Hale makes macrobiotic dining palatable


POSTED: Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Hawai'i Food & Wine Paradise sponsored by American Express Publishing concluded its four-day run Sunday with a Hana Hou brunch in the Halekulani Ballroom.

I commented to one of my table mates that the meal prepared by Halekulani executive chef Vikram Garg for the foodie gathering—including seared abalone, shaved hearts of palm, and onaga and Kahalu'u pork served with raw papaya relish and chimichurri sauce—was easily the best I have had locally in a year.






        1427 Makaloa St. » 944-1555









Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays Cost: About $40 to $60 for two


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good; exceeds expectations
        ;*;* - average
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Then, I had to turn right around and head to Hale, Moco and Isamu Kubota's new macrobiotic restaurant. Talk about disparate meals! But were they? In essence, they were both about simplicity and luxury, two aspects of the culinary experiences that are not mutually exclusive, but often elusive.

At Hale the luxury comes in the form of the freshest ingredients possible, within the constraints of a cuisine that relies on packaged soy and wheat foods.

TO THOSE opposed to the idea of dietary sacrifice, the macrobiotic diet will seem restrictive due to its emphasis on grains and vegetables, which comprise 60 to 90 percent of a diet, depending on your state of conversion. Fruit, sweets and seafood are allowed sparingly.

I'm starting to think of macrobiotic dining as future food, a sustainable way to eat after we have depleted our oceans and it becomes obvious the planet can no longer support humans and livestock.

That clientele are choosing to eat this way now speaks to increased awareness of sustainability, ethical and health issues, but also to the confidence people have placed in the Kubotas, whose introduction came via Kai Okonomiya, where Hale now stands, as well as Kaiwa on Waikiki Beach Walk. Having proved themselves in the kitchen, they've got eager disciples willing to heed the macrobiotic philosophy, conceived in the late 1950s by Japanese educator George Ohsawa, of eating to promote optimal health and longevity.

I WAS in a neutral state of mind when I visited for an a la carte dinner, neither eager to tackle tempeh nor averse to it. Earlier in the day, someone at the Halekulani had asked me if there were a style of cooking I didn't like, and there really is none, though, like everyone else, there are certain ingredients that don't appeal to me. These could be things I have no problem eating, but given the choice, it might be the 10th pick out of 10 items, like the idea of pairing brown rice and tempeh, fermented soybean cake. What could be more brown and blech?

Wanting to get just a small taste of the combo, our server recommended starting with a few of Hale's sushi cakes. These are small mounds of organic brown rice with veggie toppings substituting for fish. I tried the tempeh cubes ($3.85) and another savory combination of chickpeas and cubed avocado ($3.45) bound with creamy vegennaise and wasabi. The former's nutty texture and sweet-salty flavor provided a nice counterpoint to the moist, fluffy grains of rice, while the latter was as delicious as any typical California roll. Both were quickly devoured.

From there we got braver, ordering up the kuruma-fu cutlet ($19.45), a wheat gluten patty coated with panko and deep-fried for a crisp exterior combined with a still chewy, slightly spongy interior. This was topped with a tart apple-miso sauce. It's not much different from offerings at a lot of fast-food cutlets here, which tend to be big on crunchy coating with scant meat in between.

Starters might include organic french fries ($4.95), a creamy brown mushroom soup ($8.45) of pureed onions and mushrooms in soy milk, veggie meat karaage ($9.45) served atop a watercress and bell pepper salad, or a light, healthful salad of kale and sliced strawberries ($11.45) dressed in a creamy tofu-tahini sauce studded with crushed hazelnuts.

Rounding out the menu are seitan (wheat gluten) cutlets and sandwiches and wraps of veggies with tempeh, kuruma-fu or one of the wheat gluten products ($13.75 and up).

If visiting during lunch hours, daily plate specials of seitan or wheat gluten cutlets, and more, run $9.50 to about $12.95.

If your dietary sensibilities clash with your friends', lure them in with the promise of “;normal”; food, a grilled island fish burger ($15.45), for instance, or organic penne ($14.45) with pesto sauce.

FOR THOSE who want to save a little money on a full meal, the restaurant also offers a $33 prix fixe meal with soup, appetizer, entree and dessert, with two to five selections per category.

Refined sugar is a no-no in the macrobiotic way, so desserts here contain none of that, plus no eggs or dairy. A friend jumped at the idea of a healthy tofu tiramisu ($5.25), which, without the much espresso flavor, either, didn't come close to resembling the classic Italian dessert. On the other hand, there's no restriction attached to the healthful aspect of matcha tea, so sorbet ($5.25) incorporating the tea boasted strong flavor. It's a pleasant way to get a dose of antioxidants. You'll also win spiritual points by serving the planet, along with your body.

Nadine Kam's restaurant review appears every Wednesday in the Star-Bulletin. Restaurants are reviewed anonymously. Meals are paid by the Star-Bulletin.