Setting the stage for edible art
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Situated in Honolulu Design Center, Stage Restaurant showcases contemporary Asian-American cuisine that is as much an eyeful as it is a mouthful. While seats by the window offer a view of bustling Kapiolani boulevard below, consider choosing one that faces into the eatery. The eclectic mix of trendy high-end furnishings, including sculptural lamps and cherry red chairs, is a feast for the eyes.
Here the visual arts and the culinary arts are no strangers. “Our food should complement the ambiance of the restaurant,” says Stage pastry chef Cainan Sabey. Executive chef Ron De Guzman and his crew have created some new items that will make a debut in the near future. And the stunning, yet approachable lunchtime fare proves that fine-dining shouldn’t only be reserved for dinner.
Built into an edible dome, Poke Bowl ($17) is a familiar favorite with gourmet flourishes. On a bed of white rice sit cubes of fresh ahi tossed with spicy mayo kicked up with Sriracha, togarashi, shoyu and fragrant sesame oil. Crispy mini garnishes supplement the ahi’s butteriness: fine-shredded kizami nori, ruby tobiko, radish sprouts and locally grown microgreens. De Guzman adds the finishing touch with a drizzle of kabayaki sauce (fortified teriyaki), a sprinkle of bubu arare (tiny crunchy orbs that are as fun to eat as they are to name) and a fried cross section of exotic lotus root.
“Quinoa is an interesting grain,” says De Guzman of the beige couscous-like starch. And he’s right. With a history spanning back to the times of the Incas, who revered it as the mother of all grains, and a nutritional profile that’s earned it a rightful place on any list of “superfoods,” quinoa is interesting to say the least. (By the way, 2013 was dubbed the “International Year of Quinoa” by none other than the United Nations. Big accolade for a small seed.) In Smoked Salmon Quinoa Salad ($16), De Guzman teams quinoa, the protein-rich, gluten-free grain closely related to beets and spinach, with another hero among protein: New Zealand-sourced king salmon, which he smokes in-house with a heavy dose of applewood. He mixes chunks of the pink flesh, cubes of avocados, frilly Big Island lettuces and other veggies with the quinoa. A simple dressing of olive oil juiced up with lemon keeps the colorful salad light.
Once you spot the eye-grabbing turmeric-tinged strips of pork belly tucked inside slices of ciabatta, it’ll be hard to put the Bahn Mi ($15) sandwich down. The thin slices of pork belly are marinated in a salty, savory blend of lemongrass, garlic, curry powder, fish sauce and shoyu, and then grilled. Tangy house-pickled julienned cucumbers, diakon and carrots, and spicy hoisin add another addictive layer of juiciness and flavor.
Perched in a flying saucer-looking dish, Vietnamese Coffee Flan ($8) practically levitates to the table. (Yes, you should leave room for dessert.) Influenced by Sabey’s preferred way to end a Vietnamese meal, the espresso- and condensed milk-infused flan rests in a pool of chocolate ganache. Chocolate “rocks” made with crispy feuilletine flakes add crunch, and creaminess reaches its peak with a crowning scoop of stark-white haupia sorbet.
Honolulu Design Center, Second floor
1250 Kapiolani Blvd.
Lunch: Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-8:30 p.m.