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Keeping It Fresh, Mina-Style!

Cover Story

March 25, 2018

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: MINA’S FISH HOUSE

PHOTO BY BODIE COLLINS

Mina’s Fish House in the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina has only been open since December, but in many ways this world-class seafood restaurant has been more than 20 years in the making.

It all started with celebrity chef Michael Mina’s love for Hawaii, which he developed through visiting the Isles frequently over the past two decades, including working on events with local culinary legends Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi.

“I’ve always wanted to expand to Hawaii,” explains Mina. “I love everything about it: the people, the products, the passion for food that exists here, and I love the fact that when people come here, they want to have a good time.”

Black Garlic and Miso Black Cod. Bodie Collins photo

Couple that admiration with a career’s worth of restaurateur experience, including running critically acclaimed Aqua in downtown San Francisco, the eatery that gave Mina his start in the 1990s, and you have a recipe for success.

“There was something so magical about a fish restaurant,” Mina says of his time at Aqua, “that I just absolutely fell in love with the idea of not being locked into any one cuisine. You could use spices from throughout the whole world.

Executive chef Garrick Mendoza

“But my dream was always to have a seafood restaurant right on the water, and I always felt that something that was much more about whole fish, and the product that you get in that day, and your market list of fish is really special,” he adds.

Mina originally tried to make that dream come true in Maui 18 years ago, but ultimately the timing wasn’t right. He would have to wait a good long while — until he was at a point in his thriving career when he could spend more time in the Islands — for the stars to align once more to see Mina’s Fish House wash ashore in Ko Olina.

Share a freshly caught fish with the whole table.

Now that it has, the breezy and contemporary ocean-front restaurant is quickly becoming a seafood haven. Mina’s Fish House incorporates the global flavors that the James Beard Award-winning chef is known for — everything from Middle Eastern to Asian and French influences — but it is unique from Mina’s other restaurants in that it is rooted in Hawaii’s culinary culture. Not surprisingly, the Fish House puts into the spotlight local seafood and other products — including opakapaka, kampachi, ahi, swordfish, onaga, not to mention Kauai shrimp, Kona lobster, Big Island abalone and island-grown veggies.

“The great thing about Hawaii is that the products keep getting better and better, whether it’s produce, beef, pork or chicken, and then the seafood’s always been spectacular here,” says Mina, who also has opened Stripsteak and The Street in Waikiki’s International Marketplace within the past two years.

For those who don’t eat seafood, try Broiled Chili Lime Chicken.

You’ll find wood-fired shellfish, Prime-grade Angus beef, tropical cocktails and more at the casually elegant eatery, but paramount to the Mina’s Fish House experience is a connection to local fishermen, with whom Mina and executive chef Garrick Mendoza work closely to ensure the freshest bites end up at the table. In fact, Mina has been known to fully immerse himself in local fishing culture by getting out on the water.

“(Recently) I went and caught my first yellowtail, and it was a very different experience to do that and then to bring it back to the restaurant and break it down. I created six different dishes from that fish, and it was maybe one of the highlights of my culinary career,” he says.

Once the fresh catches are brought to the Fish House, the kitchen team chooses which preparation will best suit its flavor and texture profiles. Patrons may revel in Mina’s classic fillet entrees like Grilled Yellowfin Tuna & Seared Foie Gras ($57), or enjoy a more family-style dining experience with a range of whole fish preparations, such as Indian-inspired fried fish or whole slabs broiled with ginger, green onion, garlic and fermented black beans.

Mina’s Fish House brings out the best in local seafood and flavors.

“I love ohana-style dining because it’s so prevalent here, and it’s a very organic way to cook and eat. As a chef, you can create a dish, walk it out the table, the guests are sharing it, and then you bring out the next dish,” describes Mina.

Kamaaina are sure to love more than just family-style dining at the restaurant, seeing as the menu offers plenty of options that appeal to local taste buds. “Hawaii is flavor-forward: people like bold flavors, and that’s how I like to cook,” says the chef. “We’re on the water, so we keep it light, but at the end of the day it’s really about that integrity of the product and giving it great seasonings.”

Other menu highlights include Michael Mina’s Ahi Tartare ($26), his personal take on poke; Wood-fired Shellfish Platter ($85) that heats up with miso and espelette butters — “We’ll pop the oysters and crack open the lobster and crab and brush them with the butter, and then broil them so it’s nice and steamy when it gets to the table,” explains Mina — and Black Garlic and Miso Black Cod ($48), a fresh spin on miso butterfish with some added Korean flair.

As the Fish House continues to grow into its new home, Mina, who now splits his time between the Bay Area and his Kailua residence, confirms that there’s plenty to look forward to in the coming months, namely the additions of a live fish tank and iced seafood display aimed at highlighting local products. And when it comes to continuing his culinary path in the Islands, the chef says there’s no place he’d rather be. “If you watch Hawaii’s food scene over the next five to 10 years, it’s just going to keep getting better. You’ve got great local talents, great products, and you’ve got people who are really are passionate about dining and food. It’s a great recipe.”

Chef Michael Mina catches his first yellowtail on a recent fishing trip off Oahu.

JUST ASK JARED

Got a question about the divine seafood at Mina’s Fish House? Look out for Jared Chang, whom Michael Mina calls his “fish sommelier.” Passionate about the local seafood scene, Chang shares his deep knowledge of each catch and where it comes from with guests on a regular basis.

STRONG ROOTS

Born in Cairo, Egypt, and raised in Ellensburg, Washington, Michael Mina brings a global perspective to the 30-plus dining concepts that make up his Mina Group of restaurants worldwide.

The Michelin-star chef shares that the root of his culinary passion stems from growing up in the Pacific Northwest, enjoying Middle Eastern feasts at home with his large, extended family. “Those are my earliest memories of food, and my love for spices and bold, flavorful food came from me having those flavors when I was young. It’s definitely had an influence on how I cook and how I look at food and dining,” he shares.

Mina brings that vibrancy and family-centric approach to his menu at Mina’s Fish House, while also blending it with Hawaii’s own perspective on cuisine and shared dining. You’ll find the eatery’s food to be a perfect combination of both.

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