Fresh from commuting 35-plus miles a day in Seattle, teaching two nights a week in Tacoma (another hour or so on the road), reporting stories that took me all over Western Washington, I would protest, “But it’s only 8 miles.”
Twenty one years later, I’ve become a townsider for sure. Until last weekend, I hadn’t been to a restaurant in Kane’ohe in months, even though friends there had repeatedly suggested outings. But an opening at Hawaii Pacific University’s art gallery drew me over the hill (all of 15 minutes from Kalihi) and dinner to Pah Ke’s, my favorite Chinese restaurant, kept me there.
It was great to see my old friend, owner Raymond Siu, who with his brother heads a rather unusual Chinese kitchen, where the menu ranges from Western-style salads (spinach and Ka’u oranges is my favorite) to unforgettable kau yuk with steamed bun. When the mood is on him, Raymond might make a gorgeous cold soup of local fruits or vegetables, or, as he did last weekend, bake a lilikoi cheesecake that actually tastes like passionfruit. (He’s a former Halekulani pastry chef.)
My friends and I let him treat us to his special salad of the day made from Nalo Farms microgreens and Ho Farms tomatoes with macadamia-nut pesto, the new local goat cheese, drizzled with a special olive oil he gets from U.C. Davis, the enological mecca where his youngest daughter is in school. (He’s going to be hosting some of the wine experts from the school soon and I’ll get to meet them, he promised.) And he sold us on the one and only kampachi in the place.
The fish came with a story. I’d heard that Kona Blue, the company that had been raising kampachi at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELHA) facility on the Big Island, popularizing it in many restaurants, had suffered some setbacks and was temporarily out of production. (Kampachi is the Japanese term for almaco jack, aka Hawaiian yellowtail. Its wild Hawaiian counterpart is kahala; unfortunately, the wild fish are subject to ciguatera.) Raymond said he’d been called on by a salesman just that day, who brought one rather small reef fish-size sample of the fish the company’s new owner, called, I think he said, Big Island Kampachi, is producing.
Raymond said he’d prepare it however we liked and we opted for old-fashioned Chinese-style steaming with hot oil, shoyu, ginger and scallions. It was wow! The four of us made short work of it along with ground pork in lettuce cups, minute chicken with cake noodle, spinach and garlic. I’m so glad aquacultured kampachi will be back in the market soon.
And the next time you drive ALLLLLLL the way to Kane’ohe, visit Pah Ke’s (pahke.com) and try Raymond’s Chinese-Hawaiian menu — crossover dishes he’s created to add a distinctly different dimension to the menu, which is otherwise typical Hong Kong style (and nothing wrong with that, either).
A quick P.S.: I’m headed to “the island of the Valley” today to see Mom, eat at some new spots and veg. out a little. I’ll post whenever I get near WiFi. I’ll be scanning for new recipes, of course, as I always do.