The Weekly Eater
Nadine Kam

Sunday, February 27, 2005

This ain’t your dad’s
Double 8

New owners offer a distinctive menu
hailing from Southern China

Double Eight Restaurant on Maunakea Street has changed hands a couple of times over the past decade, and though the menu changed, it could still be counted on for affordable lunch and dinnertime noodles and basic dishes. If you didn't notice the changes, a name change might have helped, but why would the new owners give up such a lucky name?

A blush pink interior paint job is the first clue that something's changed. Overhead lattice also creates a bit of ambience absent from earlier incarnations. Then there's the tea service. Gone is the standard model Chinese restaurant white ceramic teapot in favor of the miniature unglazed Yixing clay pots for more formal gongfu presentation with tasting cups bearing little more than an ounce of the golden liquid. It's a little impractical to ask people to appreciate an artform when most simply want to quench their thirst, but it might help diners to slow down, reflect and savor more fully the flavor and essence of the tea.

The menu looks a lot different too, not only from the old Double Eight, but from just about every Chinese restaurant in town, due to its allegiance to Chiu Chow, or Chao Zhou, cuisine native to Southern China, from which one of the new partners hails. Word about the changes spread fast in a few weeks so the restaurant looks fuller than its ever been, day and night.

Open the menu and you'll find delicacies most people don't usually clamor for, such as boiled pig's ears ($6.75), trotters (pig's feet, $7.95), and frog legs ($11.95) with ginger and green onion. (Oh relax, it's just like a cross between calamari and stringy chicken.)

One of the new restaurant's specialties is the Chao Zhou soy-spiced duck ($13.95 half/$26 whole) or goose. I ordered the goose but because the staff isn't fluent in English and I don't speak Chinese, they may have served us duck instead. It tasted a lot like duck; goose tends to taste more like dark-meat turkey and it was hard to tell the difference with the heavy salt and five-spice flavor, made lighter by a dipping sauce of chili pepper vinegar and garlic. It was a great combination whether duck or goose.

This is not the only experience you'll have with fowl here. Another Chiu Chow specialty is minced pigeon -- here, it's squab ($6.95) -- combined with minced water chestnuts and served on a lettuce-leaf wrap. It's one of the dishes they'll recommend if you're at a loss as to what to order, but I found the bird rather dry and non-distinctive.

Double Eight manager Howard Ho, left, holds a Chao Zhou Cold Platter of duck and Chao Zhou Style Soup; chef Steven Chen holds Sautéed Shrimp with Preserved Turnip and a Maine Lobster with Satay Sauce, while server Chung Chi Lau holds a hot pot of Clam Soup.

YOU MAY HAVE guessed the restaurant is not for those with timid palates. Strong, earthy flavors abound. If you think Chinese food is already potent, multiply that garlic or chili quotient by 10. Roast duck and taro is not all you get in a hot pot course, for instance. You'll also find dozens of cloves of whole garlic. Either they have lots of vampires in Swatow, or they believe in garlic's power as a folk remedy for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.

Similarly, we're accustomed to clams with black bean sauce ($9.95), which is on the menu, but the Chao Zhou style is to match clams with a spicy satay sauce ($9.95) that packs more heat than most Chinese restaurants are capable of inflicting on customers.

If you miss the old Double Eight, turn to the back page for simpler offerings of minute chicken, seafood or kung pao chicken with cake noodles ($6.95 each). There are also about a dozen fried rice, chow mein and chow fun offerings, for $6 to $7.95.

And on chilly nights, try their version of shabu shabu, starting with a $16 bowl of stock and main ingredient of fish, chicken or, I believe, tripe. It comes with spinach, tofu, rice noodles and sauce of peanut oil, soy sauce, chili sauce, green onions and chili peppers. To this you could add a couple more ingredients such as scallops ($5.50), shrimp on skewers ($5.50), beef brisket ($5.95) or mushrooms ($5). All this is plenty filling for two.

For dessert, sesame mochi balls in a ginger soup is a nice alternative to the usual almond float.

Double Eight Restaurant

1113 Maunakea St. / 526-3887

Food Star Star Star

Service Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star Star

Value Star Star Star Star

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily

Cost: About $16 to $25 for two

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to nkam@starbulletin.com

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