The Pineapple of My Eye
Though pineapple is not native to Hawaii, it has become an unmistakable symbol of the Hawaiian Islands, playing a significant role in their history, economy and culture. And though the days of big-industry canning are over, the fruit remains embedded in the iconography associated with our paradise home and an essential part of its culinary landscape.
With its sweet, acidic and juicy qualities, pineapple continues to be a versatile muse for local chefs. And in today’s day and age, when supporting Hawaii’s farms that produce a plethora of local ingredients has become important to both restaurants and consumers, we can all appreciate smaller-scale, island-based operations such as Hawaiian Crown, Maui Gold and Frankie’s Nursery, which remain dedicated to meeting the highest standards of quality and maintaining pineapple’s place on Hawaii’s agricultural map.
Ono, You Know certainly is on board the Pineapple Express this week, from going right to the red dirt-dusted source of local pineapples to tasting some of the creative ways the fruit is used in island eateries. Trust me, you’ll want to come along on this ride.
One of the best ways to enjoy pineapple is in dessert form, and when dining at Stage Restaurant, it’s imperative that you save room for pastry chef Cainan Sabey’s creations. They’re whimsical, refined and a perfect blend of classic sweets and local ingredients.
Such is the case with Warm Pineapple Crisp ($13), a dish inspired by an all-American favorite: apple pie. First, Sabey evokes the flavors of the traditional comfort food by gently sautéing pineapple with brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean and butter — being sure to not overheat the juicy pineapple. He says the tropical fruit mixes well with a lot of flavors, but you have to get the balance just right and take care not to overmanipulate the naturally rich flavor of the pineapple .
He achieves that goal in this dessert, and if you’re familiar with Sabey’s culinary works, then you won’t be surprised that he tops the dish with homemade ice cream — a frosty delight he’s most passionate about making. “I pair it with Chai Tea ice cream because it has all those flavors that pair well with the filling, such as vanilla, star anise, cloves, ginger and black tea.”
Putting the crisp in Warm Pineapple Crisp is the pastry chef’s graham cracker oatmeal crumble, while Fleur de Sel Caramel brings an intriguing hint of salty balance to this treat.
Don’t forget to ask about the dessert sampler of the day to try more of Sabey’s imaginative sweets, which are a wonderful finale to executive chef Ron de Guzman’s contemporary Asian-American cuisine.
Honolulu Design Center, second floor
1250 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu
Noi Thai Cuisine
Whoever thought pineapple is only good in desserts is in dire need of trying Pineapple Fried Rice ($21.95) from Noi Thai Cuisine. The dish is evidence that the juicy ingredient is multi-faceted, as it’s featured in cuisine throughout the world, from South America to Southeast Asia, and it lends itself to both sweet and savory applications.
At Noi Thai Cuisine, chefs from Thailand infuse jasmine rice with turmeric-tinted yellow curry, cashews and onions for their Pineapple Fried Rice. The flavorful stir-fry is topped with dried shredded pork, chicken or tofu. And bringing a lovely contrast to the hearty curry flavors are sweet spurts of pineapple and raisins.
“We use local pineapple, and the whole dish is served in a pineapple that’s been cut in half,” explains general manager Ying Rosawan, noting that, for an additional charge, diners may add beef ($7), prawns ($5) or seafood ($8).
Noi Thai Cuisine recently featured the popular dish at the annual Waikiki Spam Jam food festival, substituting Spam for the other proteins. Not surprisingly, the fried rice was a hit!
You can enjoy the classic version of Pineapple Fried Rice, along with other upscale Thai dishes, at the Royal Hawaiian Center restaurant, where patrons feel as though they’re dining in a Thai Palace. Noi Thai Cuisine had its grand opening in January, and is one of multiple Thai restaurants stemming from the Pacific Northwest that are owned by husband and wife JJ Chaiseeha and Noi Chadillada Lapangkura.
Noi Thai Cuisine
Royal Hawaiian Center
Building C, Level 3
2301 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki