Best Restaurants: People’s Choice
3660 On The Rise: Island flavors, Euro-style, served without pretension
Chef Russell Siu looks startled when asked about the secret to the success of 3660 on the Rise, winner of the ‘Ilima People’s Choice award for best restaurant in Hawaii for the third year running.
“Gee, I’m not sure how to answer that,” he says with modesty. But then he has a go at an answer.
“I think it’s our casual approach. People can feel comfortable when they come here. We’re not pretentious or stuffy — what you see is what you get,” he says.
Siu has hit upon a sweet spot with fusion cuisine that expands on what appeals to the local palate yet is familiar enough to satisfy the average Joe. There’s Ahi Katsu, served with spinach and a reduced sauce of shoyu, ginger, scallion, white wine and butter; or Potato-Crusted Crab Cake with shredded potato that’s a twist on bread crumbs; or a tempura fish served with ponzu.
“It’s Euro-island cuisine, local flavors with European influence,” he says. “We’re not too avant-garde; there’s not 20 things in one dish. That’s overkill.”
Siu says he and his crew tinker with the menu every quarter and change about a third of it.
“We see what’s seasonal to give value,” he says. “Just today, Colin Nishida from Side Street (Inn) dropped off some shrimp from Kona for me to try. I might use it in a special. Dean (Okimoto of ‘Nalo Farms) brought mushrooms. And we got some stuff from Wow Farm.”
It’s not difficult for the chef and his crew to come up with ideas. “Hawaii is so diverse in cuisine,” he says.
Siu got his start in the kitchen at Kenny’s Coffee House and Restaurant in Kalihi. He opened the Plaza Club in Honolulu in 1979 for the Club Corporation of America and moved to Dallas in 1982 to continue his work for the company. This was the era of the California cuisine movement.
“It was all about regional fresh food,” he says. “We took the best of each place nationally. This opened my eyes to see what people were doing.”
When Siu became director of operations for the West Coast, he was able to go to the best restaurants in the region’s cities. “It was a good experience. Fresh was ‘it.’ I measured my food against theirs. To learn, you’ve got to taste.”
In September 1992 Siu was back in Hawaii and opened 3660 on the Rise.
The chef is proud of his staff, some of whom have put in more than 15 years of service. Siu stresses a team spirit on numerous levels. Workers pool tips, and the entire kitchen crew can contribute ideas to the menu.
“We always say, ‘This not an individual sport.’ The more pride people have in the product, the better the food,” he says. “I think it’s important to have seasoned staff who know the menu. Plus, people can see a familiar face when they come in.”
He calls his 85-seat restaurant a comfortable place where people can be themselves, and the lively chatter that fills the room indicates this is so.
Although Siu says he doesn’t micromanage his chefs, he believes one of the keys to the restaurant’s success is continuity. He says there’s one simple way to ensure that no matter the personal style of each chef, they can deliver a consistent product.
“I write down recipes for every single thing,” he says. “Everyone has different taste buds, so we write it all down. And we’ve been successful.”
3660 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki; 737-1177; www.3660.com. Dinner (closed Mondays). $$$
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For many of our readers, a visit to Yogurstory represented love at first bite, a place for those hungry for simple, inexpensive cafe fare presented without attitude.
Those who need plenty of fuel to start their day could opt for tidy omelet selections or go straight for the house Fat Pig Fried Rice, shot through with threads of pork adobo, ham, bacon bits and oyster sauce for salty, meaty flavor throughout and enough koge (burnt) rice bits to give it some prized pan-fried crunchiness. It’s topped with julienne egg crepe and pork rinds.
Add a few more dollars and you can upgrade to the Oinker, with Portuguese sausage sliced in half lengthwise and two eggs prepared to your liking.
Salads and sandwiches such as lean pastrami, Philly cheesesteak, cranberry chicken salad croissant, a BLT and banh mi of curry chicken with a liver pate spread fill the menu.
And, for a girlfriends’ day or night out, several dessertlike waffle confections are built to be shared, such as the Red Carpet, comprising a chocolate waffle, quartered for four portions, each topped with a dollop of taro cream cheese, drizzled with 58 percent Belgian chocolate sauce and sprinkled with red velvet croutons.
