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Pau Hana Patrol: Good libations at Monkeypod Kitchen
BY JASON GENEGABUS / firstname.lastname@example.org
It may seem a little odd at first that the new Monkeypod Kitchen at Ko Olina only offers happy hour from 3 to 5:30 p.m. daily. Once you walk into the two-story restaurant opened by Maui-based chef Peter Merriman in December, however, everything becomes clear.
Monkeypod Kitchen Ko Olina
92-1046 Olani St.
3 to 5:30 p.m. daily
Make no mistake: Monkeypod Kitchen is for tourists. Located at Ko Olina Station, it’s within walking distance of the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa and Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa. Guests at the Beach Villas at Ko Olina or Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club will have to hike a little farther, but it’s definitely worth it to see the beautiful space Merriman has created for his guests.
Even at 4 in the afternoon — typically a slow period between lunch and dinner service — both the bar and dining area are full of what appear to be visitors to our islands, based on the telltale accents from the mainland and sunburns present in the room.
About two dozen bar stools surround a circular bar that sits next to the restaurant’s display kitchen, with a few high tables tucked against a cool waterfall feature. If you don’t feel like sitting in this area, ask to be seated outside, where live entertainment is offered after 3 p.m.
The main reason you’ll want to check out Monkeypod’s happy hour is the drinks — between the restaurant’s “handcrafted culinary cocktails” and its “Blizzard” beer system, you’ll find plenty of options for liquid merriment.
Let’s start with the beer, which flows into your glass at a chilly 29 degrees thanks to the Blizzard taps. The proprietary beer delivery system has been installed at only one other bar on Oahu — Duke’s Waikiki — but is definitely worth the added expense compared with traditional setups. Served at this temperature, the beer remains nicely chilled far longer than at just about any other bar you’ll drink at in Hawaii. That alone is reason enough for beer fans to make the trip to Ko Olina.
Monkeypod’s extensive list of craft beers, including a number of local offerings, should only help reinforce your desire to head out there.
The fact that Monkeypod calls its bartenders “bar chefs” is a pretty clear indication the restaurant takes its cocktail program seriously. And with celebrated local mixologist Tim Rita on staff, it’s no surprise the drinks here are executed to perfection.
Start off with a Monkeypod Mai Tai to keep with the tourist vibe and you won’t be disappointed; the balance of light and dark rums with orgeat syrup and orange curacao liqueur is dangerously smooth, and the honey-lilikoi foam served atop the drink gives it a little twist that only gets better the more you mix it in.
Other cocktails on the menu here include the No Ka Oi, made with Ocean vodka and Thai basil mixed with a honey-lilikoi puree, and the Kula Cougar, which blends Plymouth Gin and Pimms No. 1 with cucumber, lemon, ginger syrup and grapefruit bitters. There are 11 “handcrafted culinary cocktails” available, with the price dropping to $8 during happy hour (regular price is $12).
Your best bet? Start off drinking downstairs, but keep an eye on the clock — once 5 p.m. rolls around, Monkeypod’s second-floor dining area opens for business, which includes a six-seat bar where Rita holds court every night except Saturday. While you can warm up at the main bar, Rita’s lair is where you’ll want to go for a walk on the wild side. Like asking for the omakase menu at a sushi bar, you’ll want to ask for the “bartender’s choice” when ordering upstairs.
When we visited last week, Rita was still riding high off the good vibes from the inaugural Hawaii Cocktail Week and served up a mean “Tea Time Brew.” Made with rum, jasmine tea, pineapple, simple syrup, honey, fresh lemon and Maui Brewing Co.’s Mana Wheat beer, this spur-of-the-moment cocktail was served in Monkeypod’s signature, tiki-style mug. And boy, was it good.
Naturally, all these great drinks need some great food to go with them. And while Monkeypod Kitchen doesn’t disappoint here, either, it’s tough to praise the limited happy-hour specials currently offered. Looking at the menu, there are only five items that qualify for half-off pricing during happy hour: Wood-Roasted Chicken Wings (regular price $13.95), Pumpkin Patch Ravioli (regular price $10.95), House Cut Fries (regular price $6.95), Garlic Truffle Oil Fries (regular price $7.95) and Vegan Portuguese Bean Soup (regular price $7.95).
If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself eyeing one of two items that aren’t discounted during happy hour. The Raw Bar Mixed Plate ($18.95) sounded tasty, with sesame ahi poke, organic Big Island macadamia nuts, shrimp ceviche and tako poke, but I opted for the Poke Tacos ($17.95) served in crispy wonton shells and topped with an incredibly addicting avocado cream sauce. At six bucks per taco, however, I’m not sure I would necessarily order these again.
Also discounted during happy hour are (almost) all the pizzas on Monkeypod Kitchen’s menu. Instead of paying $17.95 for a Hamakua Wild Mushroom and Truffle pizza, $13.95 for a Margherita or Roasted Butternut Squash pie, or $16.95 for a Proletariat (pepperoni, sausage, onions, green peppers and olives), everything is just $9. At this price the pizza is acceptable, but after being spoiled by the Neopolitan-style pies served at V-Lounge in town and Prima in Kailua, I found myself expecting something better than what came out of the kitchen at Ko Olina.
Those looking for the best value are better served skipping the discounted appetizers during happy hour and turning instead to the rest of the menu. Items like the Dry Mein ($12.95), Big Island Cheese Burger ($11.95) and Classic Caesar Salad ($9.95) are all affordable alternatives, while the Fresh Island Fish Sandwich ($17.95), Fresh Fish Tacos ($16.95), Bulgogi Pork Tacos ($14.95) and Fresh Gnocchi ($15.95) are a little pricier, but you’re getting full-size plates instead of pupu.
Are there better spots for happy hour on Oahu than Monkeypod Kitchen? Sure. But if you ever find yourself out on the Leeward side with some time to kill and money to burn, you won’t be disappointed with what you discover at Merriman’s outpost at Ko Olina.
Jason Genegabus is Entertainment Editor/Online at the Star-Advertiser.