Alan Wong's the only local restaurant on Gourmet's Top 50
ALAN WONG'S restaurant on South King Street has made the top 10 of Gourmet magazine's list of America's Top 50 Restaurants -- again.
Alan Wong's is also the only Hawaii restaurant on the list, though the magazine has praised many others regularly on other lists. The local restaurant is No. 8 among the Top 50 this time around, after ranking No. 6 on the 2001 list.
On the list, which is published once every five years, chef-owner Wong is among incredibly heady company. The new mainland restaurants that pushed him downward have had professional gastronomes gasping and gushing in breathless reviews since opening.
Masa, a New York City sushi bar that bears a Mobil five-star rating, charges from $300 to $500 for its omakase, or chef's choice offerings. It is at No. 7 on the Gourmet list.
Joel Robuchon, a legendary French master chef, came out of retirement to open No. 5-ranked Joel Robuchon at the Mansion in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. It is the costlier of his two eateries in the hotel, where a six-course tasting menu costs $225 for one and a 16-course tasting menu is $360 a person.
The revered Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., was No. 1 in 2001 but was sent plummeting to No. 2 by chef-owner Grant Achatz's Alinea in Chicago.
It opened in May 2005 and astonished food writers with its meals and its groundbreaking presentations. A 13-course tasting menu there is $125, and the 24-course tour, as they call it, is $175.
Wong's seven-course tasting menu at $85 seems an incredible bargain, perhaps underpriced, considering the circles in which his restaurant's name travels.
He doesn't think a restaurant business plan that includes flabbergasting prices would go over well in Hawaii, where "local people might pop a vein."
"On the mainland, that is the high-end stuff," he said.
Appearance on such a list definitely helps the business, Wong said.
Wong said he feels "real fortunate to be in that company, and not only to be in that company again this time, but to be in it again this time five years later. It's quite an honor."
He sees it as a testament to the "hard-working staff, all of our customers and supporters that come to our restaurant."
Beyond that, it is also a reflection of Hawaii's agricultural scene, he said, "for all the farmers who give us the great products we use ... the quality of what they're growing helps us look good too."
Many of the chefs whose restaurants are listed are Wong's friends, with whom he gets to visit when he travels.
The popularity of Asian ingredients in the past several years -- miso-this, edamame-that -- is amusing to local guys like Wong, who have grown up with the flavors all their lives. It's also "cool," however.
"They're fascinated with these ingredients ... discovering they have a lot of flavor and are not laden with fats, sugars and salt and are quite flavorful and healthy for you," he said.
He enjoys being able to travel and taste his contemporaries' dishes.
"To me, a foodie knows where they're going to eat (before leaving on a trip) and knows who the chef is ... and I think I'm like that too." Reservations are made weeks or months in advance, especially when travel is planned to a large city such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco or Chicago.
However, Wong also noted that "I'm a brown gravy kind of guy myself."
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org