Last year, when Ed Kenney was getting ready to debut Mud Hen Water to a very eager public, I sent him an email asking for a chance at a sneak peek — which he politely declined.
“New restaurants in Honolulu tend to open to hoards of early-adopters prior to having a chance to work out the hiccups,” he wrote to me at the time.
I’ve kept that in the back of my mind since then because, dammit, he’s right. So quick are we to rush to be the first to eat at a new place, the first to post about it on social media, the first to recommend it to other people.
But you know what else happens? You’re also the first to realize that waiters are still familiarizing themselves with the menu. You’re the first to get a taste of something that has yet to be refined and perfected. You’re the first to (sometimes) experience disappointment that might have been staved off had you just been patient.
It’s why I don’t often write about new places in Gastronome anymore. But, I’m breaking all those rules — I just couldn’t help myself. Mahina & Sun’s has only been open for a little more than a month, but I thought it’d make for the perfect tie-in for this week’s feature story on The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, where the restaurant is located.
Kenney and the staff at Mahina & Sun’s may still be tweaking things in the kitchen, but I never would have guessed. My Monchong that evening, for example — served with ‘ulu, green beans, cherry tomatoes and chervil — was lightly seasoned and tender with every bite. The flavors were simple and clean, and had a pleasant kind of enveloping warmth that made me savor each bite.
The Kuahiwi Ranch Burger, too — ordered based on the belief that a restaurant may fairly be judged on its burger — didn’t disappoint. Tender and flavorful, especially with the addition of Swiss cheese and bacon, it was served with a heaping portion of greens and fries. Oh, and a pickled okra, too, in what I think is the restaurant’s local substitution for a regular pickle — a detail that didn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.
The libations were just as fun (and strong), and honestly the entire experience has me already making plans to return. (There’s a family-style meal I have my eyes on that comes complete with an entire snapper and sides.)
I really wasn’t sure what to expect. There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the opening of the Surfjack. It didn’t make sense to me at first: a hotel on a random little side street with absolutely no views of the ocean. But I think I get it now.
The hotel itself is smaller than what I expected, but quaint. There’s a retro feel about the design of the entire first floor that melds seamlessly with the ambiance of Mahina & Sun’s. I think it might have been the alcohol — especially because it was served in a ’30s-style champagne glass — but for a moment I felt as though I had stepped back in time. I was relaxed, satiated and, well, obviously a little buzzed, and I was happy.
FOOD TO DRINK
Believe me on this: You are going to want to spend inordinate amounts of time walking around the first floor at the Surfjack. Everything about it is so appealing, right down to the Olive & Oliver boutique located right by the entrance.
It’s a composite of two existing boutiques in Kailua — Olive and