Alan Wong's is, perhaps, the best place to eat in Honolulu and one of the best restaurants in all of Hawaii to sample local fare. In a state that imports much of its food, about two-thirds of what master chef Alan Wong serves originates in Hawaii.
Wong's love for what is native to Hawaii even extends to cigars. He champions cigars from a tobacco farm on the nearby island of Kauai—unexpected in Hawaii—that grew out of a coffee farm. It's not legal to light them up in the restaurant, but you can buy them and take them with you to savor another time as a memory of a wonderful evening.
More about those smokes later. What comes first is the food.
You can't tell from the outside of the restaurant what awaits you inside. Alan Wong is on the third floor of a small office building on a block about a 10 minute taxi ride from Waikiki. A receptionist greets you in the tiny lobby and sends you upstairs via elevator to a lively and cheerful room with spot lighting, yellow and brown wood accents, floral photos, an open kitchen with counter and chairs and comfortably separated tables. Service is fine-restaurant perfection, minus pretension—this is Honolulu, and the spirit of aloha prevails.
You might start with nori-wrapped tempura ahi: sushi-grade tuna, cut in thin circles, perfectly raw on the inside, cooked and breaded ever so slightly on the outside with a gently spicy tomato ginger relish and a soy mustard sauce.
Or try Wong's signature appetizer, "Da Bag." The dish includes steamed clams, locally grown shredded kalua pig, shiitake mushrooms and broth steamed in a foil bag that expands like a balloon and is pierced for you at the table. It gives richness and flavor a new meaning.
Mains include two more Wong signatures: Ginger-crusted onaga (longtail red snapper) with miso sesame vinaigrette, organic Hamakua mushroom and corn. The corn is juicy and sweet, the mushrooms distinctive and earthy, and the fish impeccably prepared in its spicy sauce.
Speaking of spicy and sweet, the other specialty is twice-cooked short rib, soy braised and grilled, with gingered shrimp. The sumptuous rib, robustly flavored, seemingly melts the moment it leaves the fork.
The wine list is extensive and multinational, with reasonably priced choices. Flights are a focus, including three three-ounce glasses of Riesling for $22: a 2007 Betts & Scholl from Eden Valley, Australia; a 2007 Gunderloch "Jean-Baptiste" Kabinett, Rheinheissen, Germany; and a 2007 Leitz "Rudesheimer Magdalenenkreuz" Spatlese, Rheingau.
Desserts are rich and copious, and there's a large selection of premium Hawaiian (of course) coffees.
Which leads us back to those Hawaiian cigars.
The brand is Island Prince, manufactured by the Kauai Cigar Co. The tobacco is grown, logically enough, on the island of Kauai. The owners of the Blair Estate coffee farm, in business for more than a decade, decided to invest in tobacco growing. They say in their brochure that they grow using Cuban seeds then harvest and cure the tobacco on the island. It is then sent to Nicaragua where it is fermented for four to six weeks, handrolled and shipped back to Kauai.
The cigars, which come in light and dark varieties, are said to be made from 100 percent Kauai filler. The Light is made with a Connecticut-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador; it's a medium-bodied smoke. The dark (my preference), more full-bodied and complex, has Maduro leaf wrapper from Habano 2000 seed grown in Nicaragua. Both come in 50-ring, 5 3/4-inch, 46-ring, 4 1/2 inch, and 52-ring, 6 1/8 inch sizes. Prices at Alan Wong range from $15 to $40 for the larger size.
So after a really fine Hawaiian meal, you can pick a cigar from a very uncommon source: Hawaii. As you smoke it, you can summon up remembrance of repast past.
1857 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96826