Spice Up Your Life

Columns Ono, You Know

November 24, 2013

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Leah Friel

When the Spice Girls lit up music charts with their 1997 hit single, “Spice Up Your Life,” who knew their message would have a profound meaning in the realm of good eats? It turns out my favorite pop band growing up was really onto something, as research shows that numerous health benefits stem from nomming on spicy foods.

With properties that rev up the metabolism and trigger stress-relieving endorphins in the brain, fiery fare has me singing its praises as a worthy addition to any diet. And as cooler days creep in, I’ve found myself craving spiciness more than usual, since it always seems to warm up my insides and clear my sniffles.

This week, I decided to zero in on chili peppers, a well-known culprit of heat happiness. I reached out to a handful of Ono, You Know staples to introduce me to some of their hottest menu items.

Seeing as chili peppers spice up cuisine around the world, it was no surprise that the following dishes span multiple cultures yet all showcase the same explosive flavor of this expressive ingredient. I enjoyed them so much that I couldn’t help bursting out into song — this time to the tunes of another favorite band of mine: the Red Hot Chili Peppers of course!

Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar

As a jumping off point for spicy satisfaction, it had to be Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar at Royal Hawaiian Center, where authentic Italian cuisine meets a serene restaurant setting to whisk diners away from the hustle and bustle of Kalakaua Avenue.

Executive chef James Donahue turns up the heat with Penne all Arrabiata ($18). Though its title translates to “angry” in Italian — a reference to the spicy burn of the peppers used in the dish — I assure you this bowl of pasta brings nothing but pure joy with its zesty pomodoro sauce consisting of San Marzano tomatoes from Italy, fresh Roma tomatoes, house-made veal stock, garlic and a kick of crushed chili flakes.

According to Donahue, the dried speckles of chili are his secret weapon when it comes to seasoning. “You can salt and pepper a lot of things, but adding the heat to it can sometimes elevate the other flavors,” he explains.

In true Italian form, this arrabiata is simple — just pasta blanketed with a velvety sauce that is good enough to stand alone. After a sprinkle of fresh parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano for the finishing touch, this specialty is the epitome of piquant.

Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar
Royal Hawaiian Center, Bldg. B, Level 1
2233 Kalakaua Ave.

Seafood Village Chinese Cuisine

Adopting the girl-band member identity of “Foodie Spice” this week, my next stop on tour was Seafood Village Chinese Cuisine at Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa. Truth be told, it’s one of my goto spots for the best in Hong Kong-style fare on the island.

There are a few edgy dishes in particular that restaurant supervisor Jason Lau recommends, both of which aren’t shy about chili peppers.

Salt and Pepper Short Rib ($16.95), for example, features juicy pieces of pork that are sumptuously deep fried, then mixed with salt, pepper, chili, onion and garlic to create stir-fried perfection.

“It’s one of the favorites,” says Lau. “The short ribs are moist, and crispy (on the outside).”

Chili and Garlic Kahuku Prawns ($21.95) is another must, presenting mouthwatering, plump prawns and strips of onion stir fried in a savory chili garlic sauce.

Now, the spiciest part of a chili pepper is known to be where the seeds are located, and both of Seafood Village’s dishes have healthy portions of it. You may be thinking this translates to a no-pain-no-gain situation, but Lau assures the eatery will customize each plate to your preferred spice level, so you can heat things up exactly how you’d like to.

Seafood Village Chinese Cuisine
Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa (Ewa Tower)
2424 Kalakaua Ave.

Max’s of Manila

Max's of Manila's Bicol Express ($13.95)

Max’s of Manila’s Bicol Express ($13.95)

Before putting out the fire, I reveled in a traditional bite of Filipino fare from Max’s of Manila on Dillingham Boulevard. And in the aftermath of Haiyan Typhoon’s tragedy, it seemed a small way to show appreciation for such a resilient country’s wonderful culture.

It didn’t take long to fall in love with Bicol Express ($13.95), which features crispy fried pork belly topped with a sweet and spicy sauce.

“The word Bicol, it’s from a region in the Philippines,” shares manager Elizabeth Joven. “It’s well known for making spicy dishes and dishes made out of coconut cream.”

Trying the dish is like taking an express train to euphoria, as the pork belly’s crackling skin is irresistible, especially when topped with the luxurious sauce consisting of coconut cream, shrimp paste and a mix of fresh red and green chili peppers — seeds and all.

“It’s very creamy, and what makes it distinct is the hint of shrimp paste that we use to season,” adds Joven, who suggests enjoying this sharable item with rice on the side.

For me, it was an ideal combination of sugar, spice and everything nice.

With peppery flames rising out of all these ono dishes, it’ll be no chore at all to spice up your life!

Max’s of Manila
801 Dillingham Blvd. #108

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