Things move slowly in Hawaii, and that includes changes in the dining scene. Popular restaurants remain the same for several years, unlike the constant parade of new restaurants opening and closing in big cities like New York and San Francisco.
When I was visiting the islands last month, I wanted to try places I’d never gone to. As I asked friends what was good and new, I kept hearing the same restaurant recommendations. Then I read about Salt Kitchen and Tasting Bar, which opened just a few months ago during the summer. I grabbed my Mom, brother and nephew and we went to check it out for dinner.
Salt Kitchen was opened by Kevin Hanney, who also owns the popular 12th Avenue Grill, which is just a block away from Salt Kitchen in the city’s Kaimuki neighborhood—home to several well-known restaurants. Salt Kitchen has an urban chic vibe picking up on the mainland trend of local ingredients and house-made charcuterie.
It’s bustling on most nights, but that partly could be because of the small space. The ground floor is primarily a long bar with a few counter seating and the second floor, which is really a loft space, holds just a few tables.
As a tapas bar, the menu lists mostly small plates with a few selections in the large plate section (which still comes out on the small side). Probably the only real large plates are the charcuterie sampler ($21) and the house hamburger ($10).
I ordered several plates for my family, including a few specials of the day such as a refreshing crudo ($13) and a fish dish featuring Kajiki (a blue marlin). But my Mom, who’s Chinese and is used to large value plates for dinner, wasn’t impressed by the small plates that came to our table.
I found some of the dishes worked with brilliant flavors while others were one note. A grilled stuffed calamari dish ($10) was presented nicely and reminiscent of Spain, but an oxtail empanada barely tasted of oxtail.
A mixed plate ($19) – a selection of local meat cooked on the grill – provided more substance, but didn’t necessarily wow. A Cornish hen was perfectly cooked with a crispy edge and tangy glaze, but still wasn’t enough to fill you up.
You have to go to Salt Kitchen knowing what to expect, and that’s refreshing plates that won’t really fill you up for a regular dinner. It’s definitely along the tradition of Spanish tapas bars where the food complements the drinks as a pre-cursor to another meal later in the evening. While I won’t take my Mom there again, I would probably return for some drinks, a few bites, and the big city vibe.
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
Salt Kitchen and Tasting Bar, 3605 Waialae Ave., Honolulu. PH: 808.744.7567. Daily dinner, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted.
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