Taking On a Taste For Tapas

Columns Ono, You Know

October 15, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

Bienvenidos, Ono readers! I just wrapped up my first week back at work after returning from a two week fiesta or siesta — what have you — in Spain, where I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Sevilla, Cordoba, Madrid, Toledo, Barcelona, Montserrat and Sitges — and my, what a beautiful country! Minus the day or two it took to get there, it was such a thrill to soak up the Spanish culture, speak the language, witness out-of-this-world Flamenco performances and dramatic architecture, and, of course, feast on meal after meal of exotic Spanish cuisine! Keep in mind, dinner is usually served between 9 and 11 p.m., so prior to that bar-hopping and the consumption of tapas is the way to go.

Tapas, prominent in Spanish cuisine, are a wide variety of appetizers or snacks ranging from cold tapas of mixed olives and cheese, to warm tapas of chopitos aka fried baby squid. It’s believed that the serving of tapas is designed to engage conversation, as it’s all about sharing your meal with others around you. I must admit, tapas are perfect for immersing yourself into the Spanish culinary world, because you are encouraged to taste a bit of everything — I recall one meal in particular in which 20 plates of tapas adorned the table to make a full meal!

Now, I must say, Hawaii’s take on tapas differs from that in Spain, however, the concept is the same — small portions of delicious food. Wanting to experience a local twist on tapas, I hit up a few of my favorite restaurants known for their “Ono, You Know” tapas-like appetizers and ate like there was no tomorrow!

Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab

  • The editor presents a local favorite of hers, Sam Choy's Kalua Pork Quesadilla ($10.95).
  • Sam Choy's Steamed Manila Clams in a garlic, ginger, miso, pesto broth ($13.95)
  • Sam Choy's Kahuku Luau Crab Dip ($12.95)
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For a local take on the ever-popular tapas, I headed straight to Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab on North Nimitz Highway. After being in Spain for two weeks, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some familiar local grinds, while still savoring a bit of the vibrant Spanish culture. General manager Jeffrey Gaspar was ready for my appetite and presented me with three amazing appetizers (or tapas) that he knew I would love — with a vast menu before me, I wouldn’t know where to begin if I had to choose!

First off was the Kalua Pork Quesadilla ($10.95). Beautifully plated, this local favorite features a warm grilled flour tortilla filled to the brim with kalua pork, sauteed onions and cheese, topped off with the perfect amount of fresh salsa, sour cream and a zesty barbecue sauce. Next to hit my palate was the ever so succulent Steamed Manila Clams ($13.95) drenched in a garlic, ginger, miso, pesto broth that is utterly divine. Finally, what would a tapas-like experience be without a sampling of what Gaspar regards as Sam Choy’s No. 1 appetizer? What would that be, you may ask? Well, if you’re a seafood aficionado, you’ll be happy to know it’s the Kahuku Luau Crab Dip ($12.95). Let me tell you, the mere mention of it is enough to make my mouth water. This todie-for appetizer spotlights an oven baked creamy crab and spinach dip, highlighted with artichoke and capers, and topped with a hint of Parmesan cheese. What’s more are the crispy pieces of grilled garlic French toast — this pairing is a match made in heaven!

“These dishes go great with our many drink specials,” Gaspar says. “Our beers are, of course, the most popular, but as for a non-alcoholic drink, Sam Choy’s Cream Soda ($7) is a best-seller.”

Happy Hour runs from 5 to 6:30 p.m. daily, and I’d highly recommend taking advantage of the various drink specials and the fact that regular pupus are 50 percent off.

When it comes to tapas, the trick is to pace yourself — it’s all about tasting a little of everything. Now that’s something to smile about!

Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch & Crab
580 N. Nimitz Highway
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3660 on the Rise

  • 3660's Crispy Fried Calamari ($10.50)
  • 3660's Vegetarian Appetizer of the Evening ($10.50)
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Continuing on my so-called tapas journey here at home, my love for food led me to a longtime favorite restaurant of mine, 3660 on the Rise. Located at none other than 3660 Waialae Ave., tucked away on the corner of Waialae and
Wilhelmina Rise, this exquisite eatery boasts some of the best in Pacific fusion cuisine. The restaurant opened its doors in September 1992 by partners celebrity chef Russell Siu and manager Gale Ogawa, with four banquet rooms later added in 1999. Today, this top-notch establishment continues to flourish, thanks to its mouthwatering creations and impecable customer service.

“We’re not looked upon as a ‘tapas restaurant,’ but we do offer a bunch of appetizers that could constitute as tapas,” Leong explains.

Music to my ears! Leong worked some culinary magic and quickly whipped up a few tantalizing tapas, including Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly ($11.75), Crispy Fried Calamari ($10.50) and the Vegetarian Appetizer of the Evening ($10.50).

Considered to be the Kobe beef of pork, the Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly traces its roots to Japan and is all you could ever wish for when satisfying your carnivore cravings. With its crispy exterior, the meat is tender and seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices, then served with caramelized Maui onions, natural pan juices and grilled flat-bread. Delicious! Next, the Crispy Calamari could very well be constituted as your “typical tapa,” as its paired with a sinful toasted garlic and roasted tomato dipping sauce.

“On average we use up to 10 pounds of squid daily. People love our calamari,” Leong explains.

Impressive, right? Now, if you’re all about healthy eating or a vegetarian at that, the calamari might not be your best bet, but I’m sure you’ll be wowed by Leong’s Vegetarian Appetizer of the Evening, consisting of a fire-roasted vegetable Israli couscous timbale wrapped with locally grown WOW tomatoes, and accompanied with a medley of Nalo greens with an orange basil vinaigrette.

“Tapas/appetizers are great because it allows diners to share many things, and it also gives chefs the opportunity to showcase a variety of items,” Leong says.

3360 on the Rise
3660 Waialae Ave.
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The Fat Greek

  • The Fat Greek's George Stephanos with the Tapas Platter ($36)
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Savory tapas await you at The Fat Greek on Waialae Avenue, as owner Francois Provenza and his business partner George Stephanos are the masterminds behind the award-winning culinary creations found here. Specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, the establishment welcomes diners to a relaxing atmosphere, similar to one you may wander upon in the Greek isles.

“Tapas are becoming increasingly popular here in Hawaii, especially at European/Mediterranean restaurants, and our Tapa/Appetizer Platter ($36) for four is great,” Stephanos says.

Yes, everything under the sun is presented before you in this remarkable platter — you can literally have it all. Take for example, the fact that you receive a nice helping of Hummus, Babaganoush, Dolmas (grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs), Mussels, Spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese baked in phyllo), Merguez Sausage and Feta Cheese and Olives.

“The Hummus and the Mussels are probably among the top two,” he adds. The famous Hummus (served with pita bread) is comprised of chick peas blended with tahini, lemon, olive oil, garlic and herbs, and the Mussels are cooked to perfection and flavored with The Fat Greek’s special sauce, ginger, capers, garlic, lemon and special Greek spices.

According to Stephanos, everything on this platter can be ordered individually as well.

“We have a strong tapas concept here,” he states. “Tapas are great because it’s a small taste of everything for your palate.”

With two additional locations in Waikiki and a kiosk at Ala Moana Center’s food court, a taste of The Fat Greek is accessible to everyone. In fact, a Kailua location is set to open in Enchanted Lake Shopping Center this December. The Fat Greek does not dissapoint!

The Fat Greek
3040 Waialae Ave. and 1831 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 201
734.0404 and 941.3444
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