The story: Mahina & Sun’s is the fourth restaurant from local celebrity chef Ed Kenney, who first brought his farm-to-table style of cooking to Honolulu with his Town restaurant. His latest is a fun, hip casual spot inside the boutique Surfjack Hotel (known for its “Wish You Were Here” Instragram-worthy pool).
Why I went: While in Honolulu, I got together with some high school friends. With the six of us, we needed a place big enough for us and one of my friends suggested Mahina. I’m always game to try Chef Kenney’s eateries, so I made a reservations. (The only downside was that the popular pool was closed for “emergency renovations” while I was there.)
The vibe: Colorful with a beachcomber feel, the vibe is young and local. There was live music when we went on Saturday night, and the picnic tables gave it a casual, beachside picnic motif.
The booze: I got there early and waited for my friends at the bar, where you can try one of six specialty cocktails ($14 each) or choose from a wine and beer selection. I ordered the “Mr. Pink,” because it had foamy egg white, and I’m all about the foam. It’s also made with Uncle Val’s botanical gin, Lillet, yellow chartreuse, dry curacao, lemon and rose flower water. I guess the rose water was supposed to give the drink a pink shade, but it really just looked more yellow from the lemon juice. It still was a nicely mixed cocktail.
The menu: You choose from snacks, starters, and entrees, and the menu reflect the local ingredients-approach of Kenney’s cooking, with several Hawaiian-only ingredients such as pohole (a variety of fiddleneck fern), ulu (a starch), and an array of local fish. You can also order the special Mahina’s Family Feast where you get shareable plates from a starter, a main, sides and dessert. Not everyone at the table has to all get the feast, so for example three of my party went with the feast while the other three ordered ala carte. (The list price for the family feast is $35 per guest, but the fine print also says additional charges for market price of the fish, so more is added depending on what kind of fish you choose.)
I ordered ala carte and started with the Kahala Crudo ($16), which is local amberjack fish served raw with ice plant, preserved lemon, kukui nut and brown butter. It was light and refreshing, but the fish was nice and meaty. My main was the Opah, a popular local moonfish, ($30) which was served with savoy cabbage, purplettes, u’ala (a kind of yam), mustard seeds, and bacon broth. The fish was cooked nicely but note that the dish leans on the starchy side, which my server did warn me.
My friends who tried the family feast got a local fish that was prepared mochiko-style where it was deep fried in Japanese mochi flour. They seemed to enjoy their presentation.
We got a bunch of desserts, like the black sesame ice cream with butter mochi and salted macadamia nut pavlova. I had to try the butterscotch pudding because I love butterscotch pudding whenever I can get it. Mahina’s version is a bit of a big blob in presentation, so more rustic than refined, but it had a nice butterscotch flavor, mixed in with a lot of other local ingredients.
Insider tip: Parking is notorious in Waikiki, so the best bet is to use the hotel’s valet service. Get validation at the restaurant and you just pay $10 for 4 hours.
The last bite: Mahina & Sun’s is a festive eatery where you can also learn about local ingredients rarely used in other Honolulu restaurants. The food is nicely done but won’t hold any surprises in either presentation or tastes. Still, the service is on point and it’s a great place to gather with friends.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Mahina & Sun’s, 412 Lewers St. (inside the Surfjack Hotel), Honolulu. PH: 808.564.7608. Open breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. mahinaandsuns.com
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