September 13, 2012
3435 Waialae Avenue Honolulu, HI | www.townkaimuki.com
Tourism’s influence over the past two decades has contributed to a veritable culinary stagnation in the islands. The influx of new culinary ideas came second as the demand for items such as macadamia-crusted mahimahi, mango chutney, blackened ahi, and pineapple coulis remained steady from visitors. The explosion of “fusion” cuisine from Hawaii was certainly an important step for food, but it had lost some of its steam heading into the new millennium. Luckily for visitors and residents alike, the past few years have seen a new generation of chefs working to move the local food scene forward once again.
Perhaps one of the best examples for the burgeoning of new island cuisine is Town. Located in Kaimuki, Town’s focus on highlighting the flavors and quality of locally sourced ingredients is an echo of the current trend sweeping the nation. Opened in 2005, you would say that Town and its chef, Ed Kenney, were ahead of the curve for the Hawaii culinary market. While diners across the continental U.S. have enjoyed this style of cuisine for some time, its presence in Hawaii had been sorely lacking leading up to recent years.
What makes restaurants like Town particularly exciting for residents is the shift away from predominately catering to visitors. Like Town, Hawaii’s new age restaurants are not opening in Waikiki – they are found in residential communities like Kaimuki or Kailua and in the back of food trucks. This has provided locals with greater accessibility to these new tastes and flavors, both geographically and economically.
Chef Ed Kenney sources his ingredients from many local farms across the state. The menu is continuously evolving based on the availability of ingredients. The general feel of the menu is in keeping with the farm-to-table style of the restaurant – focusing on bringing out the flavors of the ingredients themselves. The restaurant atmosphere is decidedly casual, with modern interior furnishings and large bay doors to introduce the cool Hawaii breeze.
We started our meal with a couple of appetizers to share. This plate of spicy fried beans came as a recommendation from our server and for good reason. These were delightfully crunchy on the outside while tender within. The natural flavor of the bean is well complemented with a spicy kick. The remoulade contributes a little fattiness along with a contrasting note of tang.
Mussels cooked and flavored with a rich broth of tomato, vermouth, and fennel made up our second appetizer. The mussels were perfectly cooked and tender, cleaned nicely with no sign of grit or sand. The aroma of the Cinzano vermouth, tomato, fennel, and garlic are inviting and the flavors of those components meld together to make a delicious broth.
A ragu of beef sourced from the Big Island adds a deep, hearty beefiness to the gnocchi. The gnocchi were very well executed – plump, pillowy, and light. The slight sweetness and acidity of tomato rounds out the dish very nicely.
A generous half portion of roasted chicken is served with a mixture of tatsoi (spinach mustard), bread, grapes, and pancetta. The chicken was roasted to perfection – tender and juicy flesh wrapped in crispy lightly charred skin. The herbaceous flavor of spinach mustard and salty punch of pancetta were delicious on the plate. The surprise element that made the dish was the grape, which created little bursts of sweetness which balanced out each bite.
Here Chef Kenney presents a delectable piece of tender, fatty pork shoulder which has been crisped on the outside. This was a simple yet delicious presentation of pork, showcasing the strength of quality ingredients. Silky polenta lends its great flavor along with a luxurious mouthfeel. The bitter greens provide great balance, cutting through the fattiness of the pork and creaminess of polenta.
Having lived in the Midwest for the past year – where there are hundreds of local farms – I have had many opportunities to enjoy farm fresh produce and proteins prepared with the intention of keeping the plate simple, allowing the ingredients to be the focal point. Dining at Town is every bit as delicious and rewarding as my Midwestern experiences, all on an island in the middle of the Pacific.
“Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always” – Chef Ed Kenney
Chef Kenney’s commitment to growing the relationship between local producers and cooks is clearly evident in his restaurant. Since its opening Town has provided a glimpse of new age farm-to-table food philosophies and continues to do this today. It is restaurants like Town and chefs like Ed Kenney that have begun to herald in a wave of new culinary influences to the islands. There is no doubt that their impact is being felt and I hope to see more new establishments on my next visit to Hawaii.
3435 Waialae Ave # 104
Honolulu, HI 96816