Talk of the town Restaurant

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Talk of the town Restaurant

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Oahu
Mar 03, 2011

I stood this morning at my sink filling my tea kettle with water when I noticed a small container of Dawn dishwashing liquid on the counter. My in-laws left it behind after their stay last week at a condo resort. The label said, "Dawn helps save wildlife."

I wondered exactly what that line meant: Dawn helps save wildlife. Did it mean the liquid dishwashing detergent itself helped wildlife? I knew that Dawn had been used to clean seabirds after disasterous oil spills. Or did the line mean that the company helped wildlife in some way, say with finanacial contributions or company sponsored volunteer events to clean up wildlife habitat or some other sort of corporate directive?

Town restaurant entrance in Kaimuki, Oahu, HawaiiA group of us dined the other night at a restaurant called town (note to grammarians: yes, lower case "t"). The restaurant sits atop a hill in Kaimuki, a vibrant, old neighborhood community that is tucked behind Diamond Head, just mauka of the H1 and east of Manoa.

Kaimuki (pronounced ky-moo-kee) is a little eclectic. Back in the 1800s, ostriches once roamed the mountainside. From ostrich farm to funeral flower farm, the area, then, started growing carnations. Kaimuki's first road--Waialae Avenue--was paved in 1925. And the man behind the voice of the best-selling Hawaiian music CD of all time--Israel Kamakawiwoole--was raised in Kaimuki. The town's name itself translates to "ti root oven" and local stories share that the legendary menehune built ti ovens throughout the area; hence, the proper Hawaiian pronunciation--ka-imu-ki.

But I didn't know any of that when we sat down to dinner at town. All I knew was that a few Twitter friends (@alohasks, @nathankam, @melissa808, @musubman, @mediastealth) had recommended the place when I tweeted: Any recs for restaurant for company dinner--10 ppl, sustainable, veggie-friendly. @ItsMeLea went so far as to recommend the fresh pasta, saying it's "DELISH."

After selecting wine--no small task considering the three-page wine list--and discussing the latest smartphone apps that allow you to scan barcodes and read a review of the wine, we got down to the business of ordering dinner.

At the top of the menu, this quote from Wendall Berry: A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consiousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.

At the bottom of the menu, book-ending the offerings, this line: Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always.

Under salads, my eyes settled on this choice: MA'O organic lettuces, pancetta, manchego, cherry tomatoes, walnuts ($8.50).

A few weeks ago, the Kauai local newspaper ran an article about four restaurants claiming to use a local dairy's goat cheese in their dishes when, in fact, they were not.

I asked our server, "Are your greens supplied by MA'O Organic Farms?”

"Yes," she said, nodding her head. Her name was Randi.

But I ordered a different salad--one with baby arugula, beets, fennel, orange, chickpeas and ricotta ($8.50); because I don't like the pancetta served in the other one.

For my entree, I ordered the gnocchi served in a small kine farms mushroom ragu ($16), because 1) @ItsMeLea recommended the pasta; and 2) I am a sucker for mushroom ragu.

My co-workers ordered the a'u ku (broadbill swordfish, a.k.a. shutome, $23), pan roasted chicken ($24), seared ahi ($23.50) and veggie entrees.

We moved from Spain to France in the wine department. We talked and chatted and feted the (almost) completion of a new website project. The restaurant sent over a couple orders of bread with butter and olives. And without even noticing, the place filled up. On a Monday. Some guests even waited at the door for a table.

A full restaurant. A line at the door. I've always thought those two characteristics to be a good judge of a restaurant. These days, though, you can do your research long before you actually step through the restaurant's door.

One way is social media--tweeting your followers. Another is Yelp. To be honest, the reviews for town are all over the place on this social media website, from two to five for this eatery open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

town is owned by Ed Kenney. The "chef de cuisine" is Dave Caldiero. And the general manager is Ian Bishop. The vibe is trendy—with its stainless tabletops—but casual, and the message is sustainable—with its recycled paper coasters. The menu changes daily, depending on what's in season. And, as the quote at the bottom of the menu says, the emphasis is on locally-sourced goods.

