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Tasty Trends

Ono, You Know

July 22, 2018

Story By: Ellise Kakazu | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

Dining Out editor Ellise Kakazu with The Brilliant Ox’s Crispy Pork Belly ($21).

I believe food and fashion go hand in hand.

While I have been a fan of both industries for quite some time, I recently connected the dots and found they are extremely similar, as both require skilled artisans who play with colors, textures, shapes and measurements.

Chefs and fashion designers constantly are modifying and reimagining, ultimately creating innovative, fun trends. And I welcome them all, especially in the food department.

There has been an influx of hip eats popping up within the past five years or so, such as cronuts, saimin burgers, avocado toast and unicorn food (anything vividly colored and often glittery).

While some food fads have faded away, there are a few that have stuck around, like the beloved pork belly. This “new” cut of meat actually is the same used to make everyone’s favorite breakfast meat, bacon, however, it now is presented and prepared in a more glamorized fashion.

With many renditions of this pork phenomenon on the market, I’ve decided to spotlight a couple this week. So cue the lights and roll out the pink carpet, it’s pork belly’s time to shine!

EAT, SHOP AND BE HAPPY!

As a fashion enthusiast, I proudly admit one of my happy places is the mall, particularly Ala Moana Center. With new stores and eateries setting up shop fairly frequently, there’s always something to uncover, like The Brilliant Ox.

A closer look at Crispy Pork Belly

The restaurant officially opened its doors to the hungry public in January and already is making a name for itself in the local foodie scene. With its eclectic, tantalizing menu and rustic atmosphere, there really is no place like it.

According to executive chef Brian Gremillion, the restaurant serves “New American” cuisine and strives to provide guests with unique yet approachable meals and drinks.

“(New American cuisine) leaves the door open, with a lot of flexibility of what we choose to do,” explains Gremillion. “There’s no rules and we’re flexible. It gives us a lot of opportunity to serve something we’re excited about.”

Gremillion has about 20 years of cooking experience under his belt and has worked as a chef in New Orleans, San Francisco and New York. He also traveled to Italy to learn more about Northern Italian cuisine. He explains his years of working and experimenting with different flavors “carries over to now.”

Chef’s think-outside-of-the-box mentality shines through in the eatery’s menu, as there are many tasty twists on local favorites such as Okinawan Sweet Potato Croquettes, Scotch Egg “Katsu” and Teriyaki Glazed Beef Shortribs.

An item that seems to get customers extra giddy is Crispy Pork Belly ($21), a dish that deems simple to one’s eye, but very complex to taste buds. Generous slices of pork belly are spread across a plate in a semicircle, while a hefty cut of grilled cabbage rounds up the dish. Green onions and a mouthwatering chili-garlic sauce top the pieces of pork, and voila, a masterpiece is born.

It appears pretty straightforward, but it is not. Listening to Gremillion break down the steps he takes to prepare and perfect this dish leaves me to believe his dishes truly are works of art. With steps that involve curing the pork overnight with a thoughtful mixture of spices, crusting the skin to get the perfect texture, roasting the cabbage in pork fat for extra flavor, it seems no corner is cut in the kitchen.

“(The Crispy Pork Belly is) deceptively simple, it’s more technique driven,” notes Gremillion. “We put a lot of work and effort into making it.”

One can taste Chef’s effort and thought in every dish, making this new eatery on the block stand out from the rest.

“We want to use ingredients in thoughtful ways that make them special, even if they are already popular ingredients,” says Gremillion.

PORK HEAVEN

Shiro’s Saimin Haven is home to more than 60 variations of saimin including the eatery’s Crispy Pork Belly Saimin with Wun Tun, Vegetables and Garnishes ($10.65 dine in, $9.90 take out).

The editor is excited to taste Shiro’s Saimin Haven’s winning saimin and pork belly combination. LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

The dreamy bowl of noodles, which comes with Shiro’s staple garnishes such as green onion, luncheon meat and char siu, and house-made wun tun and assorted vegetables, arrives with golden cubes of pork belly served on the side.

The pieces of pork are flavored with a slightly sweet, vinegary shoyu-based sauce, adding extra flavor between bites of the eatery’s iconic noodles. Guests also can choose to have the pork belly bites served Kawali style, bringing diced onions and tomatoes to the mix for an additional charge ($1.35).

“We threw it (Crispy Pork Belly Saimin) up as a special, and it was so popular that we didn’t have a choice but to put it on our menu,” says Bryce Fujimoto, Shiro’s Saimin Haven vice president.

According to Fujimoto, preparing the pork belly for plating is an all-day process that requires much time and effort. Fujimoto explains head chef Warlie Aguarin and his team puts the pork through a multi-step cooking process to get it just right.

Shiro’s Saimin Haven’s Cripsy Pork Belly Saimin with Wun Tun, Vegetables and Garnishes ($10.65) presented with Kawali style pork ($1.35 additional charge). LAWRENCE TABUDLO PHOTO

In addition to Crispy Pork Belly Saimin with Wun Tun, Vegetables and Garnishes, and the many other noodle dishes, the eatery offers items like “Homemade” Hamburga Steak with Gravy, Shiro’s Original Chicken Cutlet with Gravy and Lau Lau with Lomi Salmon.

With two locations on the island, Shiro’s Saimin Haven keeps late founder Franz Shiro Matsuo’s dream alive by serving up simple yet enjoyable comfort food in a welcoming atmosphere.

“He (Matsuo) just wanted his own (place) where people could just talk story, relax and eat good food,” notes Fujimoto. “He was a chef and if anybody ever met him he was a showman, too. He would come in with his ukulele and play for the customers.”

Matsuo’s spirit of aloha lives on through Shiro’s Saimin Haven. And with the eatery’s timeless comfort food as well as trendy eats like the pork belly saimin, Shiro’s will most likely be around until pigs can fly.

On that note, as Porky Pig would put it, “That’s all, folks!” Now go and pig out.

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