range of ethnic cuisines, including Thai, Cuban and Japanese. Ordering might be difficult for an indecisive person since one side of the large 11” x 17” sheet features a laundry list of items from the “Kitchen” while the reverse side presents a lengthy catalog of “Sushi.”
The spacious room offers a mix of booths and high-boy tables, while outdoor seating can be configured to accommodate large parties. Seated next to us on the lanai was a staycationing — if that’s even a word — couple who gave their shaka of approval for the miso-sake sea bass fillet and chili-glazed salmon. We were told to try the “Taco Trio,” apparently a favorite appetizer, but only one combination works well: shrimp enveloped in a soft tortilla and dressed with an Asian slaw and roasted tomatillo salsa. Otherwise, the braised kālua pork lacks a smoky depth and the tempura black cod would have been better served sans taco, which just softened the otherwise crispy exterior of the fish.
In addition to starters, the menu offers several flatbreads, soups and some hearty salads, including the meal-in-one “Kona Chopped,” composed of macadamia nut chicken, applewood-smoked bacon, hardboiled eggs, tomatoes, avocado and white cheddar.
When it comes to choosing an entree, jambalaya, pad Thai noodles and lobster mac-and-cheese are among the many options. A red arrow next to the macadamia nut chicken denotes the dish is a favorite among employees. The same notation is also found in front of the Cuban sandwich. Overall, both dishes were fine. The chicken was moist and accompanied by a heaping mound of homemade mashed potatoes and French green beans. Again, the kālua pork could have used more punch to make this a robust Cuban sandwich rather than just coming off as a ham-and-cheese mini baguette.
As for the sushi, I’ll save that for another visit.
Catty-corner to Kona Grill is Goma Tei, which has established a solid reputation for its spicy tan tan ramen since it first opened 10 years ago. Back then, ramen wasn’t the international superstar that it is today. And Goma Tei has undoubtedly contributed to the Japanese noodle’s meteoric rise in our local dining scene.
Made with chicken and pork bones, garlic and carrots, the stock is the key component to the basic tan tan, which comes with char siu and an assortment of vegetables. The soup has got a little kick for the palate sensitive but not mouth-burning offensive. For a milder flavor, opt for a bowl of ramen noodles that’s enhanced with flavors of shoyu, ginger and scallions. And you must have a side of gyoza to complete your meal. This is Japanese comfort food at its finest.
“Plantation Cuisine” inspired famed chef Roy Yamaguchi to develop his Eating House 1849. Yamaguchi says the “concept pays homage to Hawai‘i’s vibrant culinary heritage and a nod to restaurateurs like Portuguese immigrant Peter Fernandez who, according to lore, opened one of the first restaurants in Hawai‘i, called the Eating House, back in the mid-1800s, using what was available from local farmers, ranchers, foragers and fishermen.”
Courtesy Eating House 1849
A bowl of spicy ramen is garnished with soft Kalei Egg, “shoyu” pork and shrimp dumplings.
Modeled off an old plantation design, with ceiling fans and wood floors, the room feels rustic yet modern and comfortable at the same time. The same could be said about the food, which represents the melting pot of cultures in Hawai‘i. Already a signature appetizer, the crispy fried cauliflower and brussel sprouts are sprinkled with toasted pine nuts and raisins then drizzled with balsamic. Given my Filipino heritage, I skew more towards “Lola’s Pork Adobo Lumpia,” which comes with green papaya and sambal tomato.
The entrée selections are split between land and sea. From the ocean comes a Kaua‘i prawn roll, misoyaki butterfish, grilled teriyaki king salmon and blackened island ahi tombo club. The land half presents chicken hekka, vinha d’alhos, Hawai‘i Ranchers beef loco moco, kiawe-smoked ribeye, shortrib “luau” and a barbecue mixed plate.
After vacationing here with his family for many years, restaurateur Billy Richardson finally decided to bring Flour & Barley to Waikīkī. The restaurant is well regarded for its brick-oven-baked pizzas and craft beer, some of which will be sourced from local breweries. Company officials say guests can expect such pizzas as the kālua pork and “Aloha Pie,” as well such classics as the Bacon Blue and the Salsicce.
Eating House 1849
Flour & Barley
Soon to open:
The Street, A Michael Mina Food Hall