The new menu from Top of Waikiki is laced with Hawaii Regional Cuisine elements and Asian flavors yet dishes that would be appealing to both kamaaina (Hawaii residents) and malihini (visitors) alike. Structurally there are many straight forward, “unadventurous” items like steak and mushrooms, roasted chicken with mashed potato, french onion soup, and strawberry shortcake. But there are also dishes that have unique components like Nori Vinaigrette with Yuzu-kosho, a calamansi and coconut creamsicle.
Top of Waikik invited Hawaii Beverage Guide to a menu tasting with Chef Lance Kosaka and based upon our experience we would recommend the following dishes for a dinner for two. You can read our commentary as to why we made the following choices:
Apps: Sizzling Steak and Ho Farms Tomato and Burrata Salad Mains: Kona Kampachi with Tomato Dashi and Roasted Chicken Dessert: Calamansi Creamsicle
BIG ISLAND GOAT CHEESE BRUSCHETTA Bruschetta with Hawaii Island Goat Dairy chevre,tomato jam, and Hale Ka’a micro greens
Notes Chef Lance noted “I really liked the combination of the tomato jam and the goat cheese. It's just very simple, but I think it highlights the goat cheese.” The tomato jam is then made by cooking the tomatoes with a little sugar, and vinegar along with the spices including cumin. According to Chef Lance, “It's not really spicy, but just a little bit. It's almost chutney-ish.” Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary Tomato Jam is aromatic with spice profile reminiscent to chutney but with a nice component
SIZZLING STEAK ON A ROCK 4oz. seared boneless short rib, Hamakua eryngi mushroom, and ginger relish served on a hot rock
Notes The concept for this dish comes from Top of Waikiki’s historical archive. Chef Lance noted, “This restaurant is now about 53 years old. A long time ago, they had this famous steak on a rock. It was like a piece of tenderloin on a rock with teriyaki sauce. The Mau Family [who owns Top of Waikiki] wanted to bring back a little nostalgia. This is just my version of it. It's just like an Asian version of steak and mushroom.” In this dish, the chuck tail flat short ribs were chosen because “it has a very nice meaty taste and we're able to cut it thin against the grain and cook it medium rare. It's also not as fatty as regular short rib.” The eryngi mushrooms were chosen for their “meaty texture and they aren’t watery so they can be seere ahead of service.” To complete the dish a little bit of shoyu, a little bit of onion, and a little bit of cilantro are added. Chef Lance added, “If people want it cooked more than they can just leave it on the stone. If you want it cooked less, eat it right away.”
Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary The usage of eryngi mushrooms were appreciated. Typically Hamakua Heritage Farms Alii mushrooms are found on a menu.
HO FARMS TOMATO & BURRATA SALAD HO Farms cherry tomato and fresh burrata salad with Maui onions, local watercress, nori vinaigrette, and house-made furikake focacci
Notes In this dish, many local farms are featured. One of the highlighted ingredients was Hale Ka'a Micro Greens. These are grown by one of Chef Lance’s friends. According to Chef Lance “I knew him for a long time because we worked together at Alan Wongs. He then moved to Seattle and then to Portland, Oregon. He grew [microgreens] for a lot of restaurants. He came back home and started growing it. I was telling him, you need a company name, and he said, Hale Ka'a I said, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘house of the car’.
Another highlighted ingredient is the nori vinaigrette. To make the vinaigrette, nori is cooked down and blended in with a little yuzu kosho for spice and citrus notes. Chef Lance noted its similar to a less sweet version of kombu tsukudani, which is kombu simmered in vinegar, shoyu, sake, mirin and sugar. He also explained, “Kombu is very thick and very hard. Nori is very thin, easily pliable and has a different taste. Kombu will give you a dashi, and you have that really meaty taste whereas nori is smokier.” To finish the dish, a “crouton” is made in-house frm focaccia with furikake on top for texture. Chef Lance added“ It's our way to put a different spin on something you wouldn't normally see.” Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary This dish has great complexity in flavor and a nice acid balance. The combination of tomato + yuzu kosho + nori + Goat Cheese + onion really hold well
FRENCH ONION SOUP with slowly caramelized onions in a house-made beef broth, Gruyere and Emmental cheese
Notes “Here, we noticed that a lot of people sometimes just want comfort food. I like French onion soup. For me, when I eat French onion soup, I like it rich and I like the cheese pulling away and things.What we do is we make our own beef stock, and then caramelize the onions for a couple of hours to get it really thick. Then we serve it with both Emmental and brie cheese on top. It's very, very classic.”
When asked about the rationale behind the two cheeses Chef Lance provided the following insight, “The gruyère is very strong, so I'll just cut a little bit with emmental but it still adds a nice, very nutty taste. I think they compliment each other and we can put a nice amount on it. I think [by itself] our gruyère was too strong for the amount of cheese I wanted on it. If we're going to do something so simple, we want to try and do it as best as we can so that we make our beef stock.Then we caramelize the onions for a couple of hours, so it's really like a paste almost. Very slow and low, and then we add it together and then we use the good cheeses. It's very simple, but I think it's a good product, good technique that's going to come out.We worked on it for a while. I think just it's very simple.” Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary This is classic comfort food. Unlike a pungent French Onion Soup with a lot of Gruyere, this version is a lot more mellow.
KONA KANPACHI WITH TOMATO DASHI Pan-roasted Kona Kanpachi with tomato dashi, soy watercress, and onion relish
Notes According to Chef Lance, “Sometimes, something might not sell or something might be hard to get after a while. We think, ‘What can substitute it? What will taste good with this. That dish came about because we were having a hard time getting onaga. We [then] decided to try Kona Kampachi. Kampachi's fatty so we tried steaming it Chinese style. Then we thought like, "We need some acid in it."
The acid component comes from the tomato dashi. The origin of this stems from when Chef Lance was a young cook. He explained: “One time, this guy Naoki made it when I was a younger cook. He just had some peeled tomatoes and this broth dashi with some karashi and I'm like, "What is that broth?" He goes like, "It's my tomato-ume-dashi thing." I ate it. I was like, "It's so good in its simplicity." With the dashi and the tomatoes and everything. It's like your memories of what you taste and you try to put it together with what you're trying to do.” This tomato dashi is made by stewing the tomatoes in dashi, then removing the tomatos and blending them into a puree. Added back into the dashi. Then the puree is mixed with some ume paste and some fresh shiso leaf and put that under the fish.
To finish the dish vegetables of watercress, onions, are seasoned with soy sauce shoyu, then “burnt” with the peanut oil. This stems from Chef Lance’s youth. He told us, “When I ate fish, when I was small, I used to love when my mom put the shoyu, watercress, onion, then “burn” it with peanut oil. That's what we put on top. I think that a little bit of fat from the peanut oil, and a little saltiness from the soy mixes really well with the fish. We just garnished it with some of the micro greens.”
Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary This dish MUST be eaten with a spoon to understand. That is because the tomato broth holds a bright acid component. The touch of ume adds umami while the flavors of the plum and shiso provide an aromatic element. These all compliment the fish.
ROASTED CHICKEN WITH CARAMELIZED ONION JUS Roasted half chicken with goat cheese mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and caramelized onion jus
Notes Chef Lance noted, “When I first came here we did [a chicken] with quinoa, mango, marcona almonds, olive oil, and arugula, but it didn't seem that it went well. People just seemed like they want a roasted chicken. We thought, ‘What can we do to just do a good chicken?’ [In this dish] We roast a half chicken, and serve it with mashed potatoes and goat cheese. The reason why we put the goat cheese in it is because this goat cheese is very mild, it's a little tangy. It reminds me of sour cream.” The sour cream nuance was further developed. Chef Lance added, “When we make it with the mash, it tastes like eating a baked potato with sour cream, and so we put chives and sour cream and onion. Then we thought we'd just put a nice simple roasted vegetables.” The jus is a reduced chicken stock combined with caramelized onions. This is so “that little sweet that goes with chicken and a little bit [of the] tanginess [from] the mash.”
Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary This dish was reminiscent of Thanksgiving.
Notes According to Zoey, “The Creamsicle is just the island version of a Creamsicle. It was supposed to be a light, refreshing dessert at the end. It's a calamansi mousse on the bottom with a coconut mousse on top. It's got a brown butter crumble, candied mac nuts, lilikoi sauce, berries. I recently went to a class, a [les vergers] boiron presentation by Michael Laiskonis. He was showing us all the different boiron purees that they have now. When I learned that they had a calamansi one, I really wanted to try incorporate it in our menu.”
Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary The pairing with coconut gelato was a smart choice, as it plays upon the pina colada concept. The inclusion of a cherry was appropriate, however we would have liked to see a real maraschino cherry used knowing that they are used in cocktails. This would have kept the original though but elevated it to match the style of cuisine.
PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE
Notes Kristen explained, “It's basically a pineapple upside-down cake with pineapple sauce, brown butter crumble and coconut gelato topped with the maraschino cherry. The cherry's kind of a sentimental value for me. Part of my childhood, my mom or grandmother would be making this very same dessert and they would always put cherry on top.”
Hawaii Beverage Guide Commentary The pairing with coconut gelato was a smart choice, as it plays upon the pina colada concept. The inclusion of a cherry was appropriate, however we would have liked to see a real maraschino cherry used knowing that they are used in cocktails. This would have kept the original though but elevated it to match the style of cuisine. The pineapple upside-down cake could also have used a aromatic component. As the riff was off a pina colada flavors, angostura bitters could have been used on the gelato and it could have been garnished with a lime for color and acid.
Notes Chef Lance explained, “Tina, the general manager, wanted a strawberry shortcake. She said, "I like strawberry shortcake, can you make something?" I did it, but growing up I didn't really eat strawberry shortcake. I didn't have the traditional with the biscuit and stuff. Growing up, my mom used to always get the Sara Lee pound cake. That's why we used a financier instead of a biscuit. If you're not familiar, a financier is like a brown butter almond cake because to me it reminds me of a super souped-up pound cake.”
The filling, was a riff on Chef Lance’s mother’s pound cake with strawberry preserves and the Cool Whip and ice cream. A little bit of balsamic is also added to the strawberries for enhanced sweetness.