Redefining Local Food
For those of you who rarely make it past the first few paragraphs, know this: I am about to write a rave review about a place you probably haven’t been to yet. I can actually say, that after one meal, I’ve been inspired. Not as in–I want to open my own restaurant–but rather–I want to open my mind to the idea of changing the way I eat, entirely.
(Not bad for 20 bucks.)
Behind Closed Doors
Open the front door to 4Kings Kitchen (located in Moiliili, next to Kokua Market and across from Puck’s Alley), and what you’ll find is a restaurant that offers promise. Although this austere eatery may not have overrated or underwhelming fine-dining frills, it does have the faint whiff of ambition and the culinary chops to back it up.
The restaurant’s quaint table space is cozy without being cramped. It’s tidy and vibrant, minimally decorated and showcases a dedicated chef in his shiny new kitchen.
You place your order at the counter, choosing from a menu chock full of local food items (with a twist) and gourmet condiments like house-made mango ketchup, Lehua honey mustard and roasted garlic vinaigrettes. Service is quick and polite; employees seem to actually like their jobs; and the special of the day is nothing less than–special.
One look at a table full of hungry customers, whose plates looked like colorful shapes inside an optical toy, and I begin to think about food beyond its natural aesthetics, beyond nutrition and beyond what it means to eat a “balanced” meal.
On the Menu
Take for example, their “4King Fish Tacos,” a mixture of fresh island fish that’s sautéed (not fried) and served on white corn tortillas with lettuce, tomato and smoked tomato salsa. These mini tacos arrive at the table like a fragrant burst of color and the “MAO Farms Sassy Mix Salad” complements the dish perfectly. An added bonus is the salad’s Hawaiian Ogo vinaigrette, which looks like soda water and pepper flakes but tastes like a tangy, zesty, airy dressing and makes you think–this is how dressing is supposed to taste.
“Hawaii Born, Hawaii Bred: We Support Local First”–that’s what you’ll read before you step inside the door, and according to the menu, these guys practice what they preach. A plate with two thick slices of Big Island meatloaf from Kulana Farms arrives next, served with house-made brown gravy. It’s light instead of dense, perfectly seasoned, sprinkled with bits of mushrooms, and the chef adds just enough, which is to say, it’s smothering everything on the plate. Brown rice, a choice of mix salad and house-made kimchee join the perfectly balanced, perfectly proportioned plate, and this critic, couldn’t be happier.
Other entrees include local-style beef luau stew that is slow simmered for a day before it’s served. Chef Kapo’s Mochiko Chicken (the chef’s favorite, taking him years to perfect) seems to be a favorite on [Yelp.com] and others in the diner. The “Not Your Normal Loco”–a house-made fish burger made with fresh Mahi Mahi and served with shitake mushroom gravy and two eggs–comes in second. Red wine-braised pork chops, a grassfed meatloaf sandwich that’s served on a warm sweet roll are a few more of the 20 items they offer. Daily fresh fish specials and a thoughtful keiki menu (including fish sliders and orange slices) make this place one of the most interesting local food restaurants around.
Behind the Chef
I have to admit, I know absolutely nothing about Chef Kapolanialaimaka Kealoha, other than the fact that he’s created a plate lunch sanctuary that I plan to frequent. Chef Kapo is apparently a pretty big deal, who indulges his support for local agriculture and advocates local produce in his food. He brilliantly showcases the bounty and diversity of what Hawaii has to offer, but the truth is, all I really care about is what he has inspired me to do: And that is, to consider new ways of thinking about food in order to eventually change the way I define and evaluate local food.
It’s not everyday that a restaurant like this opens around the corner. In fact, it’s pretty darn rare, but 4Kings Kitchen feels how a neighborhood spot should feel. The service is exceptional, the chef is a visionary and the food is inspiring.