Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Mahina & Sun’sRestaurant Insider
September 5, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: ANTHONY CONSILLIO
ANNE LEE speaks with Mahina & Sun’s executive chef Erik LEONG and bar manager/lead bartender CHRISTIAN TAIBI
Mahina & Sun’s dinner service restarted Sept. 2 and is limited to Thursdays-Sundays. Executive chef Erik Leong brought back favorite dishes and introduced new ones, like Chicken Papaya Soup, which is perfect for the fall season. To welcome this celebration, bar manager Christian Taibi created some throwback tiki cocktails, such as the restaurant’s version of the mai tai (the Tia Mia), which is a show in itself, as they torch sticks of cinnamon when they serve it — like a bonfire on the beach.
I was invited to try the new dishes and sampled the Viva La Vida — a delicious mixture of Casamigo Reposado Tequila and Banks Journal Cold Brew Coffee, and topped with yummy chocolate shavings — and learn more about what guests can expect.
AL: Tell me about your background.
CT: I moved here from New York in 2018 with my wife, Lisa, who is the general manager of Mahina & Sun’s. I have been doing this for over 23 years; started as a barback and worked my way up. My first job here was as a consultant for Mahina & Sun’s when they first opened.
EL: I made my decision to go on this path after watching a chef prepare food on career day in seventh grade. My mom also was an inspiration. I loved growing up seeing the joy she had feeding our family. I graduated from Kapiolani Community College’s culinary program, and found my place at Ed Kenney’s Town restaurant, where I learned what real cooking was.
AL: What types of dishes can diners expect with the new dinner menu?
EL: Favorites from the older menu, combined with new ideas. We owe it to our fanbase to give them more options to choose from.
Ahi Palaha ($30) is one of our signature dishes that was created when we first opened in 2016.
The Ahi Tartare ($15) appetizer has yellowfin tuna with over 20 ingredients, including fine herbs, seasoned aioli, balsamic reduction, onions and capers. One of the new items is the Goat Cheesecake ($10) topped with a beet-strawberry-basil jam — not super sweet, yet full flavored.
The new Pork Chop ($34) is like a deconstructed lau lau, the base is stewed luau atop coconut milk and a lemon tomato lomi salad, with tomato vinaigrette. Smoked Ahi Toast ($14) is a new starter.
The Mahina Family Feast ($37 per person, plus market price fish) offers a choice of a whole fried fish (whatever is in season) and five sides.
AL: What does Mahina & Sun’s bring to Hawaii’s food scene?
EL: A little bit of what Hawaii should be. We want to be that local neighborhood restaurant, where you can have a great meal, conversation and drinks.
CT: We treat this environment like it’s our house, so each guest who walks in the door, we are welcoming into our home.
AL: What was the inspiration behind these new signature cocktails?
CT: I wanted to build off the foundation of these drinks and modernize it to reflect the vibe of The Surfjack. Each is $16 during dinner service only. In addition to the Viva La Vida and Tia Mia, I wanted to have the Singapore Sling on the menu. This is a mid-century classic and we added local Kupu Spirits gin.
The Hanalei Moon is our version of a planter’s punch. This is infused with island spices, a bit of cachaça to give a hint of grassiness, and also features Bruno Mars’ SelvaRey coconut rum.
The Escape is our version of the vacation cocktail, like a pina colada or painkiller.
The Kahiko (Puu Waiu) is a Polynesian word for old-fashioned, we wanted to put a little bit of Hawaii into an old-fashioned cocktail, with a coconut water ice cube.
AL: What are the future plans for the restaurant?
EL:What Christian and I are excited about is how to pair food with wine, cocktails and beer. This is inspiration for me to create a dish that he can pair well with a beverage, and vice versa.This will lead to collaborative offerings, perhaps meal pairings in the future.
We still want to be locally sourced and driven, which is challenging during the winter, early spring.This will determine the changes in the menu. We will be creating special holiday menus for people to enjoy.
AL: Anything else you’d like to share?
CT: The Surfjack offers Mahina Lounge: Live! Local music performed by Hawaii’s finest entertainers 6:30-9 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays and 6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.