Warming Up To Wonton
We may not have the minus-zero-degree weather that the Mainland experiences, but our island winters do warrant some serious bundling up to make it through those cold, windy nights.
Take it from a girl who needs a sweater just to enter an air-conditioned space — and who somehow managed to survive East Coast winters during college — I’ve learned a thing or two about keeping warm. Without a doubt, the best way to do it is by hunkering down with a bowl of boiling-hot soup, steam rising and all.
But how’s a shivering somebody supposed to find the warmest recipe? Just leave that to Ono, You Know. After going through a major wonton-soup phase recently, I found some traditional and cutting-edge renditions that are absolutely on fire.
FAIRWOOD DRIVE INN AND PHO 27 CAFE
The measure of a good soup usually lies in the broth — and that’s something Fairwood Drive Inn and Pho 27 Cafe totally understands. The evidence is in the bottom of the bowls that get cleared away by staff members at the end of a meal, as rarely are there remnants of broth left.
The restaurant features two distinct dining areas that blend Chinese, local and Vietnamese flavors, and it’s in the Pho 27 Cafe portion of the eatery that guests may slurp up this mind-blowing pho broth — not to mention sizzling platters of New York Steak ($12.50) with black pepper sauce and more.
The pho can be topped with typical beef options, or not-so-customary additions like crispy chicken and house-made char siu. My thirst for something new led me to Wonton Pho ($9.50), which gives the classic flavors, textures and adornments of the Vietnamese soup, but with a unique wonton twist on top.
These are not just any wonton, however. They are painstakingly prepared with the eatery’s one-of-a-kind blend of seasonings, pork and shrimp that don’t subscribe to any culture in particular. And unlike many local-style wonton, they’re steamed with thin Hong Kong-style wrappers, which go perfectly with the soup’s delicate rice noodles.
Getting back to that broth, owner and chef Tiffany Ko has fine-tuned her recipe over the years. Every morning, she checks on the cow bone-based soup over the course of six to seven hours, ensuring the right balance of bone, onion and ginger so that it is never too light or watery, and always rich in flavor. As an added plus, she skims off the oil from the top of the broth when it’s done, so the lean liquid won’t leave patrons feeling weighed down — only satisfied.
Fairwood Drive Inn and Pho 27 Cafe
Kaimuki Shopping Center
3221 Waialae Ave. Ste. 21, Kaimuki
HAPPY DAYS CHINESE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Some of the truest warmth in cuisine comes not from the temperature, but rather the tradition it is steeped in. When I wanted to find a classic bowl of wonton soup to cozy up to, I knew I could find it on the authentic menu at Happy Days Chinese Seafood Restaurant.
There, diners may soak up a vast array of Hong Kong-style dishes, including delectable dim sum service offered every day from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On a recent visit to the spacious eatery, owner Lisa Lum let me in on an excellent secret for enjoying wonton success: Variety is the spice of life!
Diners have free rein to choose from many a wonton creation on the menu — each with its own special qualities — but when it comes to dining on a plethora of goodies in one dish, none other than Wor Wonton Mein ($9.95) will do.
The wor style of preparation often translates to deluxe, or ultimate, versions of wonton soup, in which a host of ingredients supplement savory shrimp-and-pork dump-lings. At Happy Days, Wor Wonton Mein packs in the value with shrimp, house-made char siu and sliced pork, as well as tons of veggies, from choy sum to broccoli. All of this is served with Hong Kong-style thin noodles in a clean yet flavorful chicken broth.
As you can imagine, this smorgasbord of ingredients is unbelievably satisfying, and Lum confirms I’m not the only one who has been using it to escape the chilly days of late.
She also reminds patrons that the restaurant already is in the celebratory spirit of the upcoming Chinese New Year, and is bringing the good luck with gao currently available for purchase.
Happy Days Chinese Seafood Restaurant
3553 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki