Exceptional Eggplant for the Heartiest of Appetites

Columns Ono, You Know

March 3, 2012

Story By: Dining Out Team |

There are certain things in life that are just meant to be, and when it comes to the culinary world, eggplant is no exception.The versatility of the eggplant is phenomenal and flows ever-so smoothly from one cuisine to the next, as it has a flavor all its own and a texture that can vary from meaty to creamy. You name it, eggplant equates to a number of remarkable edible creations.

In fact, in the Middle East it’s believed that a woman is not ready to marry until she knows 1,000 ways to cook eggplant! Take it as you will, but that’s saying quite a lot about this beloved fruit, and if there’s any truth to that, I better get to cooking!

Yet, while that exact mission seems rather unattainable, I thought why not aim for something a bit more within my reach. So, this week, in search of this culinary staple with so much potential, I ventured off and indeed stumbled upon an assortment of eggplant delights at the following Ono, You Know establishments. Delicious! Oh, and about those 1,000 eggplant dishes, check back with me in about 10 years!

Thai Village

  • Thai Village's Eggplant basil with chicken ($9.95)
  • Thai Village's Mang Sisounthone with Eggplant Basil.
  • Thai Village's Green curry with shrimp ($11.95)
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Authentic in every sense of the word, Thai Village continues to draw in a consistent crowd with its jaw-dropping culinary masterpieces, and with three locations in Waipio, Kunia and Kalihi, there’s surely enough to go around. Co-owners Bo and Mang Sisounthone help oversee the operations here, but it’s Chef Pakon who takes hold of the reins in the kitchen, and heats things up with an exotic Thai flair.

“Eggplant is often used in Thai cuisine,” Mang says with a smile, “and we make a couple of eggplant dishes that are very delicious.”

With that, enter Thai Village’s Green Curry (with chicken, pork or beef $9.95; tofu and vegetable $8.95, shrimp, calamari, scallop or mixed seafood $11.95), an exotic blend of eggplant, bell pepper and fresh basil served with a zesty green curry sauce and coconut milk.

“We can cater the level of spiciness to the customer,” Mang says. And if you can take the heat Thai Village can definitely up the ante and add some fire to your meal with its “extra hot” option. Not feeling the heat? I won’t egg you on any longer, instead, do yourself a favor and opt for Eggplant Basil (with chicken, pork or beef $9.95; tofu and vegetable $8.95, shrimp, calamari, scallop or mixed seafood $11.95). This non-spicy dish is my personal favorite as it features the freshest of eggplant, vibrant red and green bell peppers, savory minced garlic and your choice of meat, vegetables/tofu or seafood swimming in a Thai Village special sauce that’s derived from a secret recipe. Keep in mind; rice is served a la carte.

Thai Village Waipio and Kunia locations are open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Thai Village Kalihi is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Discover tastes of tradition at Thai Village where it really does take a village to feed my hungry tummy!

Thai Village
Kalihi: 1286 Kalani St. #104
Waipio: 94-1040 Waipio Uka St. #15
Kunia: 94-673 Kupuohi St. #105
845.4554 (Kalihi), 678.2878 (Waipio), 676.0843 (Kunia)
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The Mandalay

  • The Mandalay's Steamed Eggplant with Pork Hash ($13.95)
  • The Mandalay's Garlic Eggplant with Pork ($10.95)
  • The editor has a new favorite at The Mandalay — Garlic Eggplant with Pork ($10.95).
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As a premier Chinese restaurant in my book, The Mandalay, located on Alakea Street, never ceases to intrigue my palate with its superlative Cantonese cuisine. Owned and operated by husband-and-wife team of Larry and Linda Chan, this acclaimed establishment serves many patrons on a daily basis as it seats 320 people comfortably.

And when it’s genuine fare that you’re after, The Mandalay’s elaborate menu runs the gamut, simply offering a little bit of everything. Therefore, when in the mood for eggplant, I was ecstatic with the restaurant’s many choices.

“Eggplant is very healthy, so, of course, it’s really popular. It has a really nice texture and it just melts in your mouth,” says server Wilfred Leung, who quickly presented me with three of the restaurant’s most fantastic eggplant dishes. For starters, I highly recommend Stuffed Eggplant with Shrimp Paste ($3.50). As my top pick for dim sum, this pan-fried dish features fresh pieces of eggplant filled with a savory helping of shrimp paste and accompanied by a special sauce of shoyu, black beans and spices, which effortlessly enhances the flavor of the dish.

As for main courses, any eggplant enthusiast will love Steamed Eggplant with Pork Hash ($13.95) and Garlic Eggplant with Pork ($10.95).

“We’ve been serving Garlic Eggplant with Pork for a long time now, and it’s one of our most popular dishes,” Leung says. No need to question that — this dish is divine! Imagine a symphony of monumental flavors comprised of fresh eggplant, mushrooms, peppers, shredded pork and sprinkles of minced garlic stir-fried to perfection. What’s more is that added kick of spice that brings this eggplant creation over the top.

The Mandalay
1055 Alakea St.
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Romano’s Macaroni Grill

  • Macaroni Grill's Eggplant Parmesan ($15.50)
  • Macaroni Grill is inviting for the entire family.
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Don’t let the name fool you, Romano’s Macaroni Grill offers much more than just your typical macaroni dishes. Yet, if we’re talking about Tuscan-inspired Italian favorites, this top-notch eatery is second to none, and the dining experience is one to remember. (Tip: Always make use of those crayons on the table and create your very own artwork as you wait for your meal to arrive.)

Executive chef Michael Longworth has been with the restaurant since it first opened its doors in 2005 at Ala Moana Center’s Hookipa Terrace, and says Eggplant Parmesan ($15.50) has and continues to be a best-seller on the menu.

“We use about 100 to 150 pounds of eggplant every week,” Longworth says, “and already this year, we’ve sold 1,300 Eggplant Parmesans.”

As one of my most adored items here at Macaroni Grill, I cherish every bite. This tantalizing entree presents you with fresh eggplant pan-seared with a delicate crust, Pomodoro sauce, basil and fresh mozzarella cheese served with imported capellini pasta.

“We bread our eggplant daily — sometimes twice a day,” Longworth adds. “It’s a favorite!”

Really, the numbers speak for themselves here at Macaroni Grill — everyone, myself included, is a fan of eggcelent Eggplant Parmesan!

Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Ala Moana Center — Hookipa Terrace
1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 4240
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Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best