I'd go back in a millisecond to Hawaii for the snorkeling, the warming sun, the petroglyphs, orchids, welcoming people and lava flows.
For the food? Not so much.
Luckily for me, in my native city of New York, an ambitious young chef named Chung Chow is serving the best Hawaiian fare I've ever tasted, here or across the Pacific. The food is crafted with the sophistication Chow learned from his time in the kitchens of Per Se, but doesn't shy away from favored Hawaiian ingredients—like tripe and Spam—that often turn off mainlanders. The results? Like a rainbow over Haleakala. Of the many, many superb dishes are a melange of housemade sliken tofu and sea urchin that tastes like luxury on a plate; a decadent torchon of monkfish liver with passionfruit gelee that you smear on coconut bread imported from the islands; and a spaghetti tossed in marinated roe and butterfish that will knock your flip flops off. For those who really want to "go native" there's tripe, ravioli-encased spam and a garlic shrimp dish that tastes just like the stuff you'd get from one of the popular food trucks in Honolulu.
I also have to say mahalo for the prices, which are quite reasonable by NYC-standards. Main courses start in the teens and rarely go over $22, and some of the "snacks" (actually appetizer-sized dishes) are just $5 and $6.
The only bummer here is the restaurant's space—two cramped, railcar-shaped rooms with little elan and less elbowroom between tables. But that's what might be keeping the prices blessedly reasonable.
- Pauline Frommer