That's why, before writing this review, I called MA'O Organic Farms. I wanted to know if, indeed, the restaurant procured their greens from the local grower.

I left a voice-mail message with the farm. I fired off an email. Within minutes, I received an email back, saying the farm operations manager, Gary Maunakea-Forth, would be getting in touch with me and, indeed, within the hour, he called. I found myself wanting the answer to be an emphatic yes.

Our party of nine spent nearly four hours at town—all at our own choosing. We were there for the evening, to celebrate and socialize. We weren’t in a rush, and never once did the restaurant or our server, Randi, make us feel we had to hurry up and vacate our table to make way for other guests. And neither did we go long with an empty water—or wine—glass. It was—for the place and the party—a good match.

I won’t pretend to be some gnocchi expert. And I certainly do not consider myself a foodie. The truth is my husband does the cooking in our household, and I would much rather go whale watching than make a meal. I’ve always said, “I eat to live; I do not live to eat.” So, I won’t hold back or get all foodie-smug or try to sift out a reason for my reaction. But this gnocchi? This gnocchi with a small kine farms mushroom ragu? It was the best gnocchi I’d ever eaten, melt in your mouth delicious. I would plan a trip to Oahu just to eat this gnocchi in a small kine mushroom ragu. I might even take a cooking class to learn how to make this gnocchi in a small kine farms mushroom ragu.

Sometimes the key to a good restaurant experience is knowing what to order, and at town, you know my recommendation.

So, when Gary said, yes. Yes, town was a good customer of MA’O Organic Farms. Had been ordering from them for years. That MA’O made thrice weekly deliveries to the restaurant. I sighed. I smiled. I was happy.

And, then, I went to www.dawnsaveswildlife.com.  And whadya know? Not only is the dishwashing liquid the go-to solution for cleaning oiled wildlife—which was like a PR gift laid in the lap of the company—but the company donated $500,000 to two wildlife organizations—the International Bird Rescue Research Center and the Marine Mammal Center. Woot for socially responsible businesses—both small and large.

Responses:

AlohaMan | Jul 17, 2011 10:00 AM

I don't know how this restaurant gets good reviews. IT’S TERRIBLE! I am a Kaimuki resident and we have dozens of restaurants that top this place! If you read a good review of this place check the posting date, most likely it is years old. In 2006 I had a pleasurable experience with Town Restaurant but its day is over. Took a friend for dinner 7/16/2011 and wish I hadn't. The decor, what there is of it, is old and tired. We had an 8 pm reservation and stood at the hostess stand until 8:15 starring at our empty table. After being seated ordered drinks, Waiter was pleasant. About 10 minutes later waiter came back and took our food order. Both of us ordered MA’O organic salad and Ono with fresh vegetables. Salad came before drinks. Drinks came finally and were Martini served in a Daiquiri glass? And wine that wasn't even 1/4 of the small wine glass @ $12 a shot and a shot was about all it was. The Ono had no taste and looked like the frozen pieces you buy from Costco. The vegetables were also of frozen variety and looked and tasted like it. They were not "Local Fresh" as they contained varieties that don't grow here in Hawaii. Overall for $120.00 spent on dinner I could have done better in a microwave, which I don't use. Go somewhere else; Town has seen its day! The whole experience isn’t even worth one star.

Annie | Jul 21, 2011 12:13 PM

Aloha and thank you for this posting! As a huge fan of Ed Kenney, town, & their gnocchi (my fave was served with brown-buttered parsnips) and a big supporter of locally grown produce, I was thrilled to see your care and concern of the small farmers! Ma‘O is indeed a treasure to our island, as is Small Kine Mushrooms. Small Kine is a new grower so you likely tasted his first or second crop, grown out in Waimanalo using his organic substrate that he took two loving years to develop! As for Chef Ed... he is the dawn of our Food Evolution. His tireless support of our farmers is commendable. (And now I am jonesing for that fabulous roasted chicken!)

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