Hawaii Eats: Nami Kaze and the Surreptitious Green Lady Cocktail Room, Oahu
Honolulu, Oahu, HI — You know you’re in a cool spot when you spy a celebrity dining inconspicuously.
At least I’m pretty sure I spotted actress Lori Tan Chinn, who plays the scene-stealing cranky and crotchety grandma on “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens,” in a corner booth at Nami Kaze when I dined there recently with friends.
A 2023 James Beard semi-finalist for “Best New Restaurant,” the small plates or okazuya-style establishment is helmed by Chef-Owner Jason Peel, former executive chef of Roy’s Waikiki and culinary instructor at Kapiolani Community College.
Nami Kaze, which is Japanese for “wave” and “wind,” sits on the pier at Honolulu Harbor, where fishing boats pull up with their fresh catch daily.
This is the perfect place to gather with a small group, so you can sample many different dishes, all of which spotlight fresh ingredients, whose farms are listed prominently on the menu.
Speaking of which, access the menu with the QR code on the table and you can order each dish with a tap of your phone, making service especially easy and expedient.
A must-order is the ulu or breadfruit from the Big Island’s Ulu Co-Op. Done patatas bravas style ($9), these are simply amazing. Instead of potatoes in this classic Spanish tapas dish, starchy chunks of breadfruit get cooked confit then fried to a crisp. They arrive hot, crisp on the outside, and nearly molten custardy within. Drag one through artfully arranged blogs of sweet sticky sauce and Sweet Land Farm Tomme for the perfect bite that will have you reaching for another and another.
The “Lettuce of the Day” ($10) from Mari’s Garden on Oahu is far more enticing than it sounds. Chilled pristine greens are dressed with onion crema, pepper vinaigrette, and shards of chili tapioca crackers for a salad that is far from ordinary with a dressing akin to a revved up ranch.
Ahi tartare ($20) gets added pizazz with dabs of creamy egg yolk jam, Thai chili, onion oil, sea asparagus, and salty-tangy ume gel, which all complement the fish with acid, salt, fruitiness and creaminess.
Enjoy tomatoes two ways — one hot and one cold. The hot version spotlights Oahu’s Hauula Farms sun-dried tomatoes, concentrated in flavor, with creamy, tangy labneh, Za’atar oil, and basil. It’s served with a house-made roll that’s like a baked char siu bao without the filling.
The cold version features tomatoes from Mari’s Garden that have been cold-smoked and arranged in a bowl with soft tofu cubes, hijiki seaweed, and a touch of perky shiso rice seasoning. A small container of smoked ponzu comes with to drizzle on for a jolt of extra smokiness. Light in eating yet weighty in smoky savoriness, this is the type of dish you crave on every hot summer night.
Kampachi from the Big Island ($30) is roasted perfectly, rendering its skin crisp and its flesh moist. It’s finished with a hit of umami from bone broth, as well as X.O. sauce that gets its heft from mushrooms rather than the usual dried scallops, a boon for anyone with shellfish allergies.
Roasted musubi ($4.50) is plain and simple — a rice ball griddled until crisp, then served atop nori.
The kitchen brought out on the house a dish of braised pork shank that wasn’t even on the menu. This is what happens when you happen to be dining with two people who work in the restaurant industry in Waikiki. Fall-off-the-bone tender and succulent, the pork was dressed with fresh herbs and shards of raw radish.
Save room for dessert especially the brownie drizzled with gochujang caramel. It’s deeply chocolate-y, with the subtle sweet heat of the Korean pepper paste joining it at the very finish.
There’s also a lemon meringue semifreddo ($6) served in a cute glass jar. Like deconstructed pie, there’s refreshing frozen lemon curd, the cloud of meringue, and shards of crisp pie crust on top.
Nami Kaze is super popular, so don’t be surprised you if your server comes by at the end to remind you that each party is allotted 2 hours at their table. If you want to linger elsewhere, head to this secret speakeasy on Waikiki…shh…
The Green Lady Cocktail Room, Oahu
If you know where to look, there are about half a dozen speakeasys on Oahu. The newest, which just opened this month, is The Green Lady Cocktail Room.
It’s located on the grounds of the White Sands Hotel, which already sports the fun HeyDay poolside bar and lounge complete with playful swings to sit on as you imbibe.
The Green Lady Cocktail Room is located in what was once the manager’s unit of the re-imagined motel. To find it, walk up to the front desk, and utter the secret code: Psst, simply tell them you’re looking for Room 8.
You’ll be escorted to what appears to be a wall of bamboo, only it hides a clandestine door. Enter into the dimly-lighted room with its air of mystery and moodiness to take a seat at the bar, a small table or even outdoors.
The speakeasy’s name refers to the Green Lady of Wahiawa in Hawaiian mythology, who is said to haunt the Wahiawa Botanical Garden area, where one of her children supposedly went missing.
The cocktail program was created by Justin Whiting, Heyday’s food and beverage director, and Kyle Reutner, general manager of Kohana Hawaiian Agricole Rum.
At some point, the bar may offer some bar snacks, but right now, there’s nothing to really nibble alongside these potent cocktails.
So, just sip and linger as you slowly enjoy the likes of “Room +65” ($15) with icy straight-from-the-freezer St. George Botanivore Gin, Lo-Fi Dry Vermouth, with a dash of orange bitters. It is served with a garnish of Picholine olives that might very well count as your late-night snack.
Or if you like things on the puckery side, there’s the “Three Times A Lady” ($15), with Citadelle Gin, coconut, yuzu and calamansi, all shaken and poured into an elegant coupe.
It’s the perfect place to unwind — and a novel experience to brag about upon your return to the mainland.
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