“Wong has always been able to take well-loved and highly recognizable dishes and put a spin on them, and nowhere is this talent more apparent than at The Pineapple Room.” ~ Jo McGarry, Midweek.
photo credit: Tina Yuen, PBN
Pictured above is internationally acclaimed chef and restaurateur Alan Wong, whose name is synonymous with the best of Hawai’i Regional Cuisine. Last month when we were on O’ahu, we treated ourselves and nine of our favorite relatives to dinner at The Pineapple Room, one of three restaurants Wong owns in Hawai’i.
Though I had dined before at his flagship restaurant in downtown Honolulu (an Obama favorite), and loved his creative dishes which blend different ethnic cooking styles, this was my first time at The Pineapple Room.
While I was busy taking photos, my 12-year-old nephew Jared took notes for a school assignment. I thought it would be fun to add parts of his restaurant review to this post (they’re in italics).
Our budding restaurant reviewer.
When you walk into The Pineapple Room, you get a taste of every aspect of the furniture, to the bar, to the artwork. The restaurant’s surroundings are very friendly to the Hawaiian lifestyle. It has a nice, tropical sensation to it. It is a romantic place full of flavor and spice.
The waiters, chefs, and the manager are very friendly. They respond as soon as they can. They serve the food in a timely manner and were faster than I had expected. They were smiley and gave me suggestions for what to order. They welcomed me to my seat when I first arrived, and pushed in my seat when I got up ready to go.
Clearly the staff knew who the expert reviewer was, because I didn’t experience the same level of attention Jared describes (I’ll have to remember to take out my notebook next time).☺I like that he calls it a “romantic place.” He’s always been keenly observant of his surroundings and appreciates the finer details. He’s right. The Pineapple Room is friendly, casually elegant, and conducive to good conversation.
The book that started it all and changed Alan Wong’s life:
12 Hawaiian chefs collaborate, ushering in the HRC movement
But what of the food? Before Wong and several other chefs founded the Hawai’i Regional Cuisine (HRC) movement back in the early 90’s, people joked that Hawaiian food was mostly about canned spam and pineapple. Wong began to work closely with local ranchers, fishermen and farmers who were producing fine, high quality ingredients (beef, lamb, hybrid lettuces, vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet corn). With the added bounties of the Pacific Ocean, Hawai’i’s abundant supply of fresh fruit (mango, papaya, coconut, guava, passion fruit), and the culinary techniques Wong learned from French chef André Soltner at Lutèce in NYC, he was able to develop and refine an innovative fusion cuisine which forever altered the world’s perception of what Hawaiian food is or could be.
photo of Ginger Crusted Onaga by pouryourheartintoit.
With signature dishes such as Macadamia Nut-Coconut Crusted Lambchops, Ginger Crusted Onaga (Long-Tail Red Snapper, Miso Sesame Vinaigrette, Organically Grown Hamakua Mushroom and Corn), and Butter Poached Kona Lobster (Honda Tofu, Nagaimo Potato Cake, Green Onion Oil), Wong, who is Japanese-Hawaiian-Chinese, blends the best of East and West. Island staples are served up with a refreshing flair and twist.
photo of Butter Poached Kona Lobster by Hawbone.
Besides, it’s just plain fun to see what’s on the menu, with the ever-present reminder that if you want to fully experience Hawai’i, you must taste and savor it. I like Wong’s creations because they respect the simple traditions of each ethnicity, while updating them with a crucial eco-friendly, health-oriented consciousness.
So what did Jared eat? His rationale was simple — order the longest entrée on the menu:
On the dinner menu the foods sounded very appetizing. I ordered the Mango Chutney and Macadamia Nut Crusted Apple Curry Glazed Kurobata ‘Berkshire’ Pork Chops with Kabocha Pumpkin and Mascarpone Cheese Puree. When it was served, the mango chutney reminded me a bit like baby food. Overall, the food’s appeal was quite extravagant, except the mango chutney. I enjoyed the flavors from the sweetness of the mango chutney, to the spiciness of the apple curry.
For dessert, Jared had homemade brownies with vanilla ice cream:
I started with a salad of Locally Grown Nalo Greens, Hamakua Springs Vine-Ripened Tomatoes, Furikake Cucumber, Soy Balsamic Vinaigrette,
followed by New Zealand King Salmon (Ochazuke Risotto and Green Tea),
and finished with Haupia Tapioca “Halo Halo” (Haupia Tapioca served wtih Hamakua Springs Apple Bananas, Pineapple, Mango Kanten, Sweet Corn, Azuki Beans, Coconut Shave Ice):
In a word: ono! It’s all about fresh, farm-to-table goodness waking up your taste buds; you’re gently coaxed into being fully present and then are happily surprised by the results. Take my haupia tapioca dessert, for example. I’ve eaten all those ingredients separately at one time or another. Haupia (Hawaiian coconut pudding) is often served at luaus. Shave ice with azuki beans (a Japanese touch to a favorite island treat). Kanten (agar) is a kind of gelatin used extensively in Japanese desserts. Tapioca? Always loved it. Combining all of these things? Dynamite! So refreshing, not overly sweet — so many different textures — smoothness of banana, chill and crunch of the ice, soft chewiness of the tapioca, and a coconut flavor that is never overpowering. Truly, it was like tasting Hawai’i for the first time.
Adventurous cooks: check this out!
It’s easy to see why Alan Wong has been showered with accolades: James Beard Award for Best Chef/Pacific Northwest, No. 8 in Gourmet Magazine’s Top 50 Best Restaurants in the U.S., Honolulu Magazine’s Hale Aina Award (numerous times) for Restaurant of the Year. Not bad for a Wahiawa boy who graduated from my alma mater, Leilehua High School. He once said, “I couldn’t boil a hot dog. I thought bread came out of a package.”
My dad had the Chilled Seared Ahi Steak and Furikake Crusted Honda Family Tofu Salad.
This past summer, President Obama asked Wong to coordinate the White House Luau. Among the ingredients Wong flew in from Hawai’i just for the event: 70 lbs. hearts of palm, 216 lbs. mushrooms, 35 lbs. goat cheese, 84 lbs. macadamia nuts, 44 lbs. chocolate, 130 lbs. salted salmon. Not only was this a great honor for a humble chef, but a nod to Hawai’i’s agricultural industry.
Coconut the Bear appreciates Chef Wong’s desserts.
Jared and I give The Pineapple Room two thumbs up! For now, we’ll be dipping those thumbs into some rich dark chocolate from the Waialua Estate on O’ahu. ♥
A LITTLE MORE
Here’s a short video of Chef Wong explaining Hawai’i Regional Cuisine:
Click here for two Alan Wong recipes served at the White House Luau, Kalua Pig and Wasabi Potato Salad.
For more 2009 Fall for Restaurants posts, click here!
Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.