‘Tis The Season For Awards

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 19, 2005
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Chef Mavro and Sous Chef kevin Wong
Chef Mavro and Sous Chef kevin Wong

‘Tis the season for restaurant awards. Gourmet Magazine just released its 2005 All American Restaurant Guide with mentions of six of Honolulu’s top restaurants. Best place to do business is at Chef Mavro, according to the food magazine. They highly recommend his onaga with fennel and his cumin seared ahi. Mavro is no stranger to awards and was honored two years ago by the James Beard Society. He’s just introduced his new fall menu after an inspiring trip to Osaka, where the Japanese are apparently quite mad about Mavro.

Ed Kenney’s refreshingly different (although just a tad pretentious) Town was mentioned too as the place everyone is talking about. Town has certainly found its groove in Kaimuki and continues to put out excellent fare, using local produce on a daily basis.

And in a similar vein, though noted under “neighborhood gems,” Kevin Hanney’s 12th Avenue Grill is mentioned. Hanney had a hit on his hands right off the bat with this gem of a restaurant where the quality of deliciously simple dishes like macaroni and cheese with a crisp breadcrumb crust, solid soups of the day and the pastry talents of Lisa Siu have regulars returning often and new customers thrilled to discover his 12th Avenue Grill.

Nico Chaize wins high praise, too, for his Nico’s at Pier 38 - and so he should. We highly recommended Nico as soon as he opened. French-born Chaize exudes as much charm as the docks and fish market that provide the backdrop to his creative plate lunch with style menu.

What Kenney, Chaize and Hanney all have in common is that these are their first solo ventures - and that they opened on their own terms. Hanney initially didn’t take reservations and had no liquor license, and both worked well for him. Patrons rejoiced when they were finally able to stop standing in line and book a table by phone, and the BYOB policy let customers enjoy his wine-friendly food while keeping the check price down. Kenney made it clear he was using local ingredients wherever and whenever possible, and started his own herb garden that runs out to the sidewalk so diners can see how fresh their herbs are. And Chaize serves his gourmet plate lunches in Styrofoam boxes while diners sit on green plastic lawn chairs. All are thriving and all deserve to do incredibly well.

Other restaurants in the Gourmet Magazine 2005 restaurant guide include La Mer (classic certainly, fabulous food for sure, but who can afford to eat there?) and Hiroshi’s Eurasion Tapas. Hiroshi’s, I feel, will always be mentioned by out-of-town writers and national magazines. Hiroshi Fukui and wine partner Chuck Furuya, both under the sensible management of Cheryle Gomez, have a sense of style, a clear and unwavering passion and the vision to do things differently. Fukui might not be so immediately appreciated by his local audience, who appreciate at times larger portions than he wants to serve, but the vision is there and the food is certainly outstanding.

If I’d had a chance to whisper in the ear of the Gourmet Magazine writers, I would have suggested they include Spices as one of the best neighborhood spots to open in years. The warm and colorful Moiliili restaurant serves food that is both creative (mushroom laap, taro shoots and chili pepper and lemon grass ice cream) and culturally sound. The chef is Laotian and one of the owners is Vietneamse, and the menu focuses on Southeast Asain cuisine. If you don’t find the spices and the flavors in the gorgeous restaurant enticing and refreshing, then you might as well stop eating out.

And I would also have mentioned Elmer Guzman’s new place, The Poke Stop, where his idea of a simple lunch to go is most people’s idea of heaven. Fresh fish, spicy poke, oyster po’boys and beignets make Elmer’s place in Waipahu worth the drive.

Oh, and a final note to food writers.

Make sure you actually visit the places you write about. In the “Hawaii’s Best Restaurants” supplement this month, Side Street Inn is listed as “having some drawbacks.” “No parking and less than friendly servers,” are two of the complaints listed by the “restaurant critics.” Maybe the writers should get out more often.

Side Street has had ($3) valet parking for almost two years, and the staff is among the friendliest in Hawaii. General manager Albert Tsuru is simply one of the best liaison guys in town, and Side Street’s bartenders are hard to best.

Happy eating!

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