An Endless Summer of Eggplant

Columns Ono, You Know

July 13, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

Summer is the perfect time to christen a new grill. Early-evening barbecues are a ritual, and that means hot dogs, hamburgers and veggie skewers are essential parts of alfresco dinners. Once the grill is loaded with charcoal, the burning coals are a sign that the cooking can commence. The savory aroma of home-cooked barbecue fare is such a tease to the senses. But once the eggplant with its thick, dark-purple skin takes to the heat, my need to indulge reaches a whole new level. Masters of the grill take the art of barbecuing seriously — almost as seriously as my obsession with eggplant. Purple, pear-shaped globe eggplants are the most common. Initially, the meaty interior is flavorless, but cooking the eggplant makes all the difference in the world, because with the thrill of the grill comes something so supple, tender and delicious — its big flavors pair beautifully with a variety of ingredients and seasonings.

And here’s something you may not know about this beautiful fruit (Yes, I said fruit!). While it’s typically thought of as a vegetable, an eggplant is actually a berry!

So, while the grill takes a rest from Fourth of July shenanigans, I turn to the following OYK establishments to entice my taste buds with a slew of eggplant wonder. If you have yet to experience this fruit, I ‘egg’ you on. Go ahead, give eggplant a chance. Its dense, rich flavor and texture are so hot, it’ll make you want to fry an egg (plant) on the sidewalk!

Max’s of Manila

Indulge in home-cooked Filipino fare without having to do the cooking. Thanks to Max’s of Manila, all you have to do is relax, eat and enjoy. The restaurant boasts more than 100 branches in the Philippines, plus eight establishments in the U.S., two of which are here in the Islands.

Each visit to Max’s of Manila is like coming home. The warm and friendly staff treats patrons like family, and the authentic Filipino cuisine always is prepared fresh to order.

Family-style dining is a necessity when I visit Max’s. That’s the only way to go, because you can try a handful of items while sharing among family and friends.

And what’s a feast without a side of Ensaladang Talong (otherwise known as Eggplant Salad)? Priced at $5.95, this traditional Filipino side complements an array of main entrees, but goes best with fried dishes. Did someone say, Max’s Fried Chicken, Daing na Bangus (Marinated Boneless Milkfish) and Crispy Pata (Crispy Pork Knuckle)? Oh yeah! This is going to be good!

“The eggplant is grilled whole, then the skin is peeled off,” explains Maly San Luis, general manager of the Dillingham and Waipahu locations. “The skinless eggplant is then marinated in our homemade vinaigrette, and the salad is topped off with minced, fresh garlic.”

The flavors and textures of Ensaladang Talong are all-encompassing, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you must.

Max’s of Manila has been serving up mouthwatering favorites for almost seven decades. “Sarap (delicious) to the bone” is its promise to you.

Max’s of Manila
801 Dillingham Blvd.

Kit n Kitchen

Kit n Kitchen's Spicy Ground Beef with Eggplant ($12.95). Lawrence Tabudlo file photo

Kit n Kitchen’s Spicy Ground Beef with Eggplant ($12.95). Lawrence Tabudlo file photo

When it comes to good food, I’m not one to pick favorites, but when dining at Kit n Kitchen (on University Avenue or in Pearl City), you can bet my order always is consistent. Co-owner and executive chef May Yiu incorporates her love for traveling the globe into her culinary works of art, so it’s no surprise that the restaurant boasts multiethnic flair, though the flavors of Europe and Asia especially shine through. The menu flaunts an assortment of offerings, but my heart is set on Spicy Ground Beef with Eggplant ($12.95). This classic dish has forever had a place on the menu, and features freshly cooked spaghetti tossed with light garlic olive oil and tomato sauce, topped with pan-seared eggplant and ground beef, creating three delightful layers of flavor.

Yiu says this dish was inspired by her cooking philosophy: incorporating light and healthy ingredients, without sacrificing taste.

“The eggplant absorbs the flavor of the ground beef, the garlic oil, and the hearty taste of tomato sauce and herbs. This succulent blend of flavors gives you a mouthful of eggplant goodness,” she exclaims.

If you’re anything like me and could live off of this amazing entree, then you’ll be stoked to know that Spicy Ground Beef with Eggplant is offered as a lunch special for $10.95. You’ll receive a complete meal, which comes with your choice of Tomato Veggie Soup or Garden Salad with homemade ginger dressing.

Kit n Kitchen
1010 University Ave., 942-7622
1029 Makolu St., 294-5888

Formaggio Wine Bar

Unwind at Formaggio Wine Bar in Market City Shopping Center, where romantic, dim lighting and soft music provide the perfect ambiance for a date night with a special someone or a relaxing night out with friends. The restaurant, owned by Niraj Maskey, lures me in with its predominantly French and Italian fare. If you look closely at the menu, items such as Nepalese Chicken Curry will call your attention. My personal favorites, however, lie in Boneless Short Ribs in Red Wine and Grilled Vegetable Napoleon.

Formaggio Wine Bar's Grilled Vegetable Napoleon ($13.99). Nathalie Walker file photo

Formaggio Wine Bar’s Grilled Vegetable Napoleon ($13.99). Nathalie Walker file photo

Chef Christian Monzano is the culinary genius behind these exquisite dishes. Priced at $15.99, Boneless Short Ribs in Red Wine is a definite treat. The short ribs are braised for up to four hours and topped with red wine cabernet demi. Just as you would hope, the meat is the definition of tender. Who even needs a knife? The beef is placed atop a vegetable medley of sautéed zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers and onions.

Formaggio Wine Bar pleases all patrons, and vegetarians love Grilled Vegetable Napoleon ($13.99). But trust me, even carnivores speak highly of this dish. A great option for sharing, Grilled Vegetable Napoleon presents diners with three layers of lusciousness, each filled with various components of portobello mushroom, grilled eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers and caramelized onions drizzled with truffle oil and pesto sauce, along with a hint of goat cheese.

It’s no coincidence that eggplant shines through in both of these marvelous entrees, bringing a “meatiness” to the dishes that does not go unnoticed. No one will go home hungry. And the restaurant’s 90-plus varieties of international wines will win the hearts of vino aficionados everywhere.

Formaggio Wine Bar
Market City Shopping Center
2919 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 106

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best