Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Alan Wong's Honolulu: Fine Hawaiian Regional Cuisine

Quite possibly one of the finest restaurants in Hawaii, Alan Wong's cuisine is so admired, even the Obamas eat here when they're in Oahu. Born in Japan and raised on Honolulu, Alan Wong is one of Hawaii's top chefs and a major influence in creating a unified and distinctive regional cuisine, and has led the way in capturing the essential flavors and exceptional cultural diversity of his home, earning him a prestigious James Beard nomination for Best Regional Chef. Wong's signature blend of Pacific-Rim styles and genre-bending fare combines Western culinary techniques with the flavours of China, Japan, Hawaii, and beyond, with tantalizing and innovative results. One of the founding chefs of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement, and a longtime champion of the farm-to-table movement both in the Islands and nationwide, Wong works closely with local ranchers, fishermen and farmers producing the finest, highest quality ingredients, including island beef, lamb, hybrid lettuces, vine-ripened tomatoes and sweet corn from Oahu's fertile north shore. With the added bounties of the Pacific Ocean and Hawaii's abundant supply of fresh fruit such as mango, papaya, coconut, guava and passion fruit, and the culinary techniques Wong learned from French chef André Soltner at Lutèce in NYC, he's been able to utilize many of the ethnic influences found in the islands, forever altering the world’s perception of what Hawaiian food is today — "a sumptuous melting pot of the Pacific."

Chef-Owner Alan Wong, pioneer of Hawaii Regional cuisine

Alan Wong's first cookbook, New Wave Luau

Alan Wong's most recent cookbook, The Blue Tomato, which I purchased at the restaurant as a culinary moment of our incredible evening

With lovely warm tones of loa wood and lauhala grass weaving, it's easy to forget the restaurant is on the third floor of an office building in Honolulu's downtown business district — an unusual location, which means that it takes a particularly fervent gourmand to seek it out, but Wong's exemplary cuisine makes it more than worthwhile. The 'Wong Way,' as it's not so jokingly called by his staff, includes an ingrained understanding of the aloha spirit, evident in the skilled but unstarched service and creative, and playful interpretations of Wong's inspired Island cuisine. Exquisitely prepared and presented with style and panache, his Chopped Ahi Sashimi and Avocado Salsa Stack appetizer served on crispy won ton with spicy aioli and wasabi soy, was exceptional and hands-down my favourite dish thus far on our culinary exploration of Honolulu. 

The interior of Alan Wong Honolulu

Loca Vore Mai Tai made with “Orgeat Syrup” made from Big Island Macadamia Nuts, locally distilled Maui Rum, fresh local Pineapples, Organic Poamoho Farms Limes and Maui Sugar

An Oahu Ho Farms Cucumber Gin Martini with muddled local mint, and "stirred to perfection"

The menu at Alan Wong's was inspiring, with so many extraordinary dishes from which to choose 

The wine list arrives at our table on an i-pad, which is a great idea, allowing the restaurant to update the listing at a moments notice

Understandably, Wong has become something of a celebrity chef and a high profile proponent of the Hawaiian regional cuisine which his restaurant offers, with gastronomically intricate dishes which use ingredients such as lemongrass, sweet-and-sour, garlic and wasabi to evoke the Asian roots of many Hawaiians while presenting them in innovative and extraordinary ways. This not to be missed restaurant is much like that very rare shell you stumble upon on a perfect day at the beach — well polished and without a flaw. An elegant dining room, excellent service and innovative cuisine makes it understandable why Alan Wong's is celebrated as Oahu's premier restaurant, and why it's considered to be the dining highlight of the island.

Warm dinner rolls freshly baked in house every evening

A tangy and explosive garlic aioli

Seafood Cakes with lobster, shrimp and crab with caper mayonnaise and Tsukemono relish

Wong's exceptional Chopped Ahi Sashimi & Avocado Salsa Stack served on crispy won ton 
with spicy aioli and wasabi soy

Richard Ha’s Whole Tomato Salad with Li Hing Mui Ume Vinaigrette

Twice Cooked Shortrib Soy Braised & Grilled “Kalbi” Style
 with gingered shrimp and Ko Choo Jang Sauce

Steamed Shellfish Bowl with bouillabaisse style broth, lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels and crab

Butter Poached Kona Cold Lobster with Keahole Abalone, Hamakua Heritage Abalone 
and Eryngii Mushrooms in Green Onion Oil

Keahole Lobster “Escargot” Style with Red Onion Butter

Miso Garlic Butter Fish with Curry Kabocha Potato Salad, Karashi and Gobo

Ginger Crusted Onaga, Long-Tail Red Snapper with Miso Sesame Vinaigrette, 
Organic Hamakua Mushroom & Corn

Kula “Strawberries Romanoff” with Hawaii Island Dairy Goat Cheese Panna Cotta, 
Kula Strawberry-Hibiscus Consommé and Goat Cheese Sorbet

A pot of First Flush Darjeeling Tea

The open-concept kitchen at Alan Wong's Honolulu

Ahi Sashimi & Avocado Salsa Stack with Crispy Wontons
Serves 2
Recipe courtesy Alan Wong

Crispy Won Ton Wrappers:
5 Wonton Wrappers
Canola oil for deep frying

Ahi Poke:
8 oz sashimi-grade ahi
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp thinly sliced green onion
1 tsp Sambal Oelek sauce

Avocado Salsa:
2 small ripe avocados, about 7oz each
1/4 cup small diced yellow onion
1/4 cup small diced tomato
1 tbsp roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tsp minced ginger
2 tsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp Sambal Oelek 
1 1/2 tsp Sake 

Sambal Aioli:
1 whole large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp Sambal Oelek 
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1 cup canola oil
Kosher salt

Wasabi Soy:
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup soy sauce
5 tbsp wasabi powder
1/4 tsp corn startch

Basil micro greens & edible flowers

Cut the won ton wrappers into 1/8-inch strips. In a saucepan, heat 3-4" of oil to 350°F then place a small handful of the won ton strips in the hot oil and fry until light golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and set aside, allowing the won ton strips to cool.

Cut the ahi tuna into 1/4-1/3-inch cubes. Season with salt then add sesame oil and mix to coat well. Add the remaining ingredients and gently toss the mixture together. Taste and adjust the seasoning; set aside.

Cut the avocados into 1/4-inch cubes then sprinkle with salt then lime juice. Add the remaining ingredients and gently stir, but do not mash. This makes 2 cups.

For the sambal aioli, combine the egg, egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice, sambal oelek and garlic in a blender. Turn the blender on and slowly drizzle in the oil until well incorporated. Season with salt to taste.

For the wasabi soy, place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk together until smooth. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil and allow it to thicken. Remove from the heat and cool. Put in a squeeze bottle and set aside for garnish. This should make about 1 1/4 cups.

To assemble the stacks, position a 3 1/2" x 2 1/2" ring-mold on a serving plate. Note: Several stacks can be made ahead on a baking sheet using individually cut parchment paper larger than the mold, to later transport to a serving plate, where the parchment can be easily removed. 

Spread a small amount of Avocado Salsa to serve as a base to prevent the won ton layer from sliding. Place won ton strips at the bottom and gently press down. Fill the remainder of the mold with Ahi Poke and smooth the top. Spoon 1/2 tsp of Sambal Aioli in the center of the ahi. Garnish with micro basil and an edible flower. If you can't find micro basil, sliced green onion may be substituted as a garnish. Using a squeeze bottle, make graduated dots of Wasabi Soy from large to small around the stack, and serve. Delicious and impressive!