Scrumptious From The Start
I know all my fellow foodies will agree that when we need a little something to whet our appetites at our favorite restaurants, nothing does the trick like a handful of appetizers. Designed to literally heighten our appetites and get us ready for the entrées to come, pupus have been a part of dining cultures for centuries.
If you look at old Greek and Roman art, you’ll see our ancient counterparts nibbling on fruits, olives and chee ses. And during the Renaissance, many sources note that physicians recommended eating salty bites before a meal to ensure proper digestion of the main course.
It’s interesting to note that the French phrase “Hors D’oeuvre” translates to “outside of the main work,” meaning a dish served separately from the spotlighted entrée. These days, that name may just have to change, as today’s dining culture sees many patrons making a whole meal out of an array of pupus on a happy hour menu. Furthermore, Oahu’s chefs are putting their creativity to good use on their appetizer menus, rendering these starters just as important as any entree.
On these pages, we’ll show you where to find some incredible pupus that are nothing short of Ono, You Know.
For starters, if you haven’t been to Japengo lately, you absolutely have to check out its recently debuted Japengo Lounge. Open from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly, the new dining space located at the entrance of the restaurant is a chic spot to gather with friends for pau hana, pre-dinner drinks or getting ready for a night on the town.
Japengo Lounge features exclusive appetizers that are in line with the eatery’s island cuisine, but are only found on the lounge menu. “We’ve taken some of the favorite dishes on the menu and done little spin offs of them to make the lounge menu,” says general manager Deanna Hirt. “So, it’s still Hawaii Regional Cuisine, with the focus on local, island ingredients.”
Entice your taste buds with Hawaiian Mix Plate ($11), presenting fresh, traditional ahi, tako and hamachi poke with inamona, limu and scallions. Complete with a nice kick from chilies, the appetizer gets its modern twist from locally made guacamole and crispy chicharrones on the side, which both pair wonderfully with the seafood.
Japengo took a hint from its popular Loco “Foie Gras” Moco when creating the Foie Gras Pig Bao ($9) pupu, which stuns with the liver specialty enveloped by fluffy buns, cilantro, scallions and the restaurant’s signature sweet-and-spicy bang bang sauce.
You’ll also swoon over Singapore Chili Crab Dip ($9) prepared with creamy Alaskan Crab in a dreamy lemon grass and chili dip accompanied by pita crisps.
When you’re done with your pupus at the Lounge, you’ll also want to have dinner on the new terrace, which offers stunning views at dusk in a breezy, al-fresco setting.
Japengo Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa
2424 Kalakaua Ave.
SAKURA TERRACE JAPANESE CAFE
If you’re a seafood-lover like I am, you’re going to want to run, not walk, to Sakura Terrace Japanese Cafe on King Street. In addition to offering a fantastic lunch menu, the eatery is the perfect place for a romantic dinner complete with an intimate setting and executive chef Takayuki Sekine’s elegant Japanese fare.
You’ll find an array of seafood temptations there, which are always fresh and delicately prepared. On the starters menu, sumptuous items such as Steamed Clams ($12) and Ika Butter ($10) enliven dining experiences.
To prepare Steamed Clams, the chef brings clams to a boil in a divine seafood broth before finishing them with a savory steam. Manager Jaron Takumi points out that the full-flavored yet pure broth is seasoned with a number of mushrooms — shimeji, enoki and white button, to be exact — and mitsuba, a mild Japanese parsley that brightens both the presentation and taste.
When it comes to Ika Butter, this dish holds true to one of my favorite philosophies that everything is better with butter. The squid is first sautéed, then served on a sizzling cast-iron skillet. As the ideal finishing touch, house-made sesame ginger sauce balances out the richness of the buttery squid.
There’s more tasty pupus to explore on Sakura Terrace’s happy-hour menu available Tuesday-Sunday, from 5 to 6 p.m. Sample $5 appetizers such as macadamia nut tofu, marlin poke, squid karaage skewers and more.
Sakura Terrace Japanese Cafe
1240 South King St.