I’d love to be one of those ladies who lunch. You know. Those ladies. The ones who dine at Neiman’s Mariposa or Pineapple Room all the time because they never have to work. In fact they eat there sooo much that Mariposa’s popovers with lilikoi butter are no longer a treat but an expectation. They are spoiled with food yet thin as sticks because they dine to look and not to eat. But the ladies who lunch at Onjin’s are of a different breed. I’ve written about Ojin’s in the past, but there’s much more on the menu that needs to be done justice. You see, the people, or at least the ladies, who lunch here, come to eat. In this well lit and owner run restaurant in Ward, they don’t come to impress people or don their Diors, but come with the anticipation of finely executed food at a fraction of what you’d be charge at Mariposa or Pineapple Room. Of course there are sacrifices such as ordering at the counter and paper napkins, but once you get a taste of…oh perhaps an Ahi Don or their Misoyaki Salmon (all for less than $10), you’ll realize that you’ve hit one of Oahu’s “nice” lunchtime jackpots. I recently came with my mom’s clients for lunch (the awesome ones who brought us croissants from Boulangerie and we dined on half a dozen dishes, nearly all wiped clean. (The bread pudding plate was especially clean). In fact the bread pudding was so good that I think we should start with that first.
Flavor changes daily but quality is consistent through and through. Today was blend of two classic flavors, chocolate and coconut. More bread than pudding, it was nonetheless a moist creature with bold flavors, melting shards of chocolate and the slight crunch of coconut flakes. However the pudding found fierce competition with the softly whipped cream, which can be better noted as the lightest cream that retained a body so sumptuously rich and silky. A touch of sweet with a mysterious tang, a bowl of this cream with strawberries would be a very fine dessert. My favorite bread pudding faithfully rests at Kakaako Kitchen, but this is a mighty second!
Moving backwards, because in my mind, all meals should begin with dessert, I had the Crispy Snapper ($8.25). I never fail to order this for some reason even though I always tell myself I need to get something new instead of ordering the snapper and then picking off everyone else’s plate (after finishing my own, of course). But it’s so good, it’s terribly hard to move on. A simple filet drizzled with lemon caper sauce. Brown rice on the side along with caesar salad, white beans and broccoli with just a bare brushing of light tangy vinaigrette. Simple, clean and absolutely gorgeous.
My mom had the special which was the Roast Leg of Lamb ($8.95). All entrees come with the same sides that change on a daily basis, so the “meat” was the only different between our dishes. The lamb was marinated in rosemary and thyme, of which both the herb flavors clearly shined through but never dominated the tender, and truly succulent pieces of lamb. Lamb and brown rice never went to well together!
I thought the Korean Style Ahi Don ($9.75) was the most attractive of the dishes. A gorgeous bowl filled deep with a fresh mix of island Nalo Greens, generous slices of sashimi and a spill of deep red fish eggs. A pour of the Kochoojang dressing brought an unusual, yet well twist our usual ways of eating sashimi. A bowl of their brown rice (the main reason my mom comes here!) came on the side, steaming hot, softly cooked and studded with red beans and chickpeas. It’s such a “pretty” dish that you really feel like you’re destroying it one you mix it all up, but please go ahead and do, but the taste value far exceeds the aesthetics, if you dare believe.
The Linguine with Wild Mushrooms and Chicken in a Creamy Marsala Wine Sauce ($10.50). I had this on a past visit and what impressed me most was that despite the rich velvetiness to the sauce, it was not a touch too heavy. A fair variety of sautéed mushrooms and quite moist slices of chicken cooked just so, I only wish more places in Hawaii could served pasta this well.
Grilled Chicken Thighs ($7.50) was the call for our friend’s daughter (who at the tender age of 5 really knows her food!) Boneless chicken marinated in the black bean sauce familiar to many Chinese dishes, the grilled till you got some good bits of “char” to them. It was smoky and slightly sweet with that magic that black bean sauce never fails to deliver. So while you are encouraged to dine at Mariposa (you know I’m in love with popovers and lilikoi butter) and Pineapple, take some time off for those smaller, one man (or woman) own restaurants. Restaurants owned by the people who work there, work the register, work the kitchen and are rewarded with your smiles and compliments as you walk out the door. And just like that, Onjin’s proves that one of the finest lunches in Hawaii can be best found tucked away on the ground floor of an office building. We live in paradise, after all.
401 Kamakee Street
Honolulu, HI 96814