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Crazy Good Loco Mocos

Columns Ono, You Know

August 9, 2015

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Fresco's Italian Style Loco Moco ($15.95 lunch menu)

Fresco’s Italian Style Loco Moco ($15.95 lunch menu)

Synonymous with comfort, loco mocos are invaluable ingredients in the recipe that makes up our melting pot of local favorites. With ohso-filling piles of rice topped with those consoling hamburger patties, rich brown gravy and a fabulous fried egg, has there ever been a better meal to chow down after a full day at the beach, or to bring you back to life after a long night on the town? No way!

While we are accustomed to seeing loco mocos on the menus of our go-to plate-lunch stops, they actually are gaining a growing presence within Oahu’s fine-dining scene. Many island chefs have taken the cozy classic — which we all agree is a masterpiece in and of itself — and transformed it into a gourmet creation. Today, you’ll read about — and salivate over — the best ones we found.

But first, have you ever wondered how in the world loco moco got its name? Legend has it that the owners of the former Lincoln Grill in Hilo originally created the dish more than 50 years ago for a group of hungry teenagers with bottomless appetites. Some say a young boy nicknamed “Loco” first sampled the dish, and that sparked the idea to call it a loco moco.

Fresco Italian Restaurant

Within the magical world of Hilton Hawaiian Village, full of glistening beaches, resort boutiques and world-class dining, Fresco Italian Restaurant stands as a sanctuary for fresh fare.

There, on the second floor of Rainbow Bazaar, kamaaina can feel as though they’re on vacation in their own backyard, as executive chef Rodhel Ibay’s cuisine whisks patrons away to a happier world of culinary delights. That’s exactly what happened to me when my taste buds were introduced to Italian Style Loco Moco ($15.95 lunch menu).

To create this completely original Italian entrée, Ibay uses the local favorite as his inspiration. Rather than rice, the foundation of the dish features garlic-kissed orzo. A typical hamburger patty is replaced with a custom blend of meats, herbs and garlic. “It’s 50 percent beef, 35 percent veal, and then a touch of pork, which is all the trimmings from my pancetta,” says Ibay. The house-made patty is then panko-crusted and seared to add just the right texture and crunch to the dish.

As for the sauce, a basic brown gravy just won’t do. “To make it work, I tested so many different sauces,” explains Ibay, who settled on a carbonara-style slathering of Pecorino Romano, egg, cream and a touch of pancetta. To balance out the rich nature of the sauce, his finishing touches are grape tomatoes and a lovely kick of chili oil. “The chili oil will clear your palate right away,” he adds.

I personally love the instant impact of all the strong flavors, and like any good loco moco should do, this one provides a glorious kanak-attack. Hello, afternoon nap!

Fresco Italian Restaurant
Hilton Hawaiian Village,

Rainbow Bazaar
2005 Kalia Road, Waikiki

941-8868

Japengo's Ultimate Loco Moco ($65). A. CONSILLIO PHOTO

Japengo’s Ultimate Loco Moco ($65). A. CONSILLIO PHOTO


Japengo

Once I awoke, I was ready to soldier on to find my next bite. I knew that as a mecca of upscale dining establishments, Waikiki would lead me to another unforgettable loco moco.

Boy, was I right. Japengo rises to the occasion as one of the state’s prominent forces in Hawaii Regional Cuisine, emphasizing the use of locally sourced ingredients.

Chef de cuisine Jon Matsubara is known for his delectable tasting menu, Taste of Japengo ($70), which originally was geared toward tourists, but has since caught on with local patrons. When creating the menu — which includes Hibachi Garlic Shrimp Salad, Fresh Seafood Bouillabaisse and dessert — he decided it wouldn’t be complete without an unmatched island mainstay. With that, Loco “Foie Gras” Moco was born.

“We wanted to refine a local favorite for the Japanese market to enjoy,” says Matsubara.

Kamaaina love it too, and in this sophisticated bite, each key component of a regular loco moco is given a gourmet twist. A base of beautiful Hamakua mushroom rice with toasted bonito flakes is topped with Hawaiian ranchers beef tenderloin “sous vide” with butter, garlic and herbs, as well as 2 ounces of sautéed foie gras. If you’ve never tried the French liver delicacy before, this is an excellent way to gain an appreciation for its unique savoriness.

Loco "Foie Gras" Moco (part of Taste of Japengo, $70). FILE PHOTO

Loco “Foie Gras” Moco (part of Taste of Japengo, $70). FILE PHOTO


To finish off the dish, a petite, sunny-side-up quail egg acts just as much as an attractive garnish as it does a flavorful addition, while Maldon sea salt and Italian black truffle and madeira sauce deepen the flavor profile.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more extravagantly delicious, think again. After indulging in Loco “Foie Gras” Moco, graduate to the greatness of Ultimate Loco Moco ($65), featuring filet mignon, tender lobster tail and foie gras.

Japengo
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa
Ewa Tower, Third floor

2424 Kalakaua Ave.
237-6180 or 923-1234