DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chef Göran Streng peers through decor resembling a stand of birch at his new restaurant, Tangö, at the Hokua condominium near Ward Centre.
Honolulu will be doing the Tangö
Only the lunch menu at Tangö is committed to print on a takeout flyer. Chef Göran Streng was hoping, I believe, for a low-key opening, but as bound to happen, word spread quickly about his little contemporary cafe at the Hokua. Essentially, I looked around at the 55-seater, and told him later, "Isn't this place too small for you?" Meaning: It will be packed and I will be devastated when I am unable to get a table.
Just a week into his opening, people were demanding breakfast, accommodations for private dinners, Swedish potato pancakes, you name it, the pressure was on for a chef foodies were hoping would return from the private realm of the Hawaii Yacht Club andcatering. Before going private, he served as executive chef at the Hawaii Prince Hotel.
Of course it takes two to Tangö, and his partner in the endeavor is Tami Orozco, who mans the front of the house with warmth and humor.
So far, people who have found their way to Tangö have been making many repeat visits. I checked in four times myself, because every item on the menu is so inviting. Beyond the menu, there is the welcoming ambience of a room with a spare Scandinavia-meets-Japan aesethetic, with blond wood and birch decor in a sun-drenched, sparkling glass showcase. By night, the room simply glows. If Streng's strength were not in the kitchen, he might have a future in interior design.
Over Chinese New Year someone asked me if I had any new restaurants to recommend, and outside of a handful of Japanese restaurants, I was sad to say no. So Robert, if you're reading, Tangö is one that I would patronize outside of the work arena because of its magic combination of unfussy food, proximity, value and adult aura. I always complain that this combination is easy to find in every major city except Honolulu. I believe this is due to HRC fallout, when student chefs embraced the idea that anything goes.
Hate to break it to you, but anything does not go, and Tangö makes a case for a return to the beauty of basics done well.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Moi with Tomato Fennel Coulis and Ratatouille, front, and Grilled Pesto-Glazed Salmon, served on a salad of mixed Nalo greens, tomato and asparagus, are among Tango's specialties.
THE LUNCH MENU alone will likely lure you to make many trips, even if it's to order the same thing over and over, like one well-known food author who seems to have a regular date with a mahimahi sandwich ($8.50).
Considering the restaurant's contemporary American-European vibe, it's trio ($9) of spicy tuna, shrimp tempura and crab salad sushi handrolls was far better than that of a Japanese fusion restaurant I recently visited.
And every newspaper and magazine burger roundup is going to have to be rewritten to include Tangö's classic homemade burger ($8.25) perched atop a whole wheat-brown rice bun studded with sunflower seeds. It's beautifully presented with lettuce, tomato and onion with a small carrot-and-raisin salad. If this is not enough, additional toppings of avocado, mushrooms, grilled onions and Swiss or cheddar cheese are 50 cents each.
Velvety gravlax that nearly melts on the tongue is served atop Finnish rye as an open-faced sandwich ($8.50), using salmon that has been house-cured for three days.
I quavered over ordering the Hamakua mushroom and asparagus risotto ($10.50, with shrimp or chicken) because many places fill the rice with heavy cream and Parmesan, guaranteeing a desktop nap. Streng aims for delicacy instead, making this one of the restaurant's top sellers. The other is a portobello mushroom burger ($6.50).
It's a good thing that prices like this make daily return visits possible, because I will certainly be back for the grilled pesto glazed salmon ($10.50) served on 'Nalo greens, the herb butter 6-ounce sirloin steak served on a smokey cedar plank ($13.50), and classic Caesar ($10.50) topped with blackened fish, grilled shrimp or herb chicken. And with everyone else no doubt thinking the same thing, you can see why the restaurant is already packed day and night, while outside diners also compete for space with the Hokua residents who likely consider the restaurant one of their private amenities. (They are so wrong, aren't they?)
DINNER entreés are priced at about $18 to $23. For $6.50 more you get soup or a large salad of greens and tomatoes with a mellow balsamic vinaigrette, plus dessert of lilikoi sorbet. Selections are slated to change to keep regulars interested in coming back.
Recent selections have included tender five-spice braised beef ($18.50); the king of fish, moi ($19), served with a delicate tomato fennel coulis over ratatouille of eggplant, summer squash and zucchini; and bouillabaisse of fish, prawns and mussels ($23), in which the seafood could have done with less cooking time.
As for desserts beyond the sorbet, they include lemon verbena creme brulee ($5), crepes with warm berry compote and vanilla bean ice cream ($5.50), and bread pudding with vanilla sauce ($4.50). Save room.