Hawaii Hawaiian musings plate lunch reviews

Reinventing Loco Moco

Loco Moco is a classic Hawaiian plate lunch offering that’s made up of hamburger patties smothered with gravy, topped with two eggs and served with rice and mac salad. If you’ve never seen it before, it looks like this:

Loco Moco

We had dinner at Alan Wong’s Restaurant last week, and one of the menu items that jumped out at us was the “Mini Loco Moco” appetizer. The menu describes it as “mochi-crusted unagi meatloaf, sunny-side quail egg, wasabi kabayaki sauce,” and we just had to try it.

Mini Loco Moco
Alan Wong’s “Mini Loco Moco”

Breaking it down, the mochi crust takes the place of the rice, the unagi meatloaf is the hamburger, quail egg replaces the hen egg and the wasabi kabayaki sauce replaces the gravy. It’s a perfect way to bring the loco moco concept into a fine dining setting, and it was excellent.

On the other end of the spectrum is Beard Papa and their Loco Moco Puff. It’s part of the Japanese cream puff chain’s localized Hawaii menu that also includes Breakfast Puffs, Creme Brulee Puffs, eclairs and pita sandwiches. Beard Papa describes their Loco Moco Puff as “two slices of oven-baked meat loaf, a fresh egg, sunny side up, onion-mushroom gravy with a dash of furikake on our signature puff shell,” which is more straightforward than Alan Wong’s. Basically, it’s an open-faced sandwich with the puff serving as the bread.

Loco Moco Puff
Beard Papa’s Loco Moco Puff

The finished product looked good and tasted like loco moco, but the puff really didn’t contribute anything to the dish and would have been fine without it. What was a bit disturbing was watching them assemble it. Without a proper kitchen, all of the cooked elements were microwaved right in front of us, and even then, I’m still not sure how they cooked the egg properly. I guess if you were on the run, this might be decent alternative, but I’d still rather have an Egg McMuffin.

Nothing could ever replace the traditional preparation of loco moco, especially since I love the side benefit of mixing the warm gravy with the cold mac salad. However, I always like to see if classic dishes can be modernized or deconstructed without diluting its essence. While Alan Wong’s radical take on loco moco might look foreign to traditionalists, the end result was delicious, refined, and reminded me of the original.

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Alan Wong’s Restaurant

Towards the end of our last trip back to Hawaii, I was craving something fancy, and the other “upscale” restaurants in town (Sam Choy’s, Roy’s) got mixed reviews from everyone I had talked to. Only Alan Wong’s Restaurant got universal praise, and it’s hard to argue with a place that’s garnered so many accolades, including the prestigious James Beard award.

We thought about ordering the 5-course prix fixe chef’s tasting menu ($75), but decided to eschew its rigidity in favor of ordering directly from the menu. This actually saved us money, and we got to eat exactly what we wanted.

We started off with the Nori-wrapped Seared Tempura Ahi, garnished with soy mustard and tomato ginger relish. It was beautifully presented and a great way to start the meal. Next were the hoisin BBQ ribs, which were a little sweet but completely decadent. The succulent rib meat was easily to separated from the bones using either chopsticks or a fork.

The entrees were the main attraction, and they were all so pretty when they arrived at the table. My sister-in-law had the Twice Cooked Short Ribs, Soy Braised and Grilled “Kalbi” Style with Gingered Shrimp, Ko Choo Jang Sauce. This was just about perfect. My wife had the Ginger-Crusted Onaga, a long-tailed red snapper served with a Miso-Sesame Vinaigrette, which she really loved. I had the Macadamia Nut-Coconut Crusted Lamb Chops with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Asian Ratatouille. I wasn’t too into the Ratatouille, but the lamb chops were delicious, probably the best I’ve ever had and the sauce was great with the mashed potatoes.

After dinner, we were given a coffee menu with a selection as diverse as any wine list. I opted for the chef’s current favorite, an Organic Lafayette Coffee from south Kona, which was delicious, although some grounds got into my cup through the French press.

For dessert, we ordered the Taste of Hawaii Cheesecakes, which was pretty good, but only two of the four flavors really stood out, the Kona Coffee and the purple Okinawan Sweet Potato with Haupia sorbet. We also ordered the Chocolate Crunch Bars, which were like gourmet Kit Kats. This was the perfect way to finish the meal.

Overall, the Alan Wong experience was excellent. Service was attentive and the plating of the food was so satisfied our food porn desires. The location is a little odd, and it doesn’t have the greatest view, but the food is the star here. So if you’ve got some cash to blow on your trip to Hawaii, I’d give it to Alan Wong before Sam Choy or Roy Yamaguchi.

Alan Wong’s Restaurant
1857 S. King Street, Third Floor
Honolulu, HI 96826
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