Ka's menu offers simple solutions


POSTED: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In the past, clever restaurateurs who wanted to pull in the extra dollars that alcohol brings found club and event promoters to keep the party going long after the dinner crowds dissipated.

Ka Restaurant & Lounge appears to reverse the formula. It is done up in lounge style in black with red spherical lanterns and spare bar-style seating that screams lounge first, restaurant second.

I'm not sure that works for the typical diner who's wary of new restaurants in the first place and wants their business to be the No. 1 concern. That diner equates the restaurant experience with lightness and gaiety, and I'm pretty sure that peering into Ka's dark, cavernous interior will send them running toward the bright lights of the familiar Ryan's Bar & Grill, Ka's neighbor on the second floor of Ward Centre.

That's a shame because Ka's casual and tapas-style menu is worth a try. I was forewarned about the lounge ambience before heading out there, but I follow the food, and judging from the menu posted online, I decided it was worthy of a taste. I wasn't disappointed.

That said, seating will be an issue for older, set-in-their-way diners. There are tall bar tables and chairs, which for Hawaii's vast short-legged population, means climbing to sit. There are also leather lounges and low coffee tables, but the lounges, again, require cushions for the short-thighed to sit comfortably.






        Ward Center, second floor » 593-7885


Food ;*;*;*;1/2


Service ;*;*;1/2


Ambience ;*;*;1/2


Value ;*;*;*


Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays; dinner 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. daily


Cost: $20 to $30 for two for dinner without alcohol


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


Eating off coffee tables also means bending over to pick up bites to eat, rather than sitting up straight. The main appeal will be for 20- and 30-somethings dexterous enough to climb or fold themselves into the seating, and sophisticated enough to have an appreciation of fresh, rather than the usual heavily processed restaurant fare. Know anyone like that?

A handful of salads (Thai chicken, char-grilled steak, ahi) and sandwiches (crab melt, short-rib cheeseburger) fill the lunch menu.

In the evening the food reflects the reality that simplicity works best in the lounge format. You don't need any more proof of that than in the aftermath of ordering the kalbi cheeseburger ($13). No mere ground beef, the burger comprises a thick cut of tender short rib layered with kim chee. Drips and spills are inevitable and definitely unwanted if you're trying to impress someone of the opposite sex. Save this one for a pau hana get-together among friends.

At the front of the menu are skewer options because most people have just enough grace to hold a drink in one hand, a stick in the other, and alternate between taking a sip of one and bite of the other without mishap. The main offerings are of grilled chicken in BBQ, satay or negima (pesto topped) styles, at $3.50 per pair of same-flavored skewers. With each order, you can choose two out of eight sauces. The sesame yuzu worked well with the negima style. Other sauce choices include cocowasabi, tamarind hoisin, lemon garlic emulsion, salsa verde, Thai peanut, jalapeno miso and kajiwaki.

Other food on sticks include pastele sausage ($4), tender, lightly breaded short-rib kushi katsu ($5) and grilled steak ($5), but the one they seem to push is the bacon-wrapped mochi ($4). I didn't have to be pushed to order something so unique, though the odd thing wasn't the mochi or bacon — a richly decadent combination — but a melty layer of blue cheese that didn't seem to work with either ingredient. It was just there.

Tofu Dynamite ($7) also came highly recommended by our waiter, who said he tries to eat healthfully. The vegan sauce was similar to a light Thai curry, but had I envisioned a full-fat dynamite, so while this was good, it's better suited to a vegetarian or vegan than someone accustomed to a nonrestricted fatty, meaty diet.

Those on liquid diets who just need something to pick at will head straight for the generous trio of fries ($6), which likely change with the chefs' whims. When I was there, the fries, in divided containers, were respectively flavored with garlic, shiso and furikake.

Ka poke ($10) tossed with mild green peppers and rock salt is given the Tahitian twist of poisson cru, without the lime juice but served with a side of coconut cream, a little of which goes a long way.

Kalbi rib eye ($15) is rendered tender through the slow-cook sous vide process, finished with mild sake demi-glace, salsa verde and great cucumber kim chee.

While the food here would find a warm welcome in any large city, in Hawaii I'm afraid the lounge-as-tapas-restaurant idea isn't yet as relatable as the restaurant as lounge.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).