Daily Breeze Review: “King’s Hawaiian is a tropical paradise of flavors”
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
News & Events |
Daily Breeze Review – November 29th 2011: http://www.dailybreeze.com/food/ci_19434818
King’s Hawaiian is a tropical paradise of flavors
By Merrill Shindler
Ever since the restaurant half of King’s Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant opened in 1988, the dishes of choice have been a sort of Weekend-on-Waikiki selection of Hawaiian cooking – the sort of food you expected the late Don Ho to eat before swinging into a lively rendition of “Tiny Bubbles.”
I’m talking about solid, perfectly enjoyable standbys such as Kalua Pork, Huli Huli Chicken, Kalbi Ribs – and lots of dishes made with pineapple (the holy grail of Hawaiian cooking).
Those dishes are still on the menu at this Torrance mainstay. But over the years, they’ve gotten some company.
I’m pretty sure that the original menu did not include such blendo dishes as the Kalua Nachos – a crispy tortilla topped with pulled Kalua Pork, black beans, jack cheese and sour cream, with guacamole and (yes!) a spicy pineapple chutney on the side. (Like I said, pineapple is the tipping point that makes haole-style Hawaiian cooking what it is.)
Equally new is the Paniolo BBQ Chicken Salad – Huli Huli Chicken tossed with lettuce, beans, tomatoes, avocado, corn, cheese, onions and cilantro. (A paniolo is a Hawaiian cowboy. You see them working upcountry on Maui as you ascend the Haleakala Volcano. I’m not entirely sure they actually eat BBQ chicken salad. But what do I know?)
And then, there’s the Colossal Macnut Onion Rings. Macnuts are, of course, macadamia nuts; people I know on Hawaii really do call them macnuts, so this isn’t just a King’s Hawaiian affectation. The rings are indeed big. And they are crispy. Though I don’t really like nuts in or on my food. Some do; I don’t.
And then, just a few weeks ago, King’s introduced a new “Hawaiian Connection” menu – which makes an effort to update the cooking, but without losing the traditional dishes and tastes that diners have craved over the years. (I mean, really, who ever gets tired of Kalua Pork?)
As Mark Taira, the president of King’s puts it, “When my father opened his first bakery in Honolulu in 1950, Hawaii was a very different place than it is today … These new dishes are representative of today’s Hawaii … melding flavors from a wide variety of Asian cultures the flavors one tastes in modern Hawaii.”
In other words, the influence of chefs such as Roy Yamaguchi, Alan Wong and Richard Merriman have all trickled down to King’s, though in a limited way.
There are five Hawaiian Connection dishes on the menu, all of them a step beyond teriyaki chicken, but none of them wholly out of the box. My favorite is the Miso Salmon, a classic dish often made using black cod (a fish popularized by Nobu Matsuhisa at his flagship Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills). At King’s, instead of cod, it’s user-friendly salmon, coated with miso, served with baby bok choy – a lovely dish.
And it’s a relatively simple dish, as is the Seared Albacore Salad, an entree salad that speaks volumes about how far King’s has moved from the section of its menu that features Old School options such as a potato and macaroni salad, chow mein and the Oahu Burger – which is made with crispy bacon, sauteed mushrooms and Swiss cheese (not ingredients that pop immediately to mind when you mention Hawaii).
Anyway, the Seared Albacore Salad is a solid one, with seared, spiced tuna, baby greens and a snappy ponzu vinaigrette – a dish well made.
Equally worthwhile, though a lot more complex, is the Hawaiian Seafood Soup, essentially an Asian bouillabaisse of shrimp, clams, mussels, calamari, whitefish and chubby udon noodles in a broth that’s good, though a bit salty.
And then there’s the Coconut Shrimp Skewers and the Macnut Curried Mahi Mahi. What can I say? I don’t like coconut on my food and I don’t like nuts on my food. I suppose there are lots of folks out there drooling at the thought of those dishes. I’m not one of them.
But then, there’s plenty more on the menu at King’s to make me happy.That includes the Luau Platter, a jumbo plate that’s really a taste of the Islands – taro leaf lau lau (meat and veggies, steamed long and slow); Huli Huli Chicken (marinated, boneless, charbroiled); Kalua Pork; Chicken Long Rice; and Lomi Salmon served with steamed rice, and potato-mac salad.Really, what else could you want?
There’s also a variation – the Mix Plate of Huli Huli Chicken, teriyaki beef, Kalua Pork and Lomi Salmon. The BBQ Combination Plate has kalbi ribs, teriyaki beef and Huli Huli Chicken, served with kimchee. And there’s a terrific duet of teriyaki chicken and fried noodles, which is very hard to stop eating – good taste, good texture.
I should probably say something about the Spam Musubi, which is served in a combo with the angel-hairish saimin noodles.Spam Musubi is basically Spam sushi. No, not basically – it’s Spam sushi, a slab of Spam over rice. It could be seen as a dish that falls somewhere between whimsical and bizarre. But for those who grew up eating Spam (a favorite in the Pacific Islands), it’s perfectly logical. And honestly, it tastes pretty good. It’s a bit (no, a lot) salty, and kind of funky, but good enough to eat.I should probably also say something about the Loco Moco, one of those native Hawaiian dishes that has to be experienced to be properly understood. It’s a heap of hamburger topped with a pair of eggs over easy, with brown gravy on top of that, all served on white rice.
A chef in Hawaii once tried to gentrify his Loco Moco with foie gras on top of the hamburger. No one ordered it. Loco Moco is local food for the homeboys. It ain’t fancy, ever.And then there are the breads and pastries. The front of King’s is a bakeshop, and a very busy one, with glass displays filled with mouth-watering pastries, made fresh in-house. The breads have a wonderful sweetness that makes them especially good with peanut butter and jelly.
King’s Hawaiian Bread is the signature pastry. But there’s a lot more, especially the Pull-Apart Sweet Loaf – messy, sticky and great for kids, and grown-ups who like to eat like kids.
There’s also a concoction called Hawaiian Paradise, which involves a layer each of guava, passion fruit and lime chiffon cake, filled with whipped cream, topped with a guava, passion fruit and lime glaze – this is serious stuff for professional sweets eaters. And they go great with Loco Moco.
Merrill Shindler is a freelance restaurant critic. His show, “Feed Your Face,” can be heard from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturdays on KABC (790 AM).
King’s Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant
Address: 2808 Sepulveda Blvd., Torrance.
King's Hawaiian Bakery & Restaurant