‘Floating’ on Air with Shrimp, Pork Belly and More

Columns Surf and Turf

March 23, 2014

Story By: Steve Murray | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

The last time we visited Pagoda Floating Restaurant, executive chef Jason Takemura was in the process of updating the classic menu by introducing more fresh and local ingredients. The remake has continued with impressive results, which isn’t easy. Restaurants must adapt without alienating longtime customers. Takemura has done just that by reinventing old favorites while branching out into new areas.

One such new creation is Shiso Wrapped Shrimp and Kahuku Corn Dumpling ($8). The appetizer was introduced as a special two weeks ago and customer feedback pushed it to become a regular menu item. It’s easy to see why. The right-sized bites of seafood are light and delicious. Fresh shrimp is coated in a sweet corn dumpling and topped with a creamy dollop of wasabi mayo and Japanese citrus sauce. The whole thing is skewered and served on a thin lime slice. The lime does more than add a colorful base to the flavorful appetizer; it provides just the right amount of citrus element to the mild and creamy dish.

Another new menu item is House Smoked Big Island Beef Benedict ($12). Grass-fed beef is brined for 12-14 days then smoked for eight hours. After being chilled, the tender and smoky beef is sauteed in a bit of bacon fat. Yes, bacon fat! The result is outstanding. English muffins are piled high with soft, almost jerky-flavored beef, and topped with a perfectly poached egg and creamy hollandaise sauce. A large side of just about any type of starch completes the dish. The paniolo potatoes are golden brown, lightly seasoned and very crispy, providing not just good flavor but a textural change that adds to the overall experience.

“It’s hard to keep up with the orders,” says Takemura happily.

A good example of old meets new is Asian Braised Pork Belly ($10). It’s Takemura’s modern take on the traditional manapua. The generous appetizer features braised pork in a steamed bao bun highlighted by a kimchee slaw and Fuji apple. A slightly spicy hoisin sauce adds just the right kick to the buttery and juicy pork.

Another traditional treat worth trying is Sake Ginger Pesto Steamed Kona Kampachi ($24). Fresh Kampachi is steamed in an Asian pesto sauce and served with tempura asparagus on a bed of white rice and Asian stir fry vegetables. It’s the pesto that really sets the dish apart from others. Made from sake, ginger, green onion, oyster sauce, sesame oil, shoyu, sugar and sambal, the pesto helps create a natural broth when steamed and adds delicate flavor to the dish that perfectly matches the fish.

In addition to being delicious, the dish is also localicious. Each year, restaurants across the state choose one dish to feature as a fundraiser for the Hawaii Ag Foundation. For every dish sold, Pagoda will donate $1 to the foundation. The program, says Takemura, is a way for restaurants to rein-vest in Hawaii’s culinary and agricultural future.

So, try it. You’ll be doing more than just having a good meal; you’ll be helping to create a more self-sustainable Hawaii.

Pagoda Floating Restaurant

1525 Rycroft St.
Open daily, Breakfast: 6:30 a.m.-1 pm.
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Weekend Brunch: Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: nightly 5-9:30 p.m.
Dinner Buffet: Friday-Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m.

Honolulu, HI 96814

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Hawaii's Best