Love is in the ʻFare’
Happy Valentine’s Day, Ono readers! I believe every single day is worthy of celebrating the love we hold for our significant others, family members and friends, but since this particular date is the official Day of Love, I’m going to take a moment to cherish a special kind of love affair I’ve got going on — one that I share with my favorite foods.
My newest love interest in the food department is hot-pot dining. There’s really no better type of cuisine to honor on a day dedicated to love, seeing as the core of all hot-pot traditions is gathering with those you adore most around a shared pot of simmering broth, meat, seafood and veggies for an intimate meal.
In recent years, Oahu has seen an influx in hot-pot eateries, all vying for our attention. Sparks initially flew for me years ago when I first tried Japanese nabe and shabu shabu. Later, I fell head over heels for Taiwanese and Mongolian styles of hot pot that continue to grow in popularity. Most recently, authentic Chinese and Korean flavors flowing out of the tabletop cauldrons in some of the island’s newest spots have stolen my heart.
There’s plenty of love to go around, so grab your sweetheart and let’s go eat!
HAWAII POT SHABU SHABU HOUSE
When you first walk into Hawaii Pot Shabu Shabu House’s year-old town location, you might think you’ve entered a kaiten-style sushi restaurant, as a long and winding conveyor belt whisks colorful plates of edible delights around the eatery. But as soon as you see billows of steam rising from soothing broths placed before patrons, you’ll know you’re in the right place for shabu shabu.
The best way to get to know the authentic Chinese style of hot-pot dining offered there is through the fantastic buffet special. For only $16.99 per person (and $11.99 for keiki) during lunch (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and late-night (11 p.m. to 2 a.m.) hours, patrons may select the broth of their choice, and have unlimited access to the complimentary plates on the conveyor belt. Everything from seafood (shrimp, fish, clams, fishcake and more) to noodles and veggies galore — including less common greens like crown daisy — move past you, just waiting to be cooked to your heart’s content.
General manager Logan Iwatate says the buffet offers incredible savings, especially considering individual plates range from $2.99 to $5.99 during regular hours. When ordering the buffet, patrons may request an array of scrumptious meat on the side (for an additional price) and enjoy a soft drink for just $1.
What I absolutely love about Hawaii Pot is that, in addition to sharing a large bowl, diners have the unique option of choosing an individual pot. This came in handy recently when I dined with a friend who is vegan; she cooked cabbage, tofu and udon in the Vegetarian Healthy broth while I enjoyed rib eye ($4 individual portion with buffet; $6 regular) and fixings in the chicken- and pork-based Hawaii Original Pot Broth, filled with superfood goji berries and red dates. We were both happy as clams.
And you won’t get tired of the choices here, either. There are so many sauces on the side to choose from that there’s always new ways to add flavor to your meal. Some of my faves are Chili Garlic Sauce and Sesame Dressing, but you can explore the delectable options for yourself.
Hawaii Pot Shabu Shabu House
808 Center, 808 Sheridan St. Unit 101, Honolulu (and another location in Kapolei)
Many of us are used to grilling meats and veggies with addicting Korean seasonings at yakiniku restaurants, but now we also can enjoy the same great flavors in mouthwatering broths at Kogi Aina.
Brothers and co-owners Tomas Paek and Dae Ho Paek know how to whip up tasty Korean fare, so they decided to take some of those ingredients and put a Korean spin on hot-pot dining at their two-month-old Kaneohe eatery.
The broth selection offers a fusion of local flavors — oxtail, anyone? — as well as original Korean recipes utilizing Korean miso paste, kim chee and Korean chili paste, among other items.
Customizability is what sets Kogi Aina apart. “Usually, if you go to other restaurants, they give everything in a combination already — a little bit of cabbage, a little bit of shrimp, etc. — but we like to just let people hand pick whatever they want,” explains Tomas.
Diners will find the classic meat, vegetable and seafood options they’re used to, as well as unique items like lobster balls (think lobster meatball). The family business also emphasizes freshness every step of the way. “We don’t prepare the meat until (customers) order it, so it just stays fresh every time,” he adds.
The idea of banchan is transformed into a glorious range of sauces available to add flavor to your meal free of charge. This goes a long way in ensuring patrons dine happy. “We want people to be creative — just eat however they want to eat, so there’s no rules to this. Even the sauce bar, you can make up your own sauces. There’s people that put two broths together, they put sauces in the broth and they create their own meals,” says Tomas.
This eatery also runs on the plate-pricing system ($2.75-$5.75) and perfectly sliced meats are very affordable ($4.75-$5.75).
A range of lunch plates and bibim plates also are available, the latter of which Tomas describes as super popular to order on the side. “It’s really authentic Korean-style. It comes out in a hot stone pot so you get the crispy rice,” he adds.
46-138 Kahuhipa St., Kaneohe