Doing The Tango At Hokua
Wednesday - March 19, 2008
The crowds of Honolulu diners who flock to a new restaurant each time one opens are enough to give most chefs a panic attack. Not so for Goan Streng, who opened Tango at The Hokua on Ala Moana Boulevard a couple of weeks ago.
Goan’s pretty cool. By that, I don’t mean he wears Gucci shoes and Diesel jeans, I mean he’s unflustered and keeps his emotions pretty much under wraps. It helps that he grew up in Helsinki and traveled for a while in the Navy. He also was executive chef at the Hawaii Prince Hotel, leaving there for a private catering gig at the Hawaii Yacht Club. He is positively unflappable (we call him James Bond), so as the lines grew longer outside Tango last week, Göran kept his head down in the kitchen and sent out food so good that even people who’d been waiting around a while seemed happy.
Three weeks after opening, he’s still dealing with lines at the door at lunchtime and people delighted to see a new place in town.
“It’s a little crazy,” he says, with just a glimmer of a smile.
The menu offers an amalgamation of dishes from Göran’s Scandinavian background along with Pacific Rim and Asian dishes that have influenced him in Hawaii. Scandinasion, if you like. We had the trio of Temaki Sushi ($9.50) first. It was incredibly good. So good, in fact, that I tried to remember the last time I’d had better in a Japanese restaurant.
“I didn’t know you made sushi,” I whispered across the counter. He shrugged his shoulders, “I can,” he said, with perhaps a hint of a smile.
There’s a gorgeous Swedish Gravlax with Crispy Skin ($8) on the menu, too, a Trio of Open Faced Mini Sandwiches ($9.50) and a Ham, Salami and Brie on Pita Bread ($8) - all giving a nod to his European background.
The restaurant has a simple Japanese/Scandinavian ambience, with an interesting mix of furniture (including wooden benches and tables that can be moved to accommodate large groups), silver birch branches that serve as a room divider, and those puffy white hanging lamp-shades that always look as if they’re from 1970, even though they may have been designed last week.
You can’t really serve lunch without offering burgers, soups and salads, and you’ll find all three on the menu. It’s $8.25 for an 8-ounce burger grilled and served on a beautiful bun (I do think of bread as a thing of beauty), and you can add different toppings and basically build your own gourmet version. Salads are Nalo Greens with a variety of dressings, including a raspberry vinaigrette. I loved the Grilled Pesto Glazed Salmon ($10.50) on a bed of mixed greens with tomato and asparagus tips. The Grilled Sirloin Steak ($13.50) served on a cedar plank with some garlic herb butter was medium rare and very nice, and the french fries accompanying it were perfect - somewhere between a classically thin pommes frittes and chunky steak fries. They were golden, puffy and extremely hot. I’d go back just for a plate of them.
Tango is open on weekends for breakfast from 8 to 10:30 a.m. and weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Inhabitants of The Hokua must be thanking the culinary gods for bringing this gem to their doorstep.
“I’ve been here five times,” one gregarious resident told me. “Breakfast, lunch, breakfast, dinner and now lunch. I’m coming back for lunch tomorrow,” she enthused.
Better get in line.
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