Classic tastes meet Modern TechniquesCover Story
September 29, 2019
Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
Modern local cuisine takes center stage at Restaurant XO, and guests can look forward to sharing the popular items and iconic flavors upon sitting down with friends and family.
“It’s not fine dining, it’s family-style dining, because when I go out to eat, it’s about ordering and sharing,” says chef-owner Kenneth Lee, who notes that he fine-tunes and refreshes the menu every three months. “As far as I can remember there was ‘Hawaii regional cuisine,’ then ‘modern American cooking,’ so I’m trying to make this approach the next big thing: modern local cuisine. It’s all about classic and modern techniques incorporated with homestyle, comfort food.”
Situated within the culinary hotbed of Kaimuki on Waialae Avenue, Restaurant XO opened in May of 2018 and features a modern, sleek decor with dark, rich tones, a full bar and a large, golden dragon adorning one of the walls. The 26-year-old Lee honed his skills in the heralded Kapiolani Community College culinary program and gained valuable hands-on experience in the kitchens of Hawaii’s top restaurants, including Senia. The entrepreneur then took over his family’s restaurant space that previously featured traditional Chinese and later Thai cuisine and brought in skilled chef Aleina Chun to get the restaurant up and running in just two weeks.
“As we got the restaurant ready,” recalls Lee,” I came up with the first menu in my head, and our team worked hard to put the recipes together and prepare for service. The “XO” in our name reflects my Chinese background, and is used to name high-end sauces in Chinese cooking after a recognizable cognac.”
Lee and chef de cuisine Harry Ines have worked hard to refine the popular menu that will be updated on Nov. 6 and is headlined by Restaurant XO’s flagship Adobo Fried Chicken with Braised Peppercorns ($24). Lee’s specialty buttermilk fried chicken is cooked to golden brown perfection and served atop adobo sauce with peppercorns that are boiled for four hours.
The hearty dish features two pounds of chicken, and Lee, who notes that the fried chicken is one of the “surviving” favorites from XO’s initial menu, explains that the adobo sauce is reduced, infused with spices and herbs and expanded with butter.
Those looking for delicious appetizers are in luck with Loaded Potato Au Gratin ($17), a hearty potato dish that is sliced sideways and topped with green onion, sour cream, green tea pickled jalapenos (to keep the “snap and texture”) and savory chopped bacon.
Broiled Pacific Oyster ($17) is another must-try option at Restaurant XO as two oysters are flame-grilled, then the meat is diced and incorporated in sauce with a ginger-scallion emulsion, smoked patis (fish sauce) and oyster liqueur. The delicious combination is broiled again and topped with rye croutons.
The Escargot & Ricotta Ravioli ($26) is nearly as eye-appealing as it is tasty as the snail-shaped pasta is infused with spinach and squid ink, and filled with ricotta cheese and escargot, which are accompanied by rye croutons, Parmesan and a helix wine sauce.
Diners can also enjoy vegan dishes such as Beet & Pumpkin Roulade ($16) and Chou Farci Okonomiyaki ($19).
Don’t worry, be happy
Restaurant XO offers happy hour specials available daily from 5 to 6 p.m. and again from 9 p.m. to closing. During these windows, guests can enjoy $2 off all alcoholic beverages including the popular Lilikoi Margarita ($11), Suntory Basil Ginger Gimlet ($12) and a wide variety of beers, wines and cocktails.