Critic’s Choice: Joleen Oshiro
Joleen Oshiro is food editor for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Dining at Chef Mavro is certainly a five-star experience, but chef George Mavrothalassitis’ execution of magic isn’t of the razzle-dazzle, hit-’em-between-the-eyes sort. Rather, his contemporary regional cuisine dances elegantly on the palate. Surprising combinations work together seamlessly; distinct flavors delight but don’t distract from the unity of each dish.
Hamachi Poke & Caviar from the restaurant’s summer menu, for instance, showcases the fish’s delicious creaminess, seasoned with Hanapepe salt and topped with Malossol caviar. Avocado adds silky texture and body, while baby shiso offers a zing of bright interest. A kanzuri yuzu-chili sauce unites the ingredients perfectly.
One key to the James Beard award winner’s success is using top-quality local ingredients. As a founder of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, Mavrothalassitis has proved he knows how to showcase the islands’ premier products in their finest light. Seasonal menus support this commitment and allow Chef Mavro’s cuisine to continually evolve. Add to the mix selected wine pairings, and dishes sing.
Three-, four- and six-course menu options are offered, and the Grand Tasting menu provides smaller portions of the entire spectrum. All include a pre-appetizer, pre-dessert and candies made in-house.
Fresh, local ingredients and impeccable wine pairings, combined with Mavrothalassitis’ classic French training, make Chef Mavro one of the finest dining experiences in the islands.
Also recommended: Kurobuta Pork “A La Saigon,” Lilikoi Malasadas, caramel with sea salt.
1969 S. King St.; 944-4714; www.chefmavro.com. Dinner (except Sun-Mon). $$$$
Yakiniku chain Gyu-Kaku hits on a winning formula: simple and delicious.
The beauty of the eatery is its Japanese sensibility, demonstrated in its austere decor, prompt, polite service and conservative portions. The latter ends up being beneficial to all: Small eaters won’t waste; big eaters get variety.
For smaller, less expensive portions, try the happy-hour menu available 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. daily.
All that, and a warm fire to boot.
Recommended: Bistro harami, garlic spinach, Yakimochi ice cream, pork belly, shochu (Japanese vodka).
1221 Kapiolani Blvd.; 589-2989; www.gyu-kaku.com. Lunch, dinner, late night; in Waikiki, 307 Lewers St., 926-2989. $
Maile’s Thai Bistro
This restaurant in Hawaii Kai Towne Center is inviting on so many levels. Its convenient location among the likes of Costco, Ross and other stores makes an impromptu visit easy, offering a cool, elegant respite after a hot day of shopping. It’s a good stop for pau hana takeout and ideal for a family occasion.
But it’s not just about convenience. Maile’s has some of the tastiest Thai food on the island. The massamum curry is lushly creamy with subtle heat, and Maile’s cashew chicken offers a crisp, flavorful alternative to the Chinese version.
Also recommended: Beef sashimi.
333 Keahole St.; 394-2488; www.mailesthaibistro.com. Dinner, lunch. $$
Mix Cafe 1 and 2
If you can’t fly to Italy for lunch, Bruno Lezzi’s Mix cafes are the next-best option for beautiful, toothsome and seasonal light meals. The meats are full of flavor, the organic greens pristinely fresh, the bread delectable.
Recommended: Roast pork, steak or pork sandwiches, Italian sausage pasta.
35 S. Beretania St., 537-1191; 1025 Alakea St., 532-4540; www.mymixcafe.com. Breakfast, lunch. $$