Newcomers incorporate worldwide influences
BY NADINE KAM / email@example.com
NEW RESTAURANTS / Every year brings a spate of new restaurants that don’t quite make our top lists or open too late to meet our deadline yet are worthy of mention. Here are a few of them:
Bella Bistro is a lot like its Kailua surroundings, laid-back and casual. The name and location at the site of the former Zia’s Caffe suggests an Italian bent, but no, it’s simply named after chef-owner David Kaminski’s well-fed chocolate lab, a regular presence at the open-air restaurant.
The restaurant combines Greek, Spanish, French and Italian influences in a short but sweet menu of familiar fare, such as the lunchtime Greek burger topped with feta, tomatoes and cucumber, or dinner starters of hummus, crispy calamari served with garlic marinara or French onion soup. Main courses for dinner include pastas, shellfish, lemon artichoke chicken, 12-ounce rib eye and braised lamb shank.
$$ 201 Hamakua Drive, Kailua; 262-7168; www.BellaBistroKailua.com. Breakfast, lunch, dinner.
This restaurant’s name is synonymous with high-quality beef in Korea, where it originated 36 years ago. While other restaurants have display kitchens to highlight chefs’ work, Budnamujip puts its butchers on display as they put in hours slicing premium Wagyu, short ribs, rib eye and tongue.
Start with classic yang nyeom kalbi served on the bone and marinated with salt and a fruit puree that leaves it exceptionally tender. Another favorite is the unmarinated, well-marbled boneless short rib. None of this is cheap. Aboutfour ounces of meat costs $35 to $40. Servers cook everything for you over a kiawe charcoal flame, not wanting inexperienced or inattentive patrons to burn the high-quality beef. Custom hoods suck the vapors away, creating a remarkably smoke-free environment.
Diners have complained about the paucity of banchan and the a la carte price for rice.
$$$$ 871 Kapiolani Blvd.; 593-8822.
The crab restaurant trend hit Honolulu in the summer of 2012 and this year made it to the Leeward side with the opening of Cajun King in Waimalu Shopping Center. It’s a sibling to King Street’s Lobster King and Shabu Shabu King restaurants.
Just as at the Honolulu crab restaurants, your shellfish boil comes in a bag. Order a la carte or, for about $48 to $55, get two of bags filled with crawfish, mussels, shrimp and clams and your choice of lobster, Dungenesss crab, king crab legs or snow crab legs. You also can pick Cajun or garlic-butter seasoning.
What’s different here are the plate-lunch combos, offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A salt-pepper or Cajun-style half-lobster paired with New York steak, shrimp or pork chop and rice is a good deal at $12.99.
$$$ Waimalu Shopping Center, 98-020 Kamehameha Highway; 484-2221.
CHEZ KENZO BAR & GRILL
This small, understated bar with ominous black windows delivers you from the evils of hunger with a vast, impressive and creative menu of local and Japanese tapas and both Italian- and Asian-inspired pastas.
Ease into lunchtime meals of ahi katsu, pokedon and loco moco for about $10 or less.
In the evening you may have trouble narrowing down your selections when options include pumpkin and bacon sauteed with garlic, spicy mentaiko (cod roe) pasta with garlic butter, or crispy Nagoya-style chicken wings in a sweet teriyaki sauce.
Happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. daily promises comparable fare along with drink specials.
$$ 1451 S. King St., 941-2439, chezkenzo.net. Lunch and dinner.
JAPANESE RESTAURANT AKI
The ghosts of restaurant tenants past — from Okonomi Cuisine Kai to Yakitori Yoshi — still haunt this space, and that’s a good thing.
If you like okonomi, they’ve got it. Nabe? Yes. Yakitori? Check. Plus daily sushi specials. What’s more, it’s all done well in a setting that by now is comfy and familiar.
Yakitori is still a highlight, and patrons will find a friendly face with manager Aki Hirose, the former owner of Yakitori Yoshi. Each table has a list for checking off grilled chicken and other edibles ranging from king mushrooms to cow tongue and delicious pork belly $1.50 to $3.50 per skewer.
I’ve ordered a lot here and never had a bad dish, but the tan tan nabe (hot-pot dish) rises above all.
$$ 1427 Makaloa St.; 955-8528. Dinner.
“Kan Zaman” means “Once upon a time” in Arabic, and chefs Youssef Dakroub and Kamal Jemmari have teamed up to offer a taste of some of the world’s earliest cuisines, from Morocco and Lebanon, to diners in downtown Honolulu.
On the menu are such standards as harira soup, tabouleh, hummus and falafel at affordable prices. At lunch, beef lovers might opt for the Middle Eastern hamburger equivalent of kofta, or a merguez sandwich of grilled lamb sausage topped with spicy harissa sauce.
Main courses include kebabs and mellow chicken and lamb tagines, or stews.
Dine in, or in an open-air courtyard in the back of the restaurant.
$$$ 1028 Nuuanu Ave.; 554-3847; kanzamanhawaii.com.
MAC NUTS HOUSE
Mac Nuts House is a fun find, set in a casual space with room for 24, across from the Safeway Center in Kapahulu. Sure, the sprinkling of mac nuts here and there is gimmicky, but a few nuts don’t interfere with enjoyment of the food.
Pancakes are at the heart of the menu. Those who want to avoid the breakfast crowd can show up at night, whether for a traditional dinner with pancakes for dessert, or pancakes alone.
Mac Nuts House pancakes comprise two large griddle cakes generously stacked with fresh fruit, whipped cream sprinkled with chopped mac nuts, half of it surrounded by haupia sauce, the other with cream cheese sauce.
A few appetizers and salads devoid of nuts appear on the dinner menu. As a staffer put it, “We didn’t want people to be mac-nutted out and not come back.”
$$ 847 Kapahulu Ave.; 753-7973; www.facebook.com/MacNutsHouse.
This innocuous-looking storefront restaurant at Kapiolani and Makaloa streets is a windowless fortress with smooth concrete walls that shut out the world to immerse patrons in the Rinka experience. A tatami room for larger parties adds a traditional element.
I find visits here to be hit-or-miss, with the good mixed in with the merely “interesting.” On the good side: the sushi and sashimi, from basics of nigiri hamachi to such daily specials as shimaaji and akaebi, a sweeter and two-times-larger relative of pricier amaebi.
With the hot specialties things get interesting. Chawanmushi gets a makeover, served cold with potato salad folded into the egg mixture, giving it a grainy texture instead of the expected silkiness. If you need that silken touch, you’ll get it with lotus manju, the ground hasu shaped into a soft ball with a pleasant warm, gelatinous texture.
Tuna, poke style, is served like a Korean-style carpaccio, with an egg over easy, allowing the yolk to spill over the ahi and ogo.
Curry powder appears in unexpected places, such as an appetizer of shrimp paste crostini, the shrimp paste folded into pastry squares and baked golden brown, then served with ketchup, tartar sauce and curry powder. It works.
Shabu shabu rounds out the menu.
$$$ 1500 Kapiolani Blvd.; 941-5159.
Read Nadine Kam’s “Weekly Eater” restaurant reviews Wednesdays in the Today section of the Star-Advertiser and at staradvertiser.com.