Sweet Fusion TreatsCover Story
February 11, 2024
Story By: Dining Out Team | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
MW Restaurant co-owner and pastry chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka describes how travel often inspires the new dishes created by her husband, co-owner and chef Wade Ueoka.
His recent travels to Japan inspired a pan-seared opakapaka dish with lobster uni sauce, locally sourced vegetables, mentaiko, potato salad and gobo hasu (burdock root).
According to Karr-Ueoka, through a partnership with Hawaiian Airlines, she and her husband can visit places like Korea or even Australia, “eat and be inspired.”
The pair started the restaurant about 10 years ago in the old KGMB building on Kapiolani Boulevard. Since then, MW Restaurant has created dishes incorporating local flavors and products from local farmers, fishmongers and businesses to capture the story of Hawaii through food.
Diners can choose from its permanent signature dishes such as kampachi, salmon, oysters, scallops and Kona cold lobsters, or try something new with daily specials. MW’s menu changes often — sometimes depending on season or when ingredients are available — so it’s important to stop by and try a dish before it’s gone.
Karr-Ueoka shares more about the dining experience at MW Restaurant.
DO: What makes MW Restaurant unique?
MKU: A lot of it is telling a story about Hawaii. Every dish is unique and tells a story. For Wade, he likes to cook from not only his inspirations, but pull from his upbringings. In Hawaii, you have all of these people of various ethnic backgrounds bringing their dishes to your house and sharing. This potluck style is what we come to know in Hawaii. When you come to MW, it’s like if you come to a house and eat. We want to welcome you, and our staff makes it so special by providing a very friendly experience.
DO: What is one of your permanent dishes offered at the restaurant?
MKU: One of our popular signature dishes is the Mochi-encrusted Kampachi ($48) served with banchan (assortment of picked vegetables from local farms). Wade was inspired by ozoni, a Japanese soup traditionally eaten for the new year to bring good luck and good health. He used the mochi from ozoni to complete the dish. Guests can also ask for a vegan option, which uses Mrs. Cheng’s Soybean Products tofu instead.
DO: What is your most popular dessert item?
MKU: Our guests really enjoy our Tropical Creamsicle Brûlée ($16) because it’s not your traditional brûlée. It has a haupia, tapioca bottom with lilikoi kantan (similar to a gummy bear), pineapple fresh fruits and then a lilikoi sorbet and a lilikoi custard, which is then brûléed. In our version — because I like textures in desserts — every bite is different. You might get the acidity of the pineapple and the lilikoi, or the sweetness of the coconut and the sorbet in one bite, then in the next bite you may get the gumminess of the kantan. And that’s what I like to do with the desserts, is to create an experience where you have various textures and it keeps you wanting more, but not in a way that is overly filling. Most of the desserts are made for one person to eat, since I like to feel content after eating rather than super full.
All our desserts have a frozen component, whether ice cream or sorbet, even if we have different temperatures of desserts like warm, room temperature and cold. We also offer Shave Ice ($17) with rotating seasonal flavors like mango or persimmon.
What can customers look forward to from the restaurant in 2024?
MKU: Through traveling, you get inspired and you want to bring back those experiences. So, for (Wade), going to Japan and seeing the men taiko place and the different local fish farms, he got inspired so a lot of what our menu is now is trying to showcase some of his inspirations from Japan. What’s nice is that the menu constantly evolves. I think that’s what it’s about for this year — evolution and trying new things, which is nothing new for us. We always change and try to feature local farms and local products and what makes Hawaii so special.