815 Keeaumoku St.; 942-0505. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. $
Wayne Hirabayashi is among Oahu’s most hard-working and innovative chefs, and Hoku’s gives him a fabulous playground. His open kitchen features a kiawe-wood grill, tandoori and wood-burning ovens and huge woks that occasionally spout fire.
This means the cuisine at Hoku’s — while offering the classics a hotel restaurant must keep on the menu — presents many opportunities for adventure.
Try the Ahi Musubi, a favorite with locals, or venture further into fusion with the Pan-Seared Halibut and its avocado crust. Love the classics? There’s Salt-Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb carved at the table.
If you’re out to impress, you can’t fail with Hoku’s beachside location and postcard-perfect views. But if you want to guarantee that impression, ask for the Seafood Tower, which is just what it sounds like. It’s not on the menu, and only a few can be served each night.
Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave.; 739-8760; www.kahalaresort.com. Dinner, Sunday brunch (closed Mondays-Tuesdays). $$$$
Let’s say you’re in Auckland, New Zealand, and have a sudden craving for two scoops rice, mac salad and anything teriyaki. Where do you go? L&L Hawaiian Barbecue.
L&L franchises are everywhere. Not just in Hawaii, but coast to coast on the mainland and in Tokyo, American Samoa and New Zealand, proving that while you’re lucky you live Hawaii, you don’t have to live here to get a regular plate-lunch fix. Chicken katsu and barbecue chicken are major draws, but L&L also offers beef, ribs, Hawaiian food, fried seafood, burgers, saimin and a long list of specials.
Multiple locations; www.hawaiianbarbecue.com. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. $
Koa Pancake House
For a hearty, local-style breakfast in a casual setting, think Koa, where the portions are generous and the menu caters to a diversity of early morning cravings.
If carbs are not an issue, the pancakes come in banana, blueberry, strawberry, chocolate chip and pecan, besides plain buttermilk. Or have waffles, a crepe or a hefty serving of French toast made from thick slices of sweet bread. If protein is a priority, Koa offers a full omelet menu and the usual egg, meat and starch breakfast plates ala Denny’s.
For local flair, try the tasty Grilled Mahi Mahi & Eggs, Kalbi & Eggs or Vinha D’Alhos & Eggs.
Can’t decide? Have everyone order a plate, then add a short stack of pancakes to share. There’ll be plenty.
Locations in Aiea, Hawaii Kai, Kaneohe, Kapolei, Kaimuki, Moanalua, Wahiawa, Waipahu; www.koapancakehouse.com. Breakfast, lunch. $
The parade of fashionable diners at Mariposa on the third floor of Neiman Marcus is as much a part of the ambience as the room’s ceiling fans and wide veranda, which opens to expansive views of Ala Moana Park and the ocean beyond.
It’s a popular place for a casual though elegant lunch, a cool respite from the rush of crowds and trials of shopping.
The menu starts with composed salads (such as grilled lemon shrimp on romaine hearts), continues to sandwiches (lobster club or rib-eye roast beef sandwich) and on to entrees (seared diver scallops with ricotta gnocchi, blue crab spaghettini and laksa seafood curry). And, for those who intend to keep their fashionable figures, the menu lists the calorie count of each dish.
Neiman Marcus, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., 951-3420. Lunch, dinner. $$-$$$
Amid the souvenir peddlers and historic sites of
Lahaina town are a few gastronomic gems, none more glittering than the Lahaina Grill, just off Front Street. Owner-chef Jurg Munch presents innovative “New American” cuisine combining fresh ingredients from Maui farms and the techniques and flavors of his multinational upbringing and chef stints in some of the best hotels in Switzerland and Asia.
Visitors make their reservations months in advance for an opportunity to taste such signature dishes as Warm Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese & Baby Arugula Salad, Tequila Shrimp with Firecracker Rice, and the Cake Walk, a sampler of Kona Lobster Crab Cake, Seared Ahi Cake and Sweet Louisiana Rock Shrimp Cake.
You’ll also find certified Angus beef selections on the menu, along with Kona Coffee Roasted Rack of Lamb, and the house specialty dessert Triple Berry Pie. There’s even a keiki menu — because you’re never too young to eat well.
127 Lahainaluna Road; 667-5117; www.lahainagrill.com. Dinner. $$$-$$$$