The Wong way is the right way for Hawaiian food


SAN FRANCISCO — Myself and about 49 other fortunate souls had a delicious time Friday night, learning to eat Hawaiian style here in San Francisco.

It was called the “Taste Hawai’i Tour,” mainly featuring the creative talents of Alan Wong. In case you missed it Wong is perhaps the most famous of the high-profile celebrity chefs who have been performing culinary miracles for the cognoscenti in the Aloha State over the past few years.

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This was the first of six similar events in San Francisco celebrating Hawaiian food and farms as well as inovative Hawaiian gourmet cooking. It also featured a brief explanation by Arnold Hiura, a Hawaiian food historian, plus some members of the Hawaiian farming community who believe that diversified agriculture and sophisticated tastes have grown far beyond former island staples such as pineapple, sticky rice, and Spam. According to the sponsors, Hawaii with its long subtropical growing season is destined to become known for specialized food production tomorrow as it is for sea-sand-and-surf today.

Not that the traditional pineapple is to be sneezed at. As a matter of fact, the evening began with a “welcome cocktail” of pineapple martini, composed of nothing more complex than vodka with chunks of the most delicious type of Hawaiian pineapple dropped in each glass.

From there the meal moved on to tastings of things like chevre and feta cheeses with lavosh, a chopped ahi tuna sashimi with avocado salsa, lilikoi (Hawaiian yellow passion fruit) with pickled jalapeño and purple sweet potato, Hawaiian tomato soup with grilled Kalua Pig and mozzarella cheese, ginger-crusted onaga (Pacific Long-tail red snapper), Kauai shrimp, and baby Big Island abalone.

Then there was Maui-grown rib eye beef with “white ketchup,” char siu lamb chops with a five-spice Greek yogurt, twice-cooked “kalbi” short ribs with Korean ko choo jang sauce, kalua pig and steamed clams with shrimp and lobster, “spong” sticks with Thai sriracha aioli and pickled vegetables, and good ol’ skewered chicken yakitori.

All that was before desert. And much of what followed were chocolate specialties made from Hawaiian grown cocoa beans. Like some other things, they apparently came to Hawaii sometime during the three years since I moved away from the Islands. (I’ll be back in January, however, to check out some of this stuff in person.)

The makings for the meal were brought to San Francisco direct from the Islands. I admit that I may have forgotten or misspelled some of the above. It was all served outdoors on a dark upper terrace at the SOMA residential hotel on Mission Street. Hawaiian temperatures were approximated by portable heaters placed near the tables.

Many of the dishes were made from recipes in Wong’s new book, the Blue Tomato, a copy of which I came away with at the end of the evening. I imagine after I crack that book, I’ll find out why it is entitled that. Hawaii has some of the best-tasting tomatoes around, but I don’t recall them as being blue. Purple potatoes they’ve got, but I think all the tomatoes are still red.

Robert W. Bone writes for and the author of the Maverick Guide to Hawaii.