Cantonese comfort cuisine


POSTED: Sunday, April 12, 2009

Waipahu residents' introduction to Pearl's Chinese Kitchen came with a menu mailing, detailing its vast menu. What a surprise then, to find a small takeout-size space with your usual steam-tray entrees, hanging roast duck, and manapua and pork hash to go.





        Plaza at Milltown, 94-450 Mokuola St., Waipahu / 677-7477

Food: ;*;*;*


Service: ;*;*;*


Ambience: ;*;*


Value: ;*;*;*;*


Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily


Cost: About $30 for four




But, looks can be deceiving, and if you have the time to sit and stay a while, you'll find a dining experience equal to much larger restaurants.

Pearl's is one of the first tenants in the new Plaza at Milltown that has sprung up behind the old sugar mill smokestack and the Filipino Community Center.

The restaurant is the newer, more impressive, full-service sibling of Pearl's Chinese Kitchen in Pearl City, serving up Cantonese comfort cuisine, the third oldest cuisine in the islands following Hawaiian and Western missionary fare. You won't see the trendies lining up for this one the way they might for a sexy new Indian or Nepali joint, but there's always room in any neighborhood for a reliable, affordable retreat for those times when you just want a quick, solid meal without fuss or having to get dressed up.

Here, diners who shy away from exotic fare will find such non-threatening favorites as beef with broccoli ($6.50), sweet-sour pork ($6.50), minute chicken ($6.50) and pot roast pork ($6.50). Portions look small because they're served in the half-size Styrofoam takeout boxes, which are unwieldy on the table. I don't particularly care for seeing the inevitable trash, but there's that tradeoff of landfill or water use from washing dishes.

OF COURSE I couldn't just stick to basics and ventured toward dishes I'd not seen elsewhere, such as an offering of “;Wonderful Tasting Chicken”; ($6.50), which was even more intriguing because the description in Chinese characters read “;Strange Tasting Chicken.”; The shredded, minced chicken is served cold with a sweet-salty-spicy mixture of hoisin and chili sauce with a splash of Chinese rice wine. The flavors worked well together, and the hardest thing to get accustomed to was the refrigeration aspect. I'll eat cold ginger chicken for lunch, for example, but in the evening, I prefer entrees served hot.

I also had to try the Chinaman's Hat with pancakes ($6.50), but this simply turned out to be a more vegetable-intense version of moo-shu pork, also available for $6.50.

Among the best dishes I was able to try were the roast duck ($8.75 half/$16.75 whole) and honey-glazed shrimp with walnuts ($7.50), the shrimp crisp even under its layer of sweetened mayo and the walnuts pan-fried to a delicate, airy crunch.

Salt and pepper pork chops ($7.50) were merely adequate, and a dish of shrimp with curry sauce ($7.95) comprised more of the mild yellow curry, onions and green bell pepper than shrimp.

No MSG is used and dishes are cooked to order, so special dietary requests can be accommodated, whether you need to limit your salt, sugar or oil intake.

Pearl's will no doubt become one of the go-to places for family takeout and catering, and the staff is trying its best to be a good neighbor, even offering free delivery with a $25 minimum purchase to Waipahu, Waikele and Waipio destinations.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin.