Wednesday, February 6, 2013

First Course: Monkeypod Kitchen open at Ko Olina

Nadine Kam photos
Chef Peter Merriman, right, with Aloha United Way marketing director Jay Park, and Monkeypod Kitchen manager Erica Dunn.

Chef Peter Merriman and his business partner Bill Terry celebrated the opening of Monkeypod Kitchen at Ko Olina, with a blessing and benefit party on Feb. 1.

Guests could help themselves to all the food they wanted while their drink purchases throughout the evening benefited Aloha United Way.

Although it's never easy to get townies to drive out to Ko Olina at rush hour, the room was packed with foodies, restaurateurs and farmers eager to see Merriman's newest project. I believe that he and Roy Yamaguchi are now the only big name Hawaii chefs with restaurants on four islands.

The first Monkeypod Kitchen opened in Wailea, Maui, so named, Peter explained when addressing the crowd, because the monkeypod tree is a non-native that has nevertheless thrived in Hawaii, just as he has, as a transplant from Pennsylvania who arrived on Hawaii Island in 1983 and went on to become a leader in the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement. Monkeypod also fixes nitrogen in the soil so is good for the land and sustainability, and is versatile as a wood used prominently for craft. As an artisan in the kitchen, Merriman said he could identify with that as well.

The restaurant covers two stories at Ko Olina Station, 92-1046 Olani St., in Kapolei, and is a welcome addition to the resort community, where there are few stylish places to simply hang out. (Is this a no-brainer or what?) The Monkeypod Kitchen bar is huge, no doubt in anticipation of great happy hour business, when drink specials include $6 Ocean Vodka cocktails, $6 white and red wines by the glass and $4.75 drafts for beers originally $9 or less, and $7 for those more than $9, and food specials include 50 percent off most appetizers, and $9 pizzas (except the lobster-topped Bourgeois).

You can take a look at some of the dishes here, as presented at the opening:

Peter is blessed by kahu, with his business partner Bill Terry looking on after his blessing.

Wood-fired Hamakua wild mushroom pizza with white sauce, truffle oil, Parmesan and thyme. It's $17.95. Add chunks of Big Island lobster and it becomes the Bourgeois, at $24.95.

Garlic truffle oil fries with a quarter burger in the background.

Bulgogi pork tacos were really spicy, and not just because of the jalapeños, so you couldn't just pull them out and leave unscathed.

A different kind of saimin, with dashi soy broth, kalua pig, broccoli, green beans, bean srouts, red onion, cilantro, mint, peanuts and tofu over Iwamoto family noodles.

One of my favorite dishes of the evening: Pumpkin Patch Ravioli with kiawe-roasted squash, chevre, spinach and sage brown butter. Butter good!

Gnocchi with Swiss chard, sauteed mushrooms, tomato coulis and chevre.

The restaurant's ground floor, with large bar to the left. The decor is eco-industrial.

The upstairs dining room.

A server delivers the roasted butternut squash pizza, shown in detail below, with its pine nuts, caramelized onions and rosemary.

Poke tacos with avocado cream sauce.

The Pod Thai cocktail comprises Old Lahaina light rum, crème of coconut, lime, lemongrass-cardamom syrup and Thai basil, served up in a glass tiki mug.

While the adults sampled Monkeypod Kitchen's fare, the children danced to the live Hawaiian music.

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