Casting a Fine-Dining Line for the Freshest Fish

Columns Ono, You Know

January 16, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

While growing up, I learned to read by immersing myself in the eclectic world of Dr. Seuss. In fact, one of the very first children’s books I read on my own was One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

Since my childhood, I’ve remained a fan of fish — one of my favorite culinary delights.

Fish can be prepared in numerous ways, and studies show that it’s an excellent low-fat food and a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. The oils in fish also are important for unborn and breast-fed babies, and eating a variety of fish is said to help reduce the risk of a stroke or heart attack.

So while there’s plenty of fish in the sea, I took it upon myself to find a few of the best catches our island has to offer.

The Willows

  • The author is lured into The Willows, prepared to sample what's on the menu.
  • The Willows' Misoyaki Butterfish is truly a mouth-watering dish, marinated for two days in miso, kabayaki sauce and butter.
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The Willows reopened its doors in 1999 after a six-year hiatus, and now serves as a mecca for locals and tourists alike who can’t wait to feast upon a buffet filled with onolicious local cuisine in a peaceful atmosphere.

The dinner buffet is offered daily for $34.95 and the lunch buffet is open Monday-Friday for $19.95. And if you’re wondering, the man behind it all is executive chef Jay Matsukawa, who cooks up local favorites, including kalua pig, poi and some of the best curry around. There’s even a vast array of salads and a carving station that features Garlic and Hawaiian Salt Crusted Prime Rib.

I’ve been coming to The Willows for years, and two of my personal favorites are the Misoyaki Butterfish and the Chinese-Style Mahi Mahi. Both are melt-in-your-mouth delicious and rotate nightly as part of the dinner buffet.

“The Misoyaki Butterfish is a black cod, and what we do is we marinate it for two days with miso, kabayaki sauce and butter,” Matsukawa explains. “The fish is then broiled and garnished with green onion and black and white sesame seeds.”

The butterfish is ultimately popular among locals, but tourists aren’t afraid to sink their teeth into a moist piece of this fish as well. Yet, it’s the Chinese-Style Mahi Mahi that has everyone returning for second and third helpings.

“We sear up the mahi mahi and season it with ginger, garlic and a bit of sesame oil. Then we finish it off with the ginger and cilantro pesto, and top it with shitake mushrooms, sugar snap peas and cilantro.”

Escape to The Willows, as it’s committed to the culturally rich and ethnically diverse styles of Hawaii.

The Willows
901 Hausten Street
(808) 952-9200

Ocean House

  • Fire Roasted Monchong ($29.50) at Ocean House has all the necessary ingredients - yuzu, oyster cream sauce, ginger and cilantro - to make you salivate.
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Dinner is served nightly with casual elegance here at Ocean House, located beachfront in the Outrigger Reef Hotel. Guests are greeted to a beautiful dining room warmly lit by candles and tiki torches, and the sound of waves crashing onto shore, all while enjoying an upscale meal right by the water.

David Nagaishi has been serving as operations manager for the past nine years and says they offer something for everyone, whether it be steak, chicken and chops or an entree of fresh fish.

“Everything is popular here and our prime rib is fantastic,” Nagaishi says, “but we do specialize in seafood and fish.”

Executive chef Craig Yasaka prepares line-caught fish whenever possible and recently prepared the Fire Roasted Monchong ($29.50) — a Hawaiian Pomfret served with yuzu, oyster cream sauce, ginger and cilantro essence over jasmine rice — especially for me!

Monchong is a beautiful white meat, full of flavor and amazing in texture. This particular fish also has a lot of character, and it’s something that the chefs can be a little more creative with, Nagaishi adds.

Also straight from the sea is the Crab Stuffed Mahi Mahi ($26.50), Lilikoi Misoyaki Butterfish ($31.50) and Parmesan Crusted Opah ($29.50), to name a few.

The Crab Stuffed Mahi Mahi is steamed and topped with Bearnaise sauce served with Maui onion mashed potatoes. Honestly, it’s any seafood lover’s fantasy!

As for the Parmesan Crusted Opah, this fresh fish is perfectly seasoned with lemon caper wine butter cream sauce and paired with just the right amount of Maui onion mashed potatoes. And the Alaskan black cod marinated in a passion fruit miso glaze makes for a delicious Lilikoi Misoyaki Butterfish, which is pan-roasted and served with sushi rice.

Ocean House
Outrigger Reef Hotel
2169 Kalia Road
(808) 923-2277

Atlantis Seafood & Steak

  • The Hawaiian Fresh Catch (market price) at Atlantis Seafood & Steak features one of three catches of the day: opah, opakapaka or monchong.
  • Atlantis' King Salmon Filet ($23.95) is sauteed fresh and served with Shallot-Dill sauce.
  • The Ahi Salad Nicoise ($16.95) is served at Atlantis Seafood & Steak with fresh ahi tuna, Nalo greens, asparagus, black olives and Okinawan potatoes.
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In the heart of Waikiki lies the former Waikiki No. 3 Theater, otherwise known as Atlantis Seafood & Steak. This surf-and-turf haven gives patrons the opportunity to dine under a ship’s majestic frame — where live lobster and Dungeness crab are flown in daily, or shipped in special containers and placed in live seafood tanks constructed to replicate their natural habitat. And while all this is amazing, I was equally blown away by the many other seafood options gracing the menu.

Manager Frank Bennett presented me with three luxuriously appetizing creations: the Hawaiian Fresh Catch, King Salmon Filet and the Ahi Salad Nicoise.

For $16.95, the Ahi Salad Nicoise is the ideal way to start off your meal. It consists of pan-seared rare fresh ahi tuna on Nalo Greens with asparagus, black olives and Okinawan potatoes.

But diners mustn’t neglect the luscious Hawaiian Fresh Catch (market price), which showcases the catch of the day, be it opah, opakapaka or monchong. On this particular day, Bennett served me the grilled opah, which chefs drizzle with a mango salsa buerre blanc sauce and chili aioli, topped with pickled ginger and frisee lettuce.

Salmon, however, happens to be one of my preferred choices when it comes to fish. As a result, I had to pay tribute to the savory King Salmon Filet ($23.95), which is sauteed fresh and served with a creamy Shallot-Dill sauce.

All entrees are served with a choice of mashed potatoes or steamed white rice.

Atlantis Seafood& Steak
2284 Kalakaua Avenue Suite 201
(808) 922-6868