A Deliciously Rare Experience

Jo McGarry
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Friday - October 28, 2005
| Del.icio.us | podcast Podcast | WineAndDineHawaii.com

Chef OnJin Kim is in the kitchen at OnJin’s Cafe
Chef OnJin Kim is in the kitchen
at OnJin’s Cafe

If you’re looking for somewhere a little different for lunch or dinner this weekend - then visit one of Hawaii’s rare female chefs. OnJin Kim has a well-deserved reputation and a classical French culinary background. She mixes a little of her Korean heritage with local produce, fresh herbs and classic techniques and the result is elegant, light healthy food, beautifully presented. The restaurant, located on Kamakee Street, has been open for more than five years, but I’m betting that there are many of you who have yet to visit. With easy parking, it makes a great stop before or after a movie (the Ward movie theater complex is right across the street) or as a date in itself. The light and airy restaurant is impeccably kept and though the atmosphere is casual (you order as you walk in, pay and then seat yourself), the food reflects Kim’s fine-dining background. For OnJin fans and longtime regulars, there are selections of tried and truly loved dinner items that will be instantly recognizable.

“Yes, some of these dishes have traveled with me and people associate with me,” says the modest chef, referring to dishes such as Bouillabaisse de Chef OnJin, a fragrant mix of seafood, fresh fish, saffron and lemon grass; her famous rack of lamb with a Dijon rosemary crust, or her crispy moi served with ponzu and daikon oroshi.

The dishes at OnJin’s reflect a simple philosophy: Use good ingredients to create balanced and healthy meals. Staples of the lunch and dinner menu include the Ahi Karaage, a fabulously colorful, delicate blend of lightly marinated and seared ahi in a sweet-and-sour chili sauce ($7.50), wonderfully flavorful crab cakes ($9) and a relatively new shrimp and tofu spring roll ($7.50) that will appeal to anyone who follows a healthy diet but craves the satisfying crunch of fried food.

OnJin’s can get busy. Her reputation as an excellent chef and her ability, in this location, to provide gourmet meals at an inexpensive price may sometimes mean a wait (no reservations for parties of less than six), but weekends are slightly less hectic and there’s not usually a wait for lunch on Saturday or Sunday.

Fresh fish specials change daily, and some of the lighter salads and sandwiches are delightfully different. Try OnJin’s Curried Chicken Salad, for example, lightly curried chicken strips with raisins and apples served over greens, with rice ($7.25). For heartier appetites, there’s a great New York steak served with garlic mashed potatoes or rice ($10.50), baby back ribs ($18.75 for seven pieces) and tasty kalbi ribs ($8.75). Lunch and dinner prices may vary slightly.

At dinner, some of the same entrees appear with the addition of classic OnJin creations. Hamachi with Shrimp ($21.95) is a nicely balanced mix of tender hamachi and sweet-and-sour shrimp. A lobster tail is pan seared and then served with lime butter ($23.50). Dinner specials, echoing those at lunch, feature Roast Leg of Lamb ($10.50), Boneless Coq Au Vin ($10.50) and Seafood Gumbo ($10.95) are all worth trying.

Occasionally, the professionally trained singer may be persuaded to venture to the piano for a song or two - and grand as that may be, most people are just as happy to hear that OnJin is in the kitchen.

OnJin’s Café 410 Kamakee St. 589-1666 Daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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