The Fun, New Food Scene

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - August 16, 2006
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Moses Gomez (left) and Blaise Sato at Neo Nabe
Moses Gomez (left) and Blaise Sato at
Neo Nabe

I was having a discussion with a group of friends the other night on the topic that there’s “nothing exciting” on the food scene in Honolulu. Depends what you mean by exciting, I argued. There’s more use of local produce than ever before at small restaurants as well as the larger ones. Wayne Hirabayashi at Hoku’s has created a new, innovative and delightful menu that’s completely different from the Hoku’s of old, and there are a couple of restaurants run by young entrepreneurs, who might not have great culinary backgrounds, but at least they’re trying to have fun. Lance Tashima opened Abbe Brewster Café last year in the shopping center by Ala Moana (it’s tucked away right next to Blockbuster). Abbe Brewster offers hot teas and cold drinks, and while it might at first glance appear to be simply a casual coffee stop, it has some really good food. The pizza - the ultra-thin crust variety - is fabulous, and the spicy ahi sandwich has to be one of the best I’ve had in years. It’s made with fresh ahi and a wasabi dressing. There is a selection of sandwiches and salads too, and at night you can take your own wine and order from a pupu list that includes a delicious hot crab dip and blackened ahi with wasabi aioli. The service is a little slow - there’s one cook, one waitress and everything’s made to order - but go with enough time to spare and I promise you’ll love the food.

On Keeaumoku Street, partners Kristie Cachola and Tori Itamoto have opened Shabu Shabu Time. The Japanese hot pot devotees reckon they’ve been spending about $400 a month eating shabu shabu at different places around town, and they finally decided to give their own place a shot.

“We wanted to concentrate on reasonably priced, good-quality food, with sauces that are better than anyone else’s,” says the enthusiastic Cachola. They spent almost a year testing and tasting recipes until they were happy with the results. Shabu Shabu Time is small, welcoming and has a menu that offers great value for around $10.95 a set meal. Dinner prices are a couple of dollars more, with the prime rib sets topping the menu at $20.95. The place has been buzzing since word spread about its good-value appeal, and I love their attitude.

“Shabu shabu is healthy and fun food,” says Cachola, who seems genuinely delighted to have opened her dream restaurant with her childhood friend.

Shabu Shabu is the flavor of the month it seems, and Neo Nabe, opened by a group of young, hardworking (they all have other jobs) night owls, is doing brisk business in the wee small hours, as well as during dinner. Open from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., Neo Nabe was dreamed up originally by bartender Moses Gomez, night-club/party promoter Ryan Chang, Blaise Sato and Jace Kanemoto “because we wanted somewhere to eat good food late at night,” Moses explains. The secret to their shabu shabu success? The broth. Unlike the relatively plain broth of traditional shabu shabu, at Neo Nabe you choose from a selection of hearty soups that include a variation on French onion, pho and spicy kim chee. “We’re trying to take shabu shabu to a new level,” says Blaise.

If reservations on the weekends at the South King Street eatery are anything to go by, looks like they’re on their way.

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