There’s No Way Around Onolicious Onions

Columns Ono, You Know

December 15, 2013

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Leah Friel

Generally speaking, I like to keep a positive attitude about most things in life and tend to be a glass-half-full type of person. One of the things I use to fuel my positivity is the joy of culinary adventures, as they’re always a source of excitement in a world undeniably filled with ups and downs.

That being said, there is one type of food that brings tears to my eyes on a regular basis. Sometimes just its mere presence on a cutting board is enough to have me crying my eyes out before dinner. An Allium vegetable, it’s more commonly known as the onion, and I know you’re all too familiar with the danger it presents to our tear ducts when it’s chopped up with a kitchen knife.

Luckily, each slice I make is a labor of love, as I know the resulting savory goodness will transform any dish I’m cooking into an aromatic, flavorful masterpiece.

Whether served raw on top of poke or cooked-down caramelized felicity, onions are versatile staples in our diets that don’t get the attention they deserve. They’re like the underdog of seasonings, always in the shadow of their Allium big brother garlic. But at these gourmet Ono, You Know locales, talented chefs are putting onions in the spotlight this week for an unforgettable dining experience.

Little Village Noodle House

Here in the Islands, one of our favorite types of onion to consume is the green variety, which lends its unique springtime character to a host of Asian cuisine. This is especially true at Chinese restaurants such as Little Village Noodle House, where an eclectic mix of Northern, Cantonese and Szechuan dishes can’t be beat.

As I’ve experienced, the enchanting Chinatown eatery also is an onion oasis, with dishes such as Green Onion Pancakes ($4.25, two round pieces) standing out.

According to owner David Chang, the Northern Chinese specialty is made from dough prepared in-house with a secret blend of flours.

“It’s very simple, but it takes attention to do it right,” explains Chang.

After the dough is crafted, chopped green onions are folded into it and the mixture is patted into round hot cakes, which are then pan-fried to perfection.

“They’re supposed to be crispy outside and very doughy inside,” explains the owner.

And since green onions serve as the appetizer’s main seasoning, these petite, chewy delights showcase the vegetable’s lively zing of flavor. Chang’s insistence on using only the freshest of locally grown produce doesn’t hurt, either.

Patrons may enjoy warm Green Onion Pancakes on their own, or dip them into Little Village’s homemade pot sticker sauce, which is jazzed up with ginger and garlic. Either way, your taste buds will thank you.

Little Village Noodle House
1113 Smith St., Chinatown
Monday-Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m.;
Friday-Sunday, 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Tony Roma’s

Tony Roma's Onion Loaf (full size $9.99) Nathalie Walker photo

Tony Roma’s Onion Loaf (full size $9.99) Nathalie Walker photo

I stand by the belief that most things taste better deep-fried, so without a doubt onion rings had to be part of this culinary conversation. Now, if you think you’ve tasted this American classic in all its glory, I need to ask you one question: Have you tried Tony Roma’s Onion Loaf ($9.99 full size, $6.99 half)?

A star on the Waikiki eatery’s menu since it opened in 1980, Onion Loaf takes the onion ring concept to an entirely new level of indulgence. First, yellow Spanish onions — with their temptingly sweet character — are separated into bite-sized circles and smothered in a mixture of Tony Roma’s special seasonings. Then, the pieces are placed in a mega ring mold and deep-fried, forming a delicious mass of epic proportions. Just the sight of this dish is like Christmas morning for onion ring lovers.

According to regional chef and assistant manager Jean-Pierre Choy, Onion Loaf is irresistible alongside the sumptuous barbecue ribs and chicken the restaurant chain is known for. And each ring tastes amazing when dipped into Tony Roma’s Original BBQ Sauce, complete with a tangy combination of tomato, vinegar and spices.

Though Choy has been with Tony Roma’s since the start, he never grows tired of this deep-fried delicacy. When asked how often he samples Onion Loaf, the chef smiles and responds, “Every day. It’s quality control.”

Tony Roma’s (Waikiki)
1972 Kalakaua Ave.

HASR Bistro

HASR Bistro's Frenchy Onion ($9 bowl, $7 cup)

HASR Bistro’s Frenchy Onion ($9 bowl, $7 cup)

My journey came full circle when I found my favorite onion dish of all time — French onion soup — at HASR Bistro. The Pauahi Street eatery is renowned for its cozy country-style approach to European and American fare, and co-owner and executive chef Rodney Uyehara cooks up an outstanding Frenchy Onion ($9 bowl, $7 cup).

Made from savory classic onions, the chef begins by sweating them out until they are translucent.

“The reason why I don’t caramelize it is because I think you’d lose a lot of the flavor of the onion if you cook it off too much,” he explains.

Uyehara then adds aromatic layers of thyme, roasted garlic, bay leaves, pepper-corn and fresh oregano to build up the richness of his double beef broth. Soft strips of onion add lovely texture to the soup as well.

To finish it off, house-made croutons are drizzled with oil to ensure they stay afloat when placed in the soup, and a beautifully toasted four-cheese blend blankets the bowl.

“Each cheese, believe it or not, has a purpose,” says Uyehara. “You’ve got the mozzarella cheese for the stretch, and then the Swiss cheese for a little texture to hold everything up. And then the Gruyere cheese for flavor, and the Parmesan for the gratin on the top.”

Just as one sip of Frenchy Onion will leave you yearning for more, each of these optimal onion creations highlight this wondrous vegetable’s star quality.

HASR Bistro
31 N. Pauahi St.

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best