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Keeping a Sichuan legacy alive in Moiliili

Inside Feature

January 19, 2020

Story By: Brandon Bosworth | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO

Maple Garden has been a Moiliili institution for nearly half a century. Since opening its doors in 1975, the restaurant has specialized in authentic Northern Chinese cuisine.

“We are the original Sichuan-style Chinese restaurant,” owner Richard Lam explains. “We have been open from 1975 and we serve Sichuan-style spicy food. Sichuan-style is a little closer to Northern Chinese food. Southern Chinese food is a little sweeter and not that spicy; Northern Chinese food is more spicy.”

At one point, however, Maple Garden’s future was in doubt. When the original owner, Robert Hsu, passed away in October 2007, his widow had no interest in operating a restaurant. She wanted to sell the venerable eatery, and looked for a buyer who would conform to the requirements of a lease that keeps the Maple Garden name on the building and reproduce the dishes legions of loyal regulars enjoyed. Fortunately for lovers of quality Chinese food Lam was willing to do both.

Lam came in with years of experience in the industry. He worked at Yen King in Kahala Mall for more than 20 years, working his way up from dishwasher to cook to manager to owner. When Yen King was closed to make way for Whole Foods, Lam took the opportunity to move on to purchase Maple Garden in 2008. He made a few renovations, but the restaurant is still essentially the same as it’s always been.

“We didn’t want to change too much,” Lam says. “People wouldn’t like it, and we have lots of local regulars.”

Staying in business for nearly 50 years is a big accomplishment for any restaurant, and is evidence that Maple Garden’s formula of offering top-notch Chinese food at reasonable prices in a homey, neighborhood setting still works. Lam sees no reason to change that. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve always done.”

 

A NUTTY OPTION

A must for seafood lovers is Honey Walnut Prawns ($14.95). Tail-less, shelled prawns are served up in a mayonnaise sauce along with walnuts glazed with honey. Crisp and sweet, this is a delicious take on a classic recipe.

‘TIPS’ FOR DELICIOUS DINING

Maple Garden has an extensive vegetarian menu with some dishes one might not find elsewhere. For example, the Garlic Pea Tips ($14.95). Made from the spinach-like edible leaves of pea plants, the shoots are stir-fried in garlic and a light sauce making for a simple yet flavorful vegetable dish. “We are one of the only places that serves pea shoots,” says owner Richard Lam.

CRISP AND DELISH

Seafood fans should appreciate the Salt and Pepper Fish ($14.95). Tender pieces of fish are lightly battered and fried until crispy, then seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic, chives and chilies. The resulting dish is slightly spicy and very addictive.

CHILL CHICKEN

A specialty of the house is Shredded Chicken with Sesame Sauce ($14.95). In this dish, finely shredded chicken is prepared with a generous helping of sesame sauce and Chinese greens. It is served cold, and has a light, refreshing flavor. A quick glance will show that every piece of poultry is coated with sesame seeds.

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