Kanpai boasts wallet-friendly fare


POSTED: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I've gotta stop eating this way. Outside, it feels like the most humid Hawaii summer I've ever experienced, and I long for corresponding light salads and pupu from our restaurants. But what happened to the idea of seasonal dining?

I know, I know, I keep bringing up the economy, but you'd have to have your head buried in the sand to think there's no correlation between what's on the table and what's happened to risk taking.

Chasing restaurants has come to mean heading out to the latest bar and grill, from Tsunami to Tropics to Buffalo Wild Wings. During times like these, no one wants to take a chance on the new and different, and, as one reader e-mailed, “;Been doing pub food because it is cheap.”;

Steak, chicken wings, burgers and beer won't tax our weary imaginations and remain perpetually popular. Restaurateurs also know where the money's at, and it's not with those nearing retirement, who have seen their nest eggs halved, but with the young and ravenous who can't bear the thought of spending a second alone, virtually or IRL. It's in real life that they need a place to gather, and when hungry, a bar and grill offers comfy, filling, familiar fare and drink without any demands on time, dress or etiquette. Nice.

Of course the setting is very familiar, in the old Dixie Grill spot on Ward Avenue. TV screens and jerseys have been added for sports fans, but otherwise, not much of the decor has changed.

I'VE HEARD a lot of raves about Kanpai in recent months and especially good word about its food. Fair enough. I just have one caveat for you: It's good as long as you avoid the salt-and-pepper shrimp ($17). Oh, it looked promising when it arrived, a huge platterful of the deep-fried crustaceans. But the crust over the shell-on shrimp was more doughy and bready than crunchy crispy, and overloaded with salt, sugar and spices. I could only think that those who recommended it were drinking heavily—you have to with this dish—and their judgment was impaired. If you want salt-and-pepper shrimp, stick to Chinese restaurants, where the price is right as well.





        404 Ward Ave. » 593-9202

Food: ;*;*;*


Service: ;*;*1/2


Ambience: ;*;*1/2


Value: ;*;*;*


Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily Cost: About $30 for two without drinks


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


Kanpai chicken wings ($8) gets similar treatment, along with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, but carries it off better. The coating actually works to keep the meat moist and chicken also tolerates a greater concentration of spices than shrimp.

My waistline may not approve, but I have to admit to great happiness when face-to-face with a plate of pork chops ($14) dusted with flour, salt and pepper, then fried. Yum.

Same goes for the kalbi fried noodles ($10). I wondered if this meant that the kalbi was represented by minute pieces strewn through the bouncy noodles. But no, an entree-size portion of the teriyaki shortribs sat atop noodles stir-fried with big pieces of onion, chopped green onions and big slices of char siu as well.

On the lighter side, there is chilled tofu ($4), edamame ($6) and a house salad of 'Nalo greens ($8). But there's no doubt steak is the other mainstay, and you have three styles to choose from. I chose the works, wafu style ($16 for 12 ounces, $22 for 16 ounces), topped with daikon oroshi, garlic chips and ponzu sauce, and finished with chunky mushroom halves and onions in kabayuki, or unagi, sauce. Those who like kim chee as well will find their passions combined in a dish of ribeye (same price as wafu) topped with the pickled cabbage and two fried eggs.

True to the meaning of kanpai, apparently, there's no need for the party to stop, as long as there's affordable and abundant fuel.


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