Local, seasonal and organic are popular keywords throughout the U.S. at this point, and more and more frequently at restaurants that care and can, those are becoming the baseline. Still, not all LSO restaurants are created equal. That’s partly dependent on the strength of local harvests, and heavily dependent on the creativity of a chef to not just present ingredients on a plate, but to deliver cohesive dishes. In late June, at a Los Angeles dinner designed to spotlight regional Hawaiian cuisine, Town chef-owner Ed Kenney dazzled media types with genre-defying platters of seasonal vegetables and charcuterie. Clearly, Kenney is a chef who’s conscious of making a good first impression, and once the opportunity to visit Hawaii finally arose, Town instantly vaulted to the top of my to-try list. Expectations were high, but the hyper-local restaurant Kenney owns with wife Kristen in Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood had no trouble meeting them.
Tablemates at this memorable meal included local blogging legend Reid of Ono Kine Grindz, Cooking With Amy founder Amy Sherman, chef Jay Terauchi (Kahuna of the Kitchen), and Rebecca Pang of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau (HVCB). We sat at a stainless steel table on the window-side of the dining room, which adjoins a bar and planter-framed patio. The airy space also featured sky blue and ocean blue paintings, plus panels that inspired images of the Pacific Ocean and volcanic rocks.
Town is justifiably renowned for their charcuterie. Kenney sources prized Shinsato pigs to produce Shinsato Salumi ($15) platters loaded with chorizo, soppressata, cacciatore, capocola, and coppa di testa, which he furnishes with an array of condiments, including sweet tart pickled mango with mustard seed, crunchy pickled turnips, onions and carrots. For diners who feel like they need some sort of vessel, Town provides fresh focaccia and country loaf.
Even protein forward dishes like plump, sweet, shell-on Moloka’i Shrimp ($10) appeared with interesting seasonal accompaniments. This particular plate also showcased watercress and Wow tomato, both farmed locally, plus ulu pa’i’ai, a starchy, mildly sweet breadfruit preparation.
Ahi tuna tartare ($11.50) is a signature dish served on on crispy risotto cake with melt-in-your-mouth fish folded with house made aioli, shallots, capers, tarragon, a touch of reduced balsamic vinegar, and parsley. This is an elevated version of a ubiquitous dish at L.A. sushi restaurants. Blame or credit Katsuya Uechi, depending on how you feel about the starter.
My favorite starter, the Bruschetta ($7.50), was the simplest, but sported refreshing, harmonious ingredients. Chefs slathered crusty bread with avocado spread and layered on celery leaf, chives, crunchy, thin-shaved celery and oil-slicked, translucent bottarga shavings, which added a savory element.
They substituted Clams ($9.50) in a popular black mussel preparation. The Cinzano broth hosted supple clams, crisp fennel, pastina (which I initially mistook for beads of Israeli couscous) and tomato. The broth was great on its own, and outstanding when dipped with more of that bread.
Town has a Cal-Med aesthetic with a lot of their food, so Hand-Cut Pasta ($18) had no problem fitting on that continuum. Waimanalo cremini mushrooms and Ma’o dandelion greens punctuated the sticky ribbons of pasta, plus some finishing Parmigiano, which helped pull the dish together.
All too often at restaurants, chicken is an afterthought that more or less bores hardcore food fans, but Town’s Pan Roasted Chicken ($24) had all of us raving. It appeared in juicy slices, served with with savory lardons, tatsoi, torn bread (aka giant croutons) and sweet grapes.
A lilikoi tart ($7) sported a crisp crust and a generous dollop of whipped cream. Passion fruit is more or less Hawaii’s equal to South Florida’s Key lime in terms of popularity, but it’s not nearly as tart.
Town is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so coffee should be somewhat of a priority. They pulled me a shot of Stumptown Hairbender on a La Cimbali espresso machine. It was somewhat sooty and fairly watery, but pleasantly bitter, and still bested most restaurant espresso.
Town could easily stand toe to toe with some of my favorite seasonal L.A. restaurants, including The Tasting Kitchen, Rustic Canyon and Cooks County. Of all the stops on my 10-day trip to Hawaii, Town is the restaurant I could see returning to most often. They offer a great way to eat, with fresh ingredients presented in compelling fashion, and no “hangover.” People at the table also raved about the other restaurant from the Kenneys – Downtown – which is just open for lunch. Downtown for lunch? Town for dinner? Looks like my next two meals in Honolulu are already lined up.