Sweet Potato Promises Something Good

Columns Ono, You Know

January 4, 2015

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Anthony Consillio

Happy New Year! Let’s begin 2015 with something sweet and a little bit savory. I bet you’re thinking, oh no, more sugary desserts and sinful holiday fare? Nope, that’s not it. I’ve definitely had my fill of cookies, cakes, pies and party mix, that, when added up, probably could feed an entire village. Let’s give these goodies a break, and instead stop for a moment to revel in sweet potato, a starch that deserves more attention than it gets. On its own, sweet potato is oddly shaped and lumpy, not the most visually appealing ingredient. But when it’s incorporated as a main ingredient in a myriad of dishes, it acts as a major contributing factor to the overall taste and aesthetic appeal of the cuisine.

Though sweet potato can get messy, embrace it, because this sticky starch is fantastic! There was a time when I religiously would eat Okinawan sweet potato every day for lunch. All it needed was a sprinkle of salt for seasoning, and its bright purple hue made it a joy to eat. Let’s talk texture: Sweet potato’s sweet stickiness from the caramelizing liquid that oozes from the inside out is delicious, and if left with the skin on, the sweet potato offers a bit of crispy crunch, while the flesh of the starch is filling and creamy.

This week, these two OYK must-try restaurants went above and beyond in their tribute to this healthy root vegetable. You say “po-tay-toh,” I say “po-tah-toh” — no matter how you say it, MAC 24/7 and YogurStory kick off the new year with something sweet!

MAC 24/7 Bar & Restaurant

Around-the-clock dining is just one of MAC 24/7’s biggest draws. Add to that an exceptionally innovative food selection and impeccable service, and you’ll be wondering why you didn’t stop by sooner. Located within Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel, MAC 24/7 is centered on American cuisine with a pizazz of island flair. Executive chef James Aptakin enthralls diners with his fresh perspective on culinary craftsman-ship. Take, for example, Sweet Potato Gnocchi. “The original inspiration for this dish came about late last year, when we were dreaming up as many fun and creative ideas as we could to utilize locally grown products for our ‘lighter’ dishes, while still enhancing our ‘gourmet comfort food’ menu items,” says director of food and beverage Mark Nelsen.

Priced at $17, the traditionally Italian gnocchi is reinvented in such a way that the Islands’ unique flavors are accentuated with ease.

“We took locally grown kale into account right away, considering the popularity of this particular produce and the awareness of its nutritional value among our more health-conscious clientele,” explains Aptakin, who initially created the Molokai pasta dumplings for a private function, for which the guests requested a light pasta dish. The goal? To provide the best of both worlds with fresh produce and a light pasta or dumpling.

“Chef and his team kicked around a few ideas after receiving a fresh delivery of purple Okinawan sweet potatoes from one of our trusted vendors. As the ideas sparked in the kitchen, the team eventually landed on the current recipe,” recalls Nelsen.

Basil also was introduced to the dish in the form of homemade pesto, as was kabocha and preserved lemon. Chef says that after several weeks of testing and finally launching Sweet Potato Gnocchi onto the menu, it quickly has become one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.

Aptakin also gives the scoop on sweet potato: “Sweet potato is one of the most recognized comfort foods, especially during the holiday season. The specific Molokai sweet potatoes we utilize not only help us create a delicious and comforting healthy dish, but it brings about a nice presentation with its naturally deep purple color and soft, pillowy texture.”

I’ve always been one to appreciate the versatility of sweet potato, and now thanks to MAC 24/7’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi, I have a deeper appreciation for this ono starch.

MAC 24/7 Bar & Restaurant
Hilton Waikiki Beach Hotel
2500 Kuhio Ave.


Here’s a tale with a fairy tale ending. The sweet story begins at YogurStory on Keeaumoku Street — and no, don’t judge a book by its cover. This story isn’t about yogurt. The two-level eatery offers a lot of open space that’s used wisely. It is transformed into a cafe-like setting that’s clean and contemporary, with rays of sunlight streaming through the glass windows. The staff is friendly and accommodating, and the menu is intriguing. Brian Stover serves as executive chef of YogurStory, and his innovative, gorgeous creations are to die for. Move over, Cinderella. Ube Pancakes are the belle of the ball, earning the love of Prince Charming — and everyone else, for that matter.

Priced at $12, Ube Pancakes are uber ono! Ube is Filipino sweet potato, which Stover says is comparable to Okinawan sweet potato. And as a tribute to his love of Okinawan sweet potato, you’ll find this purple starch infused into the pancakes, which are bathed in an eye-catching purple, semi-sweet sauce made with fresh ube and laced with creamy coconut milk.

Stover’s unique preparation and presentation of the ubiquitous sweet potato has turned heads and excited palates, thus making Ube Pancakes a top-seller.

Wait no longer. Hop on the ube train, where the final stop is a pancake heaven of sweet potato.

815 Keeaumoku St.

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