A Taste Of The Pacific
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Story by Maria Kanai
At Pounders Restaurant, the food is all about the community. Located in the close-knit, intimate neighborhood of Laie, the restaurant reflects the cuisine most nearby residents are familiar with. Think recognizable flavors from Polynesia, from Tonga to Samoa, or Fiji given an upscale twist by Maori executive chef Felix Tai.
Pounders Restaurant is part of Polynesian Cultural Center’s Hukilau Marketplace, which offers a variety of eateries, including a bakery, ice cream stand, hot dog kiosk and more. Marketing manager Pane Meatoga says, “Pounders’ food is locally sourced, especially from this side of the island. We try to focus on being sustainable and, yes, a lot of our menu dishes are influenced by the surrounding community of Laie.”
Tai shares that his new Laie Bay’s Catch of the Night (market price) is a popular dish at the restaurant. Customers have the option of enjoying the whole fish steamed with ginger-garlic shoyu, fried with a special sweet chili sauce or baked in a spicy lemon grass lime marinade. Options include onaga, ehu, opakapaka or madai, a special order from Japan available once or twice a month. “I usually buy local from the auction every day. If there are no snappers available at the auction, I buy either from Kauai or Kona,” says Tai. And on the side, customers can choose ulu (breadfruit) mash or rice and blanched house vegetables.
The menu at Pounders also represents food brought by immigrants to Hawaii, from places such as China, Korea, Japan or the Philippines. Seafood Curry ($16 for mahi mahi, $17 for shrimp), for instance, is slowly simmered in coconut milk, with distinct spices and herbs hailing from Southeast Asia. “The curry has a mild flavor, but customers can ask us to make it spicier,” explains Tai. “The dish is served for dinner, but you can also ask if it’s available for lunch.”
For a dish with Korean influence, try Pounders Boneless Kalbi ($18). Tai uses boneless shortribs, which are braised for eight hours. The slow cooking process results in tender meat that falls apart without needing a knife. Other popular items are Taro Chips with Smoked A’u Dip ($5 small, $9 lalrge) — smoked marlin combined with a secret sauce and cream cheese — and Maori-style Fish and Chips ($12).
According to Meatoga, Pounders Restaurant is named after the popular surf break off Kamehameha Highway. The name also is a play on the ancient tradition of pounding taro into poi. It’s just another way the restaurant reflects its commitment to honor the history of Hawaii. “As part of the Polynesian Culture Center, we hope our restaurant provide jobs and work experience to students who might be working their way through school,” says Meatoga. “We also want our restaurant to perpetuate and share Polynesian culture with our customers.”
Say ‘Talofa’ To This Special
EVERY FRIDAY, POUNDERS RESTAURANT OFFERS A SPECIAL TALOFA FRIDAY POLYNESIAN PLATE ($13) THAT FEATURES COMFORT FOOD THAT MIGHT BE FAMILIAR TO THE RESIDENTS OF LAIE, WITH TRADITIONAL TASTES FROM FIJI, HAWAII, TONGA OR SAMOA.
THIS COMING FRIDAY, MARCH 18, THE SAMOAN PLATE CONSISTS OF STEAMED WHITE RICE, FAALIFU BANANA, CORNED BEEF BRISKET WITH CABBAGE, PALUSAMI (WITH COCONUT MILK AND TARO LEAVES), AND PORK CHOP SUEY. “THESE DISHES ARE FAVORITE ITEMS WITH A TASTE OF SAMOA THAT WE PUT IN ONE PLATE FOR EVERYONE TO TRY,” SAYS EXECUTIVE CHEF FELIX TAI.
Polynesian Cultural Center, Hukilau Marketplace
55-370 Kamehameha Hwy., Laie
Monday-Saturday, Lunch: 11 A.M.-3 P.M., Dinner: 4–9:30 P.M.; Closed Sundays