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E Komo Mai

Cover Story

June 20, 2021

Story By: Ginger Keller | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO

Sous chef Keala Perreira-Layman, owner and chef Chai Chaowasaree, and chef de cuisine Brandon Boyd welcome visitors and locals alike to KALO: Hawaiian Food by Chai’s in Waikiki.

The latest — and always exciting — endeavor to come out of local chef and restaurateur Chai Chaowasaree’s creative mind is KALO: Hawaiian Food by Chai’s, a local-centric fine dining experience found at Courtyard by Marriott Waikiki Beach. It opened back in May in Spada Bar & Restaurant’s previous spot and, according to Chaowasaree, a line was out the door before advertising their debut.

“Everyone says, ‘I can’t believe this … This is genius because we have no Hawaiian food in Waikiki,’” Chaowasaree says. “We just thought we’d just try it out first, but on day one, there was a long line — so we’re doing great. We can’t believe it.”

At the heart of the restaurant are intentions to do Hawaiian food right. For the most part, the entire menu — which features classics like Ahi Limu Poke (locally caught ahi, ogo seaweed, onion and Hawaiian sea salt) for $15 and Beef Stew (slow-cooked beef with potatoes, carrots and tomatoes), also for $15 — features cuisine we all know and love in the way it was intended to be made.

Miso Sea Bass with Lobster Reduction ($45)
Served with mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, green beans and baby carrots

“I think one thing people always know about us is that we always respect the food to its culture,” says Chaowasaree. “We are not just doing this for commercial reasons. If we’re doing Hawaiian food, we want to make sure we represent Hawaiian people well. Local people know, for us, it’s all about quality. When you walk into Chef Chai’s, you see beautiful decor, nice silverware and great service. It’s the same thing when you walk into KALO — but it has a Hawaiian feel; we used a lot of Hawaiian art on the walls and it’s also made with a rich wood. It has a lot of elements in there to make it feel Hawaiian, but modern, warm and welcoming.”

Chaowasaree adds that, although the food is created conventionally, how it’s served is anything but.

“Most of the time, when you go to a Hawaiian food restaurant, it’s cafeteria-style in plastic containers, like plate lunches, but we present it differently. We use china, silverware and glasses, so we elevated Hawaiian cuisine and made it more high-end.”

Hawaiian Signature Sampler ($45)
Comes with pipikaula, kalua pork, ahi poke, chicken long rice, lomi salmon, poi and steamed rice

On the small plates menu, expect Kalua Pork ($15) and Laulau ($15) — which features kalua pork and fish wrapped in a luau leaf — as well as quintessential sides like Lomi Salmon ($8) and Poi ($8).

Of the most popular — and highly recommended from the chef himself — is the Short Ribs Pipikaula ($22), which is essentially a marinated and dried Hawaiian-style beef jerky.

“We use big short ribs, almost an inch thick, and we dry-age it,” notes Chaowasaree. “When you bite into it, it’s so flavorful.”

Meanwhile, his main entrées include the best of the best: a Hawaiian Signature Sampler ($45), which comprises pipikaula, kalua pork, ahi poke, chicken long rice, lomi salmon, poi and steamed rice; as well as Hawaiian Style BBQ Chicken ($35), served with fresh pineapple relish and steamed coconut-ginger rice.

There are also fusion plates that include Miso Sea Bass with Lobster Reduction ($45), which comes alongside mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, local green beans and baby carrots; a Pineapple Lobster Curry ($59) and a Grilled Rib Eye Steak ($52). The latter is seared to perfection and topped off with herb butter. It’s served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and veggies.

“Being in Hawaii for over 35 years, I’ve eaten all the Hawaiian food, so we kind of know how to create all of that,” says Chaowasaree regarding how he crafted the menu. “As a chef, if you know how to cook, you know how to make anything.

When I go out to eat at a restaurant and I try any food, in the back of my head, I can imagine how to make it already.”

Come July, KALO will be serving a breakfast menu, which will be influenced by local culture, too. Expect the evergreen morning meal of a Hawaiian Breakfast (fried rice, Portuguese sausage and scrambled eggs) for $15, as well as a Kalua Pork Omelet ($18).

“Our main key is that we want visitors to try Hawaiian food. “A lot of times, they’ve only had it at big luaus, so the quality of the food is totally different than in the restaurant.”

Locals who would like to try a taste for themselves can stop by from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. for a 20% kamaaina discount when you mention Dining Out.

“Our restaurant is not that big so we don’t accept reservations, but if you come before 5:30, we’re guarantee to have room … It’s a win-win for everybody,” Chaowasaree says with a smile.

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