Putting Pork In The Limelight

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - May 14, 2008
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Have you noticed how even the humblest of foods eventually become as fashionable as the latest Gucci bag, and for most of us, more desirable?

Lobster, for example, was considered a low-class food fed only to peasants and slaves in the late 19th century, with drawn butter supposedly invented to disguise its terrible taste. And pork has had a singularly undignified ride through the annals of culinary history. Denounced by more than one religion as unfit for human consumption and frequently pronounced unclean, pork seemed destined to maintain its lowly position among the poorer foods.

Until now, that is. Shedding its woeful image as a thin, dry cutlet or an overcooked loin, pork is proving it has a succulent, tender beauty all its own.

The benchmark for pork in Honolulu has, for as long as I can remember, been Colin Nishida’s chops at Side Street Inn. These are so tender that juices run from them as soon as you take the first bite. Colin made the pork chops famous (they’ve been featured in every gourmet food magazine in the country), and he’s back in the kitchen most nights at Side Street making sure they maintain their perfect profile. There are some very fine pork chops, too, at Manago Hotel on the Big Island, where they’re grilled, seasoned with salt and pepper and left to sit in lots of juice - excellent in their simplicity.

But it’s at the fine-dining restaurants that pork is having its day. At Alan Wong’s Hualalai Grille I recently had the most gorgeous version from the kitchen of chef de cuisine James Ebreo. The double cut Kurobuta chop is house-cured and smoked, then served with a white balsamic li hing mui glaze. Fabulous. Hope it makes it to the menu at Alan Wong’s South King Street restaurant, because it’s a reason to visit all on its own. Similarly heavenly hogs are available nightly at both Beachhouse, where Rodney Uyehara serves his beautifully tender chop with starfruit chutney and a whole-grain mustard sauce, and at Michel’s, where chef Hardy Kintscher serves it osso bucco style (instead of veal) with a homemade guava puree. Hardy’s version of this European classic is quite an intoxicating mixture - and a sensational dish. The meat is so moist, and there are so many layers of flavor, it’s hard to believe it’s purely pork.

And the most recent pork chop to have me reaching across the table on more than one occasion to swipe some swine from my husband Bobby’s plate was at Le Bistro in Aina Haina, where Alan Takasaki adds his quite magical touch to a Kurobuta double cut chop and elevates this humble dish to heavenly proportions. Amidst the calm of the fun, fabulous environment he’s created at this ultimate neighborhood restaurant, Takasaki puts out plate after plate of perfection. Don’t bother asking how he does it, though, he’ll just humbly shrug his shoulders, smile and tell you he’s lucky to get some really great ingredients to begin with. Don’t believe a word of it. There’s culinary magic happening in Aina Haina, and the pork chop is only a part of it.

Happy eating!

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