Haleiwa Eats, Kahala Culinary Academy / For a long time Hale’iwa has been a burger-and-burrito town. Or if you want to spend the bucks you can get surf and turf grill food. But things are slowly changing and the restaurant that’s spearheaded the new alternatives is 2-year-old Haleiwa Eats. Though you wouldn’t know by the name, it’s an airy Thai cafÃƒË† that spices up the town’s eating options.
Three years ago, New York transplants Kenny and Peggy Usamanont wanted to make a change. He was a graphic designer and she was in management sales. The couple had long vacationed on the North Shore with friends and it’s the place they chose for their great escape from their 40-hour-a-week jobs in uberurban Manhattan.
‘We have no restaurant experience,’ laughs Peggy, who credits her mother-in-law, Bangkok-born restaurant veteran Rajanee Posayacupa, with creating the menu and operating system. For 20 years, Posayacupa helped friends open restaurants in New York, and now she has done one on the North Shore.
The space, formerly the plate lunch spot Beach Grill, is like a chic cafeteria, with a white tile floor, generously spaced tables, a giant hanging silkscreen of a pink lotus and a Thai angel statue that the couple found in a Waikiki antiques shop.
The menu is based on Posayacupa’s recipes, but Kenny is taking over cooking duties. He prepares his mother’s versions of Thai staples and some dishes not often seen in Honolulu restaurants. Everything is cooked to order, and sometimes to keep things fresh Kenny has to use substitutes, which explains why one night the green chicken curry was made with zucchini–eggplant wasn’t delivered to the North Shore that day. Peggy explains that they would like to offer more than the wide rice noodles used in pad Thai, but no one delivers other types to Hale’iwa.
Ginger salad is a refreshing, textural treat of peanuts, diced red onion, cilantro and plenty of the tongue-tingling root, the sauce with the tender chicken satay is deeply peanutty and the garlicky sautÃƒË†ed shrimp are plentiful. Posayacupa’s big leg of duck is an all-day affair–she marinates the meat, boils it, then fries it so the bird arrives delectably crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. You can get it with a number of sauces, and the tamarind is a tart-and-sweet option. And you can request your dishes be mild, medium or spicy.
The pretty, reed-thin servers can sometimes be a little inattentive and make you feel like they’re doing you a favor, but that’s the norm on the North Shore. It’s just nice to be able to get some decent panang curry in a place where a shave-ice stand and burger joint are landmarks.
66-079 Kamehameha Hwy, Haleiwa (637-4247)
Hours: Mon-Fri noon-9pm; Sat, Sun noon-9:30pm
Recommended dishes: ginger salad, tamarind duck, garlic shrimp, breaded fish
Payment: AmEx, MC, V
Launched in January, the Kahala Mandarin Oriental’s Kahala Culinary Academy is already attracting heavy hitters. Each year, the academy holds three sessions of classes, and 2005’s third trimester includes celeb chef Kerry Simon–of Las Vegas’s Simon Kitchen and Bar fame–as a visiting instructor.
‘The concept is to create a culinary academy and ultimately have a permanent facility,’ says Carlos Salazar, the hotel’s director of Food & Beverage. The academy was to hone skills of the Kahala Mandarin’s 65 to 75 cooking staff, as well as to educate motivated home cooks. Executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi and executive sous chef Milan Drager are the head instructors.
The addition of big names such as Simon and–later in the session–Todd English, is the result of the hotel teaming up with Fiji water, which is served in all of the properties restaurants. For the past couple of years Fiji has hired culinary super novas such as Nobu Matsuhisa and Charlie Trotter as spokespeople and collaborators. ‘Our agreement is to bring their chefs here on a rotating basis,’ says Salazar. And what a boon for homegrown kitchen staff to learn tips from the top.
The Saturday classes in the eight-session term are open to aspiring cooks of all levels, and are divided into demo classes, hands-on classes and ‘celebrity chef series.’
Subjects range from Northern Italian cooking to how to prepare ono. Simon leads a demo class on Oct. 15.
You just like to eat? On Oct. 14, the hotel will transform Hoku’s into Simon’s Kitchen, where you can indulge in a five-course meal cooked by the rock star of contemporary American cuisine. –L.G.
Times: Saturdays, 11am-2pm, through 10/29. Schedule: 9/17 Hands on, Northern Italian cuisine, $115; 9/24 Demo Vive la France Tribute to Escoffier, $65; 10/1 Hands on, knife skills, $115; 10/8 sold out; 10/15 Demo, Kerry Simon, $150; 10/22 Demo, shellfish preparation, $65; Hands on, Secrets to Preparing ‘Ono’ Island Fish, $115. To register, call 739-8780.