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Ono, You Know

Calamari Makes A Splash

By Ali Resich Photos By LAWRENCE TABUDLO
March 21, 2016

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A journey to Hoku's at The Kahala for a delicious sip of Fisherman's Portuguese Soup is never complete without a walk around the grounds to visit the hotel's iconic dolphins.

A journey to Hoku’s at The Kahala for a delicious sip of Fisherman’s Portuguese Soup is never complete without a walk around the grounds to visit the hotel’s iconic dolphins.

We know it best as one of our favorite deep-fried appetizers that makes an appearance on practically every restaurant’s menu, and it’s been heralded by Mediterranean and Asian cultures for ages — yes, I’m talking about squid, one of the most glorious edible treasures of the sea.

Ono, You Know is ready to dive right into this show-stopping seafood to underline the preparation we’ve known and loved for years as well as a new creation that’s unlike any you’ve had before.

When it comes to the rich tradition of serving calamari as a pupu, it’s quite fascinating. As news site salon.com reports, when squid first gained popularity in American restaurants in the 1970s, the ingredient was so new and different at the time that restaurateurs and chefs weren’t sure whether or not customers would want to eat it. So, they breaded the squid to mirror popular fish preparations of the day and tried it out in a small appetizer portion, almost like a sampler. They even gave it the more exotic-sounding name of calamari, Italian for squid, to make it seem more appealing. Well, as you know, the dish took off and the rest is history.

But I think that’s enough history for one day — now let’s eat!

HOKU’S

The Kahala Hotel & Resort is home to an array of dining venues that showcase exquisite worldly cuisine and fresh island ingredients, so not surprisingly, there are more ways than one to enjoy calamari at the luxurious property.

Venture to its signature restaurant Hoku’s and you’ll find Fisherman’s Portuguese Soup ($18 a la carte, or part of Prix Fixe Menu), part of chef de cuisine Hiroshi Inoue’s recently debuted seasonal menu. In this delicate work of art, fresh squid is highlighted alongside seafood selections such as scallops, shrimp and catch of the day. These delights are served in a velvety lobster-based broth enhanced with saffron and sofrito.

Fisherman's Portuguese Soup ($18 a la carte)

Fisherman’s Portuguese Soup ($18 a la carte)

Executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi notes that the dish was inspired by the desire to put a savory seafood twist on local-favorite Portuguese Bean Soup. It lights up with navy, red and garbanzo beans, and is served with sofrito-accented toast — nods to the Mediterranean influence of Hoku’s menu.

For a more classic bite of Fried Calamari ($6), look no further than The Veranda, a breezy dining space perfect for afternoon tea, pupus, cocktails and live entertainment. There, the beloved appetizer is presented with a dreamy Asian remoulade.

While you’re at it, be sure to check out the special events offered at The Veranda, such as Friday Night Flights, a showcase of three wines from a particular region, on the last Friday evening of each month. Come March 25, the venue will present vino from the Central Coast of California paired with three courses of delicious bites, including Pan Roasted Island Catch and Hokkaido Scallop ($60 per person for wine and food). And any day of the week during March, patrons may stop in for Social Hour at The Veranda (5:30-10 p.m.), complete with monthly themed flights of wine and spirits ($25 per flight) as well as pupu platters ($25-$35 per platter). Social Hour currently offers more master sommelier-selected Central Coast sips and craft-infused vodkas.

Hoku’s
The Kahala Hotel & Resort
5000 Kahala Ave., Honolulu dining reservations:
739-8760

BIG CITY DINER

There’s no place that speaks to the popularity of calamari as an appetizer quite like Big City Diner (BCD). As owner Lane Muraoka explains, the Calamari Tempura Strips ($9.99) have been the No. 1 appetizer since the dining chain debuted in Kaimuki in 1998 — and they’re here to stay.

“They were on our original menu when we first opened, and everyone would order them,” he recalls.

Calamari Tempura Strips ($9.99)

Calamari Tempura Strips ($9.99)

These aren’t your average pieces of calamari, though. Yes, they’re deep fried to perfection, of course, but they’re also crafted to provide the best pieces of squid in each bite. Since a number of diners don’t enjoy eating the legs, BCD only serves meaty strips of squid, and with a light Ka Lei egg wash and hand-breaded panko covering at that, so you bite into mostly meat, not mostly batter, every time.

These full-bodied strips also are conveniently composed for easy dunking — a consideration you’ll appreciate as soon as you try the addicting wasabi aioli served on the side. “The calamari is all meat, easy to dip and no legs,” confirms Muraoka.

Diners now can enjoy this appetizer and other island-style comfort food at Big City Diner’s newest branch at Windward Mall, which is the sixth and largest location in the local dining chain, complete with a private room. Patrons also are flocking to BCD’s Kailua outpost, seeing as it is first to hold a Blue-Zones certification, designating it as a place that makes healthy choices easily available. Muraoka always has been a proponent of offering health-conscious options such as brown rice at no extra charge, egg whites and lean, fresh fish, so the Blue Zones distinction is a natural fit.

The owner reminds readers to check out Big City Diner’s Easter Menu Specials, available Friday through Sunday Easter weekend. There’ll be NY Steak and Crab Cake Combo, Hawaiian Rock Salt Prime Rib, Thin Mint Sundaes in support of Girl Scouts of Hawaii, and more.

Big City Diner
Windward Mall (and five other locations)
46-056 Kamehameha Hwy. D-01
247-1888