Local Food: The Next Generation
Wednesday - January 28, 2009
While there’s nothing quite like the food mom used to make, three local restaurants have discovered that dishes brothers, sisters or even cousins like might also hold the recipe for success.
When I first discovered the restaurateurs I’m writing about this week, I was initially impressed with not just their food, but by the confidence they all show in putting a spin on local favorites. In two of the restaurants, the chefs involved are graduates of KCC and both worked at prestigious Vegas restaurants before being persuaded to bring their considerable culinary talents home. All share close family ties.
I first discovered The Alley at Aiea Bowl a couple of years ago and was immediately impressed with brothers Glenn and Gregg Uyeda. Their food (KCC grad Shane Masutani is the chef) has developed such a following that many customers go to the bowling alley just to eat. First-timers should try the Tasty Chicken, a dish so good the kitchen staff can barely make enough to keep up.
“We spent a long time in the kitchen with my mom and with Chef Shane to get the recipe exactly right,” says Glenn.
It was worth it. There’s an excellent burger, and I love the seared furikake ahi over rice.
Surprisingly, there’s also a fabulous bakery section where you’ll have to actively resist offerings like a gooey five-layer chocolate cake and lemon drop crunch. You’ll find more information on The Alley at http://www.aieabowl.com.
Similar good food in unpretentious surroundings can be found at another Aiea eatery, Lily Koi Lounge, located on the second floor of the Westridge Shopping Center. Here KCC graduate Keith Ogata is the chef. Ogata honed his skills in Vegas working with celebrated Chef Joachim Splichal at The Venetian before being persuaded to return home by his cousin, Lily Koi co-owner Dennis Koshita.
“I used to go to Vegas to see Keith, and I kept thinking it would be good to do his food here at home,” says Koshita.
Lily Koi’s menu is a mixture of contemporary American food with Asian influences. Dishes such as herb-roasted chicken and seared ahi are simple but excellent, and locally inspired dishes - braised short ribs, chicken katsu and kalua pig with cabbage, for example - are a huge hit with regulars. A late-night pupu menu (served most nights until 12:30 a.m.) has local favorites such as fried udon noodles, ahi poke and hot wings, and several surprises including smoked duck breast, steamed Manila clams and Maryland-style crab cakes.
But the dish that made me want to go back for more is Ogata’s rack of lamb. Cooked medium rare and finished with a rich Bordelaise sauce, it’s a dish you’d pay twice as much for in a fine-dining restaurant.
And the newest kid on this block of family-run restaurants is Kochi Restaurant on South King Street, where Gulick Deli owners (and brothers) Cory Makishi and Lee Takara along with Lee’s wife Denise are at the helm of this exciting new restaurant. The food has a firm, family base from which the brothers have launched their favorites - with a twist.
“We learned directly from my mom,” says Takara, who has added his own influence to a considerable menu. Agedashi tofu, deep-fried hash balls and oxtail soup sit comfortably on the Kochi menu next to tempura soft-shell crab, deep-fried pork chops, spicy tuna rolls and soba and hijiki salad. There’s quite possibly the biggest, tastiest loco moco in town, and all this on a menu designed to appeal to every age group. Personally, I’m crazy about the softer-than-butter kurobuta pork braised for hours in a miso reduction.
Looking for the next generation of local food? It’s here.
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