Vibe is unassuming but food shines


POSTED: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A few weeks ago, I found myself in one of the latest in a long line of those trendy, crowded, late-night hot spots that are always a moving target. After listlessly milling around, finding it difficult to get food or drink, I decided, like a parched wildebeest, to migrate off to a more promising watering hole.

A move like that sets the whole herd on alert. If you remember “;Finding Nemo”; and the pelicans that stabbed at the clown fish, hungrily crying, “;Mine! Mine! Mine!”; that is the tone of the wail that arose as I made my way out the door.

“;What? You're leaving? Where are you going?”;

When it comes to what's hot and what's not, no one wants to be left behind when there's a promise of something better down the street.

I was definitely headed someplace better, though that cool factor is in the eye of the beholder and at Shinsho Tei that might be lost on scenesters who work mightily to impress.

Shinsho Tei is the antitheses to the scene, a place so laid-back and nonjudgmental that you don't have to worry about putting on your face or the right threads, an attitude that reflects the ohana spirit of the family-run business. Come as you are, “;boroboro”; clothes and all ... if you can stand a little karaoke on the side.

As owner/manager Helen Galmiche says, the singing sometimes “;hurts some of our ears, but a lot of people say we have very good singers.”;

And that's not counting regulars like Robert Cazimero, Melveen Leed, Frank De Lima and other local performers.

“;When we're lucky, they sing for us,”; Galmiche said.

Since moving to the Nuuanu/Liliha area about three years ago, Shinsho Tei has been on my radar as another site en route to Hungry Lion or Bangkok Chef. But the poster-blocked windows seem so formidable. Any time you can't see into a room, it appears like a warning to keep out. But the poster thing just sort of happened. Entertainers who can't afford advertising simply ask to post their materials, and the kindhearted Galmiche says, “;We can't say no.”;

One can't be a reporter without being a little niele, so eventually I had to open the door, which leads to a dark, booth-filled cocoon representing an older, more relaxed Hawaii, when going out was more about fun than being seen, leisure versus ambition and competition. The picturesque gallery of none-too-shy regulars will do their best to invite you into their fold; so what if you happen to walk into a birthday celebration? Just join the party! It seemed kind of ridiculous, given the amount of food I was ordering, that other patrons delivered even more party pupu to my table.

“;Brah, how much you tink I can eat?”;

But what makes Shinsho Tei worth writing about is the food. Ever humble, Galmiche said, “;I think we're kind of known for our food.”;

They offer just about every standard bar pupu, in nonfussy home-cooked style. The steak ($12), for instance, is served with ketchup after being simply grilled with garlic, salt and pepper. I enjoyed it as much as steak that costs four times as much. Fresh fish ($8), usually ahi, is prepared the same way, sans ketchup. Most pupu are served with shredded cabbage. Rice can be ordered on the side.

Shinsho Tei was opened in 1988 by one of Galmiche's aunts, who is from Japan. Today the pupu menu is filled with a mix of Japanese, Okinawan and good old-fashioned local dishes. Another old-school touch is Chinese mustard served with the sashimi. These days, it's rare to see Chinese mustard even in Cantonese restaurants, the condiment having long been supplanted by red chili sauce.

The most popular dishes are the pork chops ($12), poke ($12) and string beans ($9) fried with dried shrimp.

Ika vegetables ($9) wasn't my choice, but I do have to accommodate guests, and I was surprised by the lightness of the spicy sauce. The ika was chewy as expected, but the won bok in the stir-fry was amazing, fresh and crisp. At most restaurants it tends to come off the heat wilted.

No doubt I'll be back to sample dishes I missed, like fried chicken ($8), and for old times' sake I'll probably bring my boyfriend in for sardines and onions ($7). For our first date, he invited me to another old-school bar for sardines and onions, and my first thought was, “;That's weird,”; followed by, “;Wow, this guy doesn't feel compelled to impress me.”;

It's impressive when people are secure enough to be themselves, and that's the vibe at Shinsho Tei.


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



1613 Nuuanu Ave. (next to Hungry Lion) » 528-1007

Food ;*;*;*
Service ;*;*;*
Ambience ;*;*;*
Value ;*;*;*;1/2

Hours: 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily Cost: Pupu $7 to $12.50 per plate

Ratings compare similar restaurants: ;*;*;*;* - excellent ;*;*;* - very good ;*;* - average; ;* - below average.