Chinese Food With A Difference

Jo McGarry
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Friday - December 22, 2006
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XO Seafood Restaurant’s menu and decor reflect the confidence, style and versatility of chef/owner Raymond Chau
XO Seafood Restaurant’s menu and decor
reflect the confidence, style and versatility of
chef/owner Raymond Chau

You know as soon as you walk into XO Seafood Restaurant that it’s not your average Chinese restaurant. For a start, there are comfortable chairs. And the ubiquitous fish tank, which in other restaurants is home to lobsters languishing behind dirty walls in murky waters, fits seamlessly into a slate wall as part of the calming décor.

And if the orange soft chairs and the white linen tablecloths don’t impress you, the menu and the service should. Rib Eye Steak, Yin and Yan Poke, Mongolian Lamb Ribs and Twin Abalone Shell Fish are just a couple of the specialties of the house. That’s not to say you won’t find an outstanding Honey Walnut Shrimp, a seriously spiced Ma Po Tofu or some comforting Egg Foo Yung, but for the most part the menu is a showcase for the versatility of chef/owner Raymond Chau, and not just a vehicle to churn out bland and boring local favorites.

Chau has spent a long time learning his trade, and he knows that there are certain dishes that stand the test of time.

“In a Chinese restaurant, you’ll always have people who want to see certain traditional dishes,” he says. “But today they are also looking for something a little bit different, more exciting.”

Chau’s had a loyal following through each of his Honolulu restaurant projects (Won Kee, Chi Chau, Raymond Chau’s Restaurant and A-1), but it’s here on busy Kapiolani Boulevard that he seems to have found his home.

“I’ve worked with many different chefs,” he says, “every-where from China to Amsterdam to New York. And you learn a lot by watching individual styles.”

Chau’s dishes are highly spiced, with multi-leveled flavor, not common in Chinese restaurants in Hawaii. His XO chili sauce and barbecue sauce are among the best I’ve tasted. Made from scratch (with ingredients that include dried shrimp, scallops, ham and chili pepper) the XO sauce is a bold accompaniment to several dishes.

And Chau’s confidence and style can be seen too in the bold décor of the restaurant (burnt orange is the color he chose for the walls, the menu, chair coverings and his business cards) and on the first few pages of the menu.

“We’re kinda doing it a little upscale,” he says modestly. First-time diners should try the rib eye - it’s served sizzling on a platter, pupu-style, with the aforementioned sensational sauce, or order the steamed onaga. The fish is steamed with traditional Chinese ingredients (ginger, green onion, garlic) but served as a filet and not whole.

“We’re trying to get people to eat more fish - serving it in a different way.”

There are recognizably more traditional dishes too - the honey walnut shrimp is seriously good - but if you want a taste of a Chinese restaurant that’s really doing something different go to XO for the specialties of the house. Where else are you going to find Mongolian Lamb Ribs marinated in rosemary and rock salt and served with a homemade barbecue sauce?

Oh, and parking is easy, just pull into the lot to the side of the restaurant shared with Quiksilver.

XO Seafood Restaurant 1718 Kapiolani Blvd.(opposite the Convention Center)


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