Hogging The Limelight In Kaimuki

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - June 22, 2011
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(from left) SALT line cook Jennifer Leng, sous chef Quinten Frye and line cook Brett Robinson

It’s rare to see a restaurant owner as relaxed as Kevin Hanney was last Friday night. Throughout the weekend, Hanney and executive chef Bob McGee welcomed hundreds of friends and family to the soft opening of SALT Kitchen and Tasting Bar where, amid mouthfuls of marinated shrimp, pork in ale mustard, house-made sausages, clams and chorizo, and smoked foie gras, almost everyone was smiling.

“We are very, very excited,” said McGee, who spent much of opening night in the kitchen among hanging salami and house-cured pickles.

SALT is one of those restaurants we’ve been waiting for, and it gives me hope that Honolulu is not, in fact, destined to become a city with more Japanese noodle shops than anywhere else in the world. The SALT concept is simple: tapas-style small plates and the kind of nose-to-tail eating that has gained ferocious popularity in Europe, where restaurateurs like Fergus Henderson (St. John) have reignited a passion for pork. Dishes like crispy head cheese (described in more delicate circles as coppa di testa), country pate, salame secchi and liverwurst are popping up on trendy restaurant menus in New york, chicago and San Francisco. But while we’ve seen lots of fatty, delicious, meltingly good Kurobuta cheeks and butts on local menus these past few years, Bob McGee is ecstatic about Glenn Shinsato’s Kahuluu hogs.

“We wouldn’t even be doing this if it wasn’t for these wonderful pigs,” he says, plating up a house charcuterie platter of pork steak with ale mustard, grass-fed beef and pickles. “We are blessed to have them.”

Personally, I think we’re blessed to have chefs who think in such terms. I asked Amy Shinsato, whose father started the farm, if she ever expected such excitement over her pigs.

“I’m totally surprised,” she said, “but it’s very nice.”

you’ll also find Big Island macadamia nut-fed hogs on the menu, too, and you can only imagine how happy McGee is about them.

There are 40 small plates on the SALT menu. you can either eat them at the bar or upstairs in a loft-like room that’s decorated with black-and-white photographs of modern-day Kaimuki. It’s no coincidence that the restaurant oozes style; Hanney studied architecture in college and alongside cooking, it remains a passion. “you should come to my house,” he said. “you’d be amazed by the number of architectural books and magazines I have.”

It’s clear that the creation of SALT has been fun, from concept to execution, and the owners want it to be fun for diners, too. With dishes such as smoked Hudson Valley foie gras with pepper coriander and Kula Strawberries ($16) on the menu, alongside cheese platters ($14), Maui cattle company burgers ($10) and sandwiches made with sausages, pork belly and calamari tubes and tentacles, you shouldn’t have any trouble having a great time.

My guess is your biggest problem in these next few weeks will be getting a seat.

“We want to make this kind of food less intimidating,” says McGee. “Kind of like an American-style izakaya,” adds Hanney, who also owns 12th avenue Grill, a stone’s throw from the SALT kitchen door.

I bumped into Daniel Dae Kim, who was there with his wife Mia. “Isn’t this wonderful,” he said, grinning like almost everybody else. “I really think we need a place like this.”

I really think he’s right. Happy eating!

You can hear Kevin and Bob talking in the kitchen at tabletalkhawaii.com.

SALT Kitchen and Tasting Bar, 3605 Waialae Ave.,

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