You’d think word that Nobu Matsuhisa was in town and that he’d be cooking at his Waikiki outpost for a week would fill up the restaurant’s reservation book. But it was easy to get a same-day table for two on his last night on the island. And I was thankful. The restaurant’s special “Ma‘O Farms Locally Inspired Menu” on Thursday was worth the celeb-chef-in-town hype. The first dish (pictured above) had nothing to do with the Wai‘anae farm/leadership training station, but included the best treatment of the Big Island-farmed baby abalone every restaurant in town feels obligated to use. Abalone steamed with daikon were softly chewy (instead of feeling like I was crunching through my own lip) in a sauce that took me back to grandma grinding sesame seeds with mortar and pestle to make the accompaniment for steamed tako. Its partner was o-toro tartare topped with osetra caviar. It melted as smoothly as sorbet, the subtle buttery, briny flavors a natural sedative.
From the regular menu came scallop tiradito—slices of scallop dressed with just white truffle salt and a bath of Tahitian lime (which was from Ma‘O). It was a fun experiment. The scallops came with a little pile of Chinese parsley leaves. A bite of scallop without the leaves had the lime overpowering the sweet meat. Add a snippet of cilantro and *shazaam• like magic the lime flavor is there, but somehow neutralized and everything is in perfect harmony.
The instant winnah of the night was hot-food chef Lindsey Ozawa’s way with ‘ehu—two little filets pan-seared and served in a ginger-soy sauce, accompanied with cauliflower, slightly crisp maitake mushrooms and rainbow chard. And a nest of bonito flakes wavering in the food’s heat. (I love the bonito flake dance—it has the childlike-wonder element, like making the water-activated worm from a straw’s paper packaging.)
Wagyu beef was actually from Japan (like, how much Wagyu-STYLE beef can there be?) and certified, with its bloodlines and name and…reticulatednoseprint. “Yes, sir, that is Steer Masakatsu. I’d recognize his nose anywhere.”
Following the kaiseki pattern, the dinner ended with soup (miso with some shreds of lobster) and rice (nigiri sushi).
And newish pastry chef Rachel Murai ended dinner with a fruity, refreshing bang. A snowball of housemade lemon meyer ice, cream is as silky as something you’d slather on your face, sat atop a mini-spadefull of chocolate “soil” with a side of coconut foam and a schmear of basil coulis. But even better was a new addition to the regular menu—a small brick of creme de marscapone (think cheesecake meets panna cotta) in a pool of tart-n-sweet lilikoi, with the seeds, next to a small mountain of a very fine crumble made from almond flour and olive oil.
The whole shebang was worth the $125.
The whole time, chef Roy Yamaguchi was a couple tables over, hanging with Nobu Matsuhisa and folks such as Hokule‘a crew member Kanako Uchino. The sake was flowing freely.
Is the kitchen stressful when chef is in town?, I asked Ozawa. He made a mock-distressed look on his face—is it possible to convey respect, fear and irreverence all at once. Yes, yes it is.