af&co. Eats – Marcelle Escapes to Hawaii at aina
This past June, I made my way out to the Dog Patch neighborhood (yes, it’s far!) to try out Hawaiian eatery, aina. I’ve always heard great things about aina’s brunch and more recently their dinner tasting menu. We did not end up trying either brunch nor the tasting menu this time around, but instead we tasted a little bit of everything for our first dinner there.
The restaurant itself is very simple and tasteful. While there isn’t much to the interiors, the space definitely has a “homey” quality to it. It’s on the smaller side compared to many restaurants I frequent, clad with sleek wooden tables and chairs. There is a counter at the back, which you may assume to be the bar at first glance, but is actually the “Chef’s Counter.” This counter is where the Chef(s) provide an experience for guests who reserve the tasting menu. I recommend reserving with a good amount of notice beforehand.
We started our dinner with a glass of cabernet sauvignon, which ended up pairing well with the dishes to follow. Looking at the menu, there were only two vegetarian dishes: the broccoli and the street corn. Good thing we were in the mood for meat, meat, and more meat. Seafood too!
Our meal began with the Poke made with limu, Hawaiian heart of palm, inamona and bubu arare. Maybe it was just me, but I was rather confused when I saw the names of what was to accompany the poke. All I know, is that it tasted amazing. Light, fluffy, fresh and balanced. Definitely get it. Next up was the Charred Octopus Luau – my favorite dish of the night and I’m not even someone who typically opts for octopus dishes. It came with kalo cream, roasted almonds, heirloom potatoes and coconut gel. I loved the coconut touch. After that was the Kiawe Smoked Char Siu Ribs with fermented red cabbage, puffed rice and cilantro. This had to have been my second favorite of the evening. The smokiness of the ribs was to die for! And yes, they did fall of the bone. Scrumptious. The Saimin (squid ink noodles) followed the ribs and I must admit, this was the only dish that I didn’t like. It came with lap cheong shrimp, baby bok choy, shaved bottarga, ikura and a shoyu tea egg. The only thing I did enjoy about the dish was the creamy egg. I’d say skip it unless you’re someone who really loves squid ink. To me, it’s just a bit too “fishy”. Our last savory dish was the Portuguese Butter Bean Cassoulet with a Portuguese sausage, iacopi butter beans, edamame cream and pistachio brown butter panko. This was another incredible item. Loved the combination of rich sausage with light butter beans and creamy topping. Now, time for dessert. You must, must, must, save room for dessert. Their pastry chef is an angel on earth! She creates two desserts with each menu change, both absolutely lovely. We got the tart topped with coconut custard and summer berries. Very strong coconut flavors, which I love, plus a lot of awesome textures mixing together. I don’t know what it was about this dessert, but it truly tasted like heaven.
Overall, the experience was great. I’m sure I’ll be back to sample my way through aina’s brunch and/or tasting menu at some point in the future. I recommend it for anyone who is looking for creative Hawaiian dishes with a twist – just remember not to bring your vegetarian friends to dinner as they may not leave satisfied!