Take a Bite

Alan Wong marks 20th year

April 21st, 2015

Time flies when you're having fun, and nothing makes me feel older than to witness the anniversaries of food movements and restaurants I've written about from their starts.

Wong, right, and his girlfriend, Alice Inoue, pose for a photo together during Wednesday's anniversary celebration.

BETTY SHIMABUKURO / BETTY@STARADVERTISER.COM

Chef Alan Wong celebrated the 20th anniversary of his eponymous restaurant last week with Alice Inoue.

I was there when Alan Wong opened his eponymous restaurant in 1995, and I was in the room when he celebrated his 20th anniversary April 15, another tax day, just like Day 1!

It's another landmark year for Wong in that, come summer, he'll be opening his first restaurant in China.

As much as I get down on a new generation of chefs who seem to take a nonchalant, somewhat lackadaisical approach to running their businesses — often failing to keep regular hours or opening without training staff or opening with only an outline of a menu — Wong's remarks on his anniversary evening reminded me that today's pros didn't start out perfect either, even if they had a more polished veneer.

He said he remembered being told to put out signs telling motorists passing by his nondescript King Street building that the restaurant would be opening soon. So he put out a sign that said, "Coming Soon," with no indication as to what exactly was coming. And, after the restaurant opened, they forgot to take down the sign for a long time.

In an interview for HILuxury magazine, Wong said, "To tell you the truth, I didn't know what I was doing. The only thing I was envisioning was survival."

Coming to Oahu after working at Lutece in New York City, and opening The Canoe House Restaurant at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows on Hawaii island, he hoped his restaurant would last five years, knowing that within the industry, nine out of 10 restaurants fail in their first year.

Well, he made it, and with a celebratory menu of 14 savory dishes and 11 sweet bites, showed what keeps diners coming back for more. There were about five food and dessert stations set up around the restaurant and lanai, so I thought, "I can handle this."

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.comNiihau eland carpaccio with chili Parmesan and Nalo Farms arugula.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Niihau eland carpaccio with chili Parmesan and Nalo Farms arugula.

This was one of my favorite dishes, so refreshing with a fiery kick. Kualoa Ranch poached shrimp wrapped in somen, with kochu jang Asian pear sauce, mint and basil.

This was one of my favorite dishes, so refreshing with a fiery kick. Kualoa Ranch poached shrimp wrapped in somen, with kochu jang Asian pear sauce, mint and basil.

Kombu-cured Hawaiian kampachi with shiso ahi tartare, uni, opihi and ocean foam.

Kombu-cured Hawaiian kampachi with shiso ahi tartare, uni, opihi and ocean foam.

Niihau lamb shoulder moo shu with salsa roja and a choice of toppings from a condiment bar, below. I opted for fresh corn salsa, goat cheese and verde sauce.

Niihau lamb shoulder moo shu with salsa roja and a choice of toppings from a condiment bar, below. I opted for fresh corn salsa, goat cheese and verde sauce.

wong salsa

But, food kept emerging from the kitchen. Sadly, I was able to enjoy only about eight dishes, but they were all wonderful.

Some of the things I missed were a Keahole lobster summer roll, five spice pork with mustard cabbage chimichurri, kim chee porridge, and opakapaka with savoy cabbage daikon broth.

Pork hash "katsu" slider with shredded cabbage and hoisin mustard vinaigrette.

Pork hash "katsu" slider with shredded cabbage and hoisin mustard vinaigrette.

Cambodian kampot black pepper surf and turf with Maui Cattle Co. beef, Hamakua mushrooms and king crab.

Cambodian kampot black pepper surf and turf with Maui Cattle Co. beef, Hamakua mushrooms and king crab.

North Shore Aqua Farms misoyaki tilapia on onigiri.

North Shore Aqua Farms misoyaki tilapia on onigiri.

Macarons and Hawaiian Sun guava fruit jelly.

Macarons and Hawaiian Sun guava fruit jelly.

An assortment of cookies and castella cake with local honey glaze.

An assortment of cookies and castella cake with local honey glaze.

One dish I didn't photograph was Kauai Makaweli Ranch "Flintstone Steak" accompanied by a decadent glob of roasted bone marrow. So silky amazing, I had to have seconds!

———

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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