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Step Up to the Plate

Big City Diner

By James Nakamura Photos By Anthony Consillio
October 6, 2013

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A CLOSER LOOK AT THIS WEEK’S HOUSE SPECIAL: “BONELESS KOREAN KALBI STEAK AND EGGS WITH KIM CHEE FRIED RICE” ($13.99 W/RICE, + 2.99 FOR KIM CHEE FRIED RICE)

If you were Rip Van Winkle waking up from a 20-year slumber, Big City Diner is probably where you’d want to go to have your first meal. And if you’ve tried any of its signature dishes, you’d know that there’s a chance you’d slip right back into unconsciousness — that blissed-out postprandial somnolence otherwise known affectionately as “kanak attack.”

That may be a slight exaggeration, but Big City Diner at Pearlridge excels at comfort foods. Although there is a wide variety of fresh, bright, heart-healthy dishes such as the Fire Roasted Portabello Mushroom Salad and the Citrus-Grilled Wild Sockeyed Salmon Sandwich, it’s the Mamasan’s Monster Meat-loafs of the menu that have put this place on the map.

Corporate executive chef Dennis Frank, the mastermind behind some of Big City’s signature dishes, knows what customers want before they do, and delivers. Before long, you won’t be able to imagine life without dishes such as this week’s house special: Boneless Korean Kalbi Steak and Eggs with Kim Chee Fried Rice.

“Kalbi for breakfast?” was a common question among customers, according to Frank. “‘Why kalbi?’ they would ask. It was kind of unconventional as a breakfast item, but I knew it would work.” Soon after, the dish caught on and patrons were happily breaking their yolks alongside large, tender strips of short ribs.

Frank started out as a dishwasher and worked his way up the ranks. What began as a way of “making money” began to click. “Things flowed, I enjoyed what I was doing, I liked the people and everything came naturally,” Frank says.

The basic dish comes with a choice of white or brown rice. If you want to step it up a notch, you can order the fried rice for $1.99 more. But for $2.99, you get the optimal upgrade: Big City’s signature Kim Chee Fried Rice, a combination of white or brown rice, eggs, white and green onions, diced Portuguese sausage, bits of char siu, green peas and kim chee, fried up in oyster and soy sauce. This is also an entirely separate entrĂ©e on the menu. But why order one when you can have both?

The short ribs — deboned to provide customers the most value for their portion — are marinated for days in a combination of sweet soy sauce, garlic and ginger, then flamed-broiled, and finally garnished with fresh locally grown green onions and sesame seeds. The result is a tender, flavorful cut of beef with the perfect hint of sweetness. Without the bones, it’s easy to cut into, and you won’t have to chew around any of the tougher bits in between the bones normally associated with kalbi.

Here’s that perfect intersection, the overlap in a venn diagram of flavors, where you drag a perfectly savory cut of sweetly marinaded kalbi across a broken egg yolk for added depth and richness. Pair it with the spicy kick of the Kim Chee Fried Rice and you’ve achieved a perfectly balanced, trifecta of goodness. Step and repeat in a civil manner until unconscious … or at least happily sated.

Chef Dennis Frank prefers using local ingredients such as fresh Ka Lei eggs to support local businesses. The eggs in the dish are fresher than those processed, packaged and shipped in from overseas. Non-local eggs can be up to a month old. Here, the eggs are fresh off the farm.

Big City Diner

98-211 Pali Momi St. #900, Aiea
487-8188
(And various locations)
Monday-Thursday: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday
Saturday: 7 a.m.-midnight
Sunday: 7 a.m.-10 p.m.