Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Nook now welcomes diners to dinner

Nadine Kam photos
I never get tired of ordering The Nook’s grilled ribeye with wasabi creme fraiche and Yukon potato with pork belly bits. It’s on the menu now that the restaurant has launched dinner service.


The Nook Neighborhood Bistro opened in summer of 2014 and quickly picked up a following because of its homey vibe, and casual brunch offerings with creative twists within a framework of sustainability. We were all set for breakfast and brunch, but given the great food, many longed for more.

Well, the moment has arrived. Over the holidays, the Nook quietly introduced dinner service, and if you’re already a fan of their breakfasts, you’ll likely find yourself returning at night.

It’s taken them this long to secure a liquor license that makes extending food service worthwhile. To put things into perspective, the menu features one page of food and three pages of drinks ranging from wines by the glass or bottle, draft and bottle beers, and cocktails such as a “Classic-ish Mai Tai” ($10) with bruléed pineapple.

Owners Hailey Berkey and Anicea Campanale are a welcome sight and score extra points for being among the few women restaurateurs able to make a go of their business in what’s still a man’s world. The oversight of these longtime friends provides assurance that service will run smoothly. Berkey works the front of the house while Campanale exercises her creativity in the kitchen.

Although people inquired whether favorites from the brunch menu would reappear on the dinner menu, Campanale didn’t want to repeat herself and has created a menu that will give you amnesia over just what you liked about breakfast once you find your new favorite dishes.

Campanale said her family didn’t know how to eat fennel other than to bite into the raw bulb. She now turns them into tempura-battered frites ($7) made even more delicious when dipped into a curry aioli.

The anise flavor of fennel is an acquired taste and not everyone can appreciate it. If you’re not sure where you stand, try the crunchy polenta fries ($7) instead, served with a blue cheese and balsamic reduction or garlic Sriracha aioli.

There’s not a single wrong note in the “First Bites” selections that boil down to a matter of preference. Do you want the fresh, bright lime notes of Kauai shrimp and fish ceviche ($14), above, or the warmth of steamed clams ($13) in a warm broth of white wine, garlic, lime and chilies, with crumbled Shinsato pork sausage, below? Note: Those First Bites also make great late-night bites after a movie or show.

Housemade paté ($9) is also wonderful, but the portion is skimpy considering they’ve done the work of spreading it for you, bruschetta-style, on a few pieces of toasty baguette, topped with Ali’i mushrooms and arugula.

The one dish I’ve come back to each time I’ve been here is the orange green tea chicken ($14), a bowl of tender fried Jidori chicken with a whisper of orange sauce, fried garlic and chilies, served with a small glass of Sexpot green tea. I’ve seen people order this dish as an entrée, but I consider it one to be shared as a little bit of fried chicken goes a long way. The only problem with sharing is the awkwardness of sharing the tea. Hopefully, your friends will generously relinquish their shares to you.

Campanale reveals more of her Italian upbringing in a dish of grilled asparagus ($9) layered with local sunnyside-up egg with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano with a splash of truffle oil, worth ordering again and again.

We were a little confused by the Okinawan sweet potato gnocchi ($15) though. Instead of announcing the dish as “nyo-key,” our waiter said “nochi,” like “mochi.” When it had the chewy texture of mochi, we thought that was a clever play on words. When that was not the case, well then it was just bouncy gnocchi, which is not the desired state.

I’d also pass on the pastelone ($18), a nice attempt at a gluten-free “pasta,” by substituting the plantains of pastele, and topping it with a Big Island beef marinara and green olives, topped with cheddar and fontina. Unfortunately, the flavor and texture of the plantains wilt under the weight of the salty meat sauce and cheese.
All is well with the real pasta, a roasted vegetable linguini ($17) with bacon. I was particular enamored by the sweet roasted kabocha in the dish.

I love pork belly more than beef, and the braised pork belly ($23) with a hint of cinnamon and sweetness of Asian pear gastrique is also wonderful, but it’s the steak that I’ve come back for every time.

A more delicate take on the burger, served on ciabatta. The flavor of the beef was good, but there are more outstanding items on the menu to try first.

Going light on dessert works for me, and for that, there is yuzu sorbet. But if you’re not counting calories and are young enough to indulge, you must try the mochi churros served with a cup of killer Mexican chocolate.

The Nook Neighborhood Bistro is on the ground floor at Puck’s Alley, 1035 University Ave. Open for brunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays, and dinner 6 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 6 p.m. to midnight Fridays to Sundays. Call (808) 942-2222.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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