There has been a lot of hype and anticipation with the opening of the re-imagined International Market Place (IMP) in Honolulu. Once a maze of souvenir stands selling T-shirts and Hawaiiana tchotchkes, the 345,000 square-foot, three-level outdoor shopping center is now the antipode of what it used to be. The only remnant is the 160-year old banyan tree; otherwise, for many local residents and frequent visitors, this contemporary center will be unrecognizable. Yet, once all stores come online it’s bound to become a “destination” for shopping—and dining.
After multiple attempts at opening an outpost in Hawaiʻi, restaurateur Michael Mina has finally hung his shingle at IMP’s third-floor, “open-to-the-sky” Grand Lānai. He has always said he was drawn to Hawaiʻi and its vibrant culinary scene, and now he is part of it.
Stripsteak Waikīkī’s contemporary and elegant setting complements the cuisine, which is, as one would expect from a James Beard award-winning chef, stellar—even it was just for lunch. For $37.50 per person, the two-course, prix-fixe afternoon menu offers a relatively affordable introduction to Mina’s cuisine. Of the seven available starter options, the “Instant Bacon” was an immediate hit, given my affinity for Kurobuta pork belly, which glimmered with a black-pepper-and-soy glaze. A close second was the yuzu kampachi, which possesses a high fat content that is nicely balanced by the citrus essence.
The main selections offer a range of proteins, from mahi mahi and ahi to shrimp and black cod to chicken and ground beef. “Michael’s Ahi Tuna Tartare” is excellent. Hints of sesame and mint mellow the tartare while an accompanying kale salad with Asian pear and toasted pine nuts add more texture. Those looking for more substance will want to try the Stripsteak burger which is garnished with caramelized Maui onions and Nueske’s bacon, the smoky essence of which elevates this patty to a gourmet level. For a little whimsy, order a side of the “Tokyo” tots, topped with bonito flakes and tiny strips of nori then finished with a yuzu-infused aioli.
Across the way, Kona Grill evokes more of an upscale mainland chain than it speaks to what one would find at a restaurant on Hawaiʻi Island. Its extensive menu, however, covers an eclectic range of ethnic cuisines, including Thai, Cuban and Japanese. Ordering might be difficult for an indecisive person since one side of the large 11” x 17” sheet features a laundry list of items from the kitchen while the reverse side presents a lengthy catalog of sushi.
The spacious room offers a mix of booths and high-boy tables, while outdoor seating can be configured to accommodate large parties. The “Taco Trio"—apparently a favorite appetizer—was recommended but only one combination works well: shrimp enveloped in a soft tortilla and dressed with an Asian slaw and roasted tomatillo salsa. Otherwise, the braised kālua pork lacks a smoky depth and the tempura black cod would have been better served sans taco, which just softened the otherwise crispy exterior of the fish.
In addition to starters, the menu offers several flat breads, soups and some hearty salads, including the meal-in-one “Kona Chopped,” made of macadamia nut chicken, applewood-smokedbacon, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, avocado and white cheddar.
For entrees, jambalaya, pad Thai noodles and lobster mac-and-cheese are among the many options. A red arrow next to the macadamia nut chicken denotes the dish is a favorite among employees. The same notation is also found in front of the Cuban sandwich. The chicken was moist and accompanied by a heaping mound of homemade mashed potatoes and French green beans. Again, the kālua pork could have used more punch to make this a more robust Cuban sandwich.
Catty-corner to Kona Grill is Goma Tei, which has established a solid reputation for its spicy tan tan ramen since it first opened 10 years ago. Back then, ramen wasn’t the international superstar that it is today. Goma Tei has contributed to the Japanese noodle’s meteoric rise in the local dining scene. Made with chicken and pork bones, garlic and carrots, the stock is the key component to the basic tan tan, which comes with char siu and an assortment of vegetables. The soup has got a little kick for the palate sensitive but not mouth-burning offensive. For a milder flavor, opt for a bowl of ramen noodles that’s enhanced with flavors of shoyu, ginger and scallions. Add a side of gyoza to complete the meal. This is Japanese comfort food at its finest.
“Plantation Cuisine” inspired famed chef Roy Yamaguchi to develop his Eating House 1849. Yamaguchi said the “concept pays homage to Hawai‘i’s vibrant culinary heritage and a nod to restaurateurs like Portuguese immigrant Peter Fernandez who, according to lore, opened one of the first restaurants in Hawai‘i, called the Eating House, back in the mid-1800s, using what was available from local farmers, ranchers, foragers and fishermen.”
Modeled off an old plantation design, with ceiling fans and wood floors, the room feels rustic yet modern and comfortable at the same time. The same could be said about the food, which represents the melting pot of cultures in Hawai‘i. Already a signature appetizer, the crispy fried cauliflower and brussel sprouts are sprinkled with toasted pine nuts and raisins then drizzled with balsamic. Given my Filipino heritage, I skew more towards “Lola’s Pork Adobo Lumpia,” which comes with green papaya and sambal tomato.
The entrée selections are split between land and sea. From the ocean comes a Kaua‘i prawn roll, misoyaki butterfish, grilled teriyaki king salmon and blackened island ahi tombo club. The land half presents chicken hekka, vinha d’alhos, Hawai‘i Ranchers beef loco moco, kiawe-smoked ribeye, shortrib “luau” and a barbecue mixed plate.
After vacationing here with his family for many years, restaurateur Billy Richardson finally decided to bring Flour & Barley to Waikīkī. The restaurant is well regarded for its brick-oven-baked pizzas and craft beer, some of which will be sourced from local breweries. Company officials say guests can expect such pizzas as the kālua pork and “Aloha Pie,” as well such classics as the Bacon Blue and the Salsicce.