GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Preston Chun of R&P Cafe and Catering shows off his chicken tortilla and salad. The eatery is an option for Masu's patrons looking for a new place to eat.
Eateries prove there is life after Masu’s
Even before Paul Masuoka served the last of his massive laulaus, he said entreaties were coming daily from people who begged him to stay in business. They went so far as to suggest a petition to the building's new landlords to keep his little restaurant open, not knowing that it was also his idea to retire.
There will be those who will mourn Wednesday's closing of Masu's Massive Plate Lunch for a long time, and knowing he made so many people happy for so long must be satisfying for Masuoka. But I think he wants people to move on. After all, that's what he'll be doing. Upon meeting him for the first time just before Masu's closed its doors, he told me he has no plans to set foot in a kitchen ever again, not even to cook for himself.
Never say never, but to me it looks like no amount of crying, moaning and groaning will change his mind in the near future. So really, people, it's time to move on.
Finding another eatery willing to put large quantities of quality local-style food on a plate for a minuscule price -- I was continually amazed by Masu's never-changing window sign offering a laulau plate for the ridiculously low price of $3.95 -- is not easy in these days of escalating costs. But I think I have found a successor to Masu's in R&P's Cafe and Catering in nearby Palama, where prices are purposely kept low for the benefit of the community.
Breakfast is the best bargain, where $1.99 still buys you a hungry construction worker's breakfast of a hot dog with chili, two eggs any style and two scoops of rice. Or it can get you a bacon omelet with rice, served from 6 to 10:30 a.m. weekdays and 7 to 10:30 a.m. Saturdays.
Later in the day, you'll find comfort food of the sort moms used to put on the table when most moms cooked. Leave it to owner Preston Chun to play "mom" -- cooking up all the favorites you never learned or are too lazy to make yourself -- as well as watch after your health. Sure, there is the usual bad-carb plate-lunch combo of mac salad and white rice. But with patrons fresh from nutrition courses held at the Kalihi-Palama Health Center a few doors away, many opt for brown rice and a tossed salad.
R&P's only has room for about 20 with five tables, roughly a third the capacity of Masu's. Yet its menu is about three times bigger. Because it's a small, intimate operation -- with Chun at the burners, his wife, Faith, at the register, and right hand in friend Brian Nishimoto -- regulars usually call in their orders ahead of time as a courtesy.
Those who remember the old days of Masu's, when Masuoka, a classically trained chef, offered gourmet specialties, will appreciate Chun's similar sensibility.
Yes, he covers all the basics, cooking up a mean beef stew ($3.99 mini/$4.99 regular), char-broiled teriyaki chicken and beef ($4.25), boneless garlic chicken ($3.99/$4.99) and roast pork plate ($3.99/$4.99); but he'll also surprise you with a $9 grilled sirloin steak and shrimp combo plate in which the steak, better than some $30 steaks I've eaten at restaurants, is cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the Chinese-style deep-fried, head-on shrimp is crisper than any I've tried at any Chinatown restaurant.
He also enjoys creating daily specials, from another local favorite of garlic-fried ahi ($6.25) to a Mediterranean dish of penne pasta tossed with sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, mushrooms, zucchini and peas ($5.99), and mai tai shrimp ($8.99) marinated in a mix of lime and orange juices with jalapeño peppers.
Chun's inventions spring from his imagination after a hard-won self-education that began when he was a 6-year-old latchkey child responsible for getting the rice started before his parents came home from work. Even though he always loved to eat, he said cooking was a chore until he went to college and realized food and restaurant dates were expensive.
"I had no money so I started cooking," he said, learning that his idea of a cheap date cooking at home was perceived by women as romantic. When he did go to restaurants like Canlis and Orchids, he would try to re-create their dishes at home.
Not all his experiments went well.
"One time, I tried to cook for 25 people at UH, just something simple, spaghetti and meatballs. It was a disaster. I didn't know how to cook with wine," he said. "I was ready to give up, but people told me to keep trying."
Ten years ago he got his break when a friend introduced him to church functions that involved cooking for 200 to 300 people. As he became recognized, he was asked to cater private events, legislative parties and luaus.
He opened R&P's four years ago, still catering, but also open to those of us who can't be crashing those private parties.
And has he mastered the recipe for spaghetti and meatballs?
"Oh yeah!" he said.