Rave Reviews: Nadine Kam
Grondin French Latin Kitchen
A little bit of New York City moved into downtown Honolulu with the opening of Grondin, the creation of alumni of Zakary Pelaccio’s Fatty Crew family of Malaysian-inspired Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue restaurants.
This time, the project is more personal for Jenny Grondin and David Segarra, who drew on their respective French and Ecuadorean heritage to create a restaurant well-suited to multicultural, 21st-century Honolulu. Here, craft and authenticity take supremacy over glitz and showmanship.
The restaurant opened with a tapas-style dinner menu by chef Andrew Pressler, featuring the likes of Kauai shrimp ceviche with the heat of serrano peppers, and marinated octopus tossed with onion, olives, roasted red pepper and chilies. They put out a killer charcuterie platter laden with house-made pates, sausage and house-cured jamon and hearty entrees ranging from steak frites to a French cassoulet. They also won raves for their Shinsato Farm pork chuleta and tender pan-roasted Jidori chicken.
Lunch quickly followed, with that charcuterie now served on ciabatta. Other sandwiches are built around such ingredients as adobo steak, chicken sofrito, and poached prawns with lemon aioli. And don’t forget the adult version of grilled cheese, a Croque Madame of ham, Gruyere and sunnyside-up fried egg on toast.
A beautiful full bar features such signature cocktails as the chili-infused Smoking Maguey and Chanchito, made with Pacifico, a Mexican-style pilsner, with a shot of tequila and sangrita.
$$ 62 N. Hotel St.; 566-6768; www.grondinhi.com. Lunch, dinner.
Agu a Ramen Bistro
This restaurant opened with a streamlined ramen menu, but chef Hisashi “Teddy” Uehara’s ambition didn’t end there.
He’s a perfectionist, and there were days early on when he refused to serve his tonkotsu or Jidori chicken ramen when he felt the broth — using pork or chicken bones boiled down over 18 hours — was not up to snuff.
When he was satisfied with the consistency of his ramen, he moved to pupu ranging from Jidori kawa (deep-fried Jidori chicken skin); tebichi (Okinawan-style pork feet); pork cheek croquettes; and Jidori nanban, a chicken-and-egg specialty comprising tender Miyazaki-style fried chicken topped with homemade tartar sauce incorporating chunks of hard-boiled egg.
Even so, ramen continues to be the star of the menu, dividing diners into two camps: those who prefer the lightness of the chicken broth, or those who enjoy the thick richness of tonkotsu broth. Both styles skew satisfyingly toward their respective extremes of lightness and heft.
But, as if the basic tonkotsu wasn’t rich enough, Uehara kept tweaking and adding until he ended up with (so far) the ultimate bowl of ramen, the Innovative Hot Mess, a kitchen-sink creation incorporating fresh garlic, black garlic oil, garlic butter, Parmesan cheese and more. (See my pick for favorite food, Page 40.)
The downside of popularity is waiting for a table, but the search is on for a second Agu location.
$$ 925 Isenberg St. (across from Old Stadium Park); 492-1637; www.aguramen.com. Lunch, dinner, late night
Izakaya Torae Torae
As the world becomes more casual and less traditional, younger diners are embracing izakaya-style dining. The format is attune to their search for camaraderie, boosted by the steady flow of drinks and shared plates.
Beyond the average bar with simple pupu, the contemporary izakaya can offer an amazing culinary experience, and at Torae Torae, chef Hide Yoshimoto does his best to keep guests guessing about what he’ll put on the plate next.
Sushi and seafood provide the foundation for the menu, so you may find yourself first gulping down a seafood shooter that is the equivalent of a nigiri mix in liquid form, with a small dice of oyster, scallop and shrimp, ikura pearls and a dollop of uni suspended in ponzu sesame sauce.
Ahi tataki is one of his signatures, dressed up with sweet onion, wakame, kaiware sprouts and the crunch of garlic chips, flavored with ponzu and finished with zigzags of garlic mayo.
The silky egg custard chawanmushi is divine with its briny mix of shredded snow crabmeat, shrimp, uni and ikura, and you can never go wrong with hamachi carpaccio with the bite of jalapeno, sweet miso, ponzu and a hint of truffle oil.
It’s not all about seafood. Grill specialties include thin-sliced roast pork, savory pork belly kakuni that is one of the stars of the menu, rib-eye steak served with your choice of teriyaki or sizzling garlic sauce, and yukari or curry Jidori chicken.
If you’re the sort who can’t make a decision, there are $35 and $60 omakase meals encompassing appetizer to dessert.
The setting is warm, cozy and intimate, so you’ll be sitting in close proximity to fellow diners, the better to enjoy their meal vicariously on sight. The sushi bar overlooks an open kitchen where you can see Yoshimoto and his team at work creating your bliss.
$$ 1111 McCully St. (at Young Street); 949-5959; www.toraetorae.com. Dinner.