Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Got Wonged

This post should have been put up months ago. This meal—one of the best in my life—occurred on the lovely island of Oahu. It was one of those meals where every bite is a delight, a journey through food. A meal where you consume extraordinary flavors and textures as scents of amazingness waft through the restaurant, enticing you to lose yourself in the decadence of delicious foods…I got Wonged.
The restaurant was Alan Wong’s in Honolulu, Oahu. The month was January. The meal was unbelievable and unforgettable.
I usually have a difficult time choosing a favorite anything—how can one color be that much better than another? Or one song always come out on top? I’d always felt the same way about restaurants. Perhaps I had a favorite for a particular mood, but I could never choose one restaurant as my absolute favorite. But now I have. Hands-down, this is the best place I’ve ever eaten. And it’s only 5,606 miles away!
I knew I needed to try Alan Wong’s before I even arrived in Hawaii. It’s a journey that every foodie should make. Originally we thought of going to the Pineapple Room, another of Wong’s restaurants, but a kindly bartender at the hotel bar suggested that we go to Alan Wong’s instead. I called for reservations but they were completely booked unto 9 pm. I was willing to wait but then remembered that the bartender had told us about the chef’s counter. I asked if it was open and we scored to seats with excellent views of the kitchen.
At Alan Wong’s the kitchen is open. Rather being located in a back room, the kitchen meets the restaurant at the counter where servers pick up entrées and appetizers. There are several seats at the counter, and a guest can enjoy a meal, look into the kitchen, and even chat with the cooks. Three young cooks were working away before us, and we talked with each of them—they were all friendly, hailed from different parts of the country, and all attended culinary school on the mainland’s east cost. They said that working at Alan Wong’s was definitely an amazing step in any cook’s career.
We also got to watch as countless culinary creations were turned from simple ingredients into masterpieces. I wanted to taste and sample everything. All the staff was friendly and knowledgeable. It didn’t matter who I asked about something—they all seemed to know every ingredient that went into every dish and were happy to tell me about it. In fact, every person there seemed happy to be working at Alan Wong’s. Every workplace has its problems, but if there are issues at Alan Wong’s, the customers would never know it. Instead, everything seemed to flow easily.
To start off with I tried a drink called Lime in the Coconut. It was delicious and creamy and pretty much tasted just what you want lime in coconut to taste like! Plus you get to sing the whole time you’re drinking it, if you want.
We ordered two shooters to begin our meal. First we opted for the classic “New Wave” Opihi Shooter, which comes with local limpet in spicy tomato water with fennel basil ume shiso essence. We also ordered the special shooter for the night, which came with uni, ahi, and one other sea creature ingredient that is escaping me. A shooter is basically the size of a tall double shot glass, but instead of liquor inside there is tasty ingredients. You drink it all at once like taking a shot and get a delicious mouthful of flavor. My dining partner tried the Opihi Shooter while I tried the Uni one. It seemed that I enjoyed mine a lot more. Uni is sea urchin and ahi is tuna—two sea foods that are simply amazing especially in Hawaii where fish is incredibly fresh. The shot tasted like all the best parts of the ocean condensed into just one mouthful. However, my dining partner described the Opihi Shooter as tasting “like it had weeds in it.” I probably would have described it as “light” or “delicate” and “herby,” but to each his own.

Next we went for “Da Bag.” This appetizer was recommended by the bartender who tipped us off to the chef’s counter. The dish is steamed clams, Kalua pig, and shitake mushrooms—simple enough, right? Except that the entire thing is steamed inside of a huge foil bag! When we noticed that a Jiffy-Pop looking dome was placed on the counter, we knew we were in for a treat. The food itself was delicious—every bite exploded with flavor, being both complex and simple at the same time. The bag also seemed to have created a situation where as the food steamed the liquid condensed on the bag and went right back into the food, leaving a savory broth at the bottom of the dish. This is the point of the meal when I started to feel high. Seriously, the food at Alan Wong’s is like a drug—an amazing food drug that takes your mind and body to new, unexplored heights. And it was only the appetizer…
For the entrée we split a dish. I absolutely adore short ribs, so we opted for the twice-cooked short ribs braised in soy and grilled “Kalbi” style and served with gingered shrimp and Ko Choo Chang sauce. Wow. I don’t even know if words can describe this dish. The meat was tender and fell apart to the touch. Each bite was succulent and savory. I could feel each taste bud reacting with every mouthful. The gingered shrimp were like little rocket ships that danced on my tongue. It also came with some fried eggplant, which is one of my favorite Asian vegetable dishes. It tasted exactly like I had eaten it in China, and nowhere else has even come close. We devoured the entrée—mostly in silence—simply enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime feeling of eating such extraordinary food.
Dessert? I’m usually not a sweets person, but we decided to check out the dessert menu anyways. First, the coffee list was the most extensive I’ve ever seen. There was no simple regular or decaf option—there was everything you could possibly want. They divided the coffees by what island they came from—the Big Island, Maui, Kuai, and others. The menu described the coffee as you would describe a fine wine, writing, for example, that one coffee was “smooth, well-balanced with low acidity” and possessed “deep earthy flavors.” Even the coffee at Alan Wong’s was an experience! I enjoyed a lovely cup of Organic Lafayette Coffee, which was described as being “like a very elegant Burgundy from Romanee Conti.”

The coffee paired perfectly with our dessert of choice—“The Coconut.” It was Haupia sorbet in a chocolate shell served with tropical fruit with Lilikoi sauce. When the dish came out it looked perfectly like a half of a coconut. I was convinced that when I touched it with my spoon it wouldn’t give, but it did. It gave way to creamy goodness. It was the perfect way to end the meal, with light, sweet flavors and pure, fresh fruits. Amazing.
As we left the restaurant I realized—I got Wonged, and I liked it.

Alan Wong's on Urbanspoon

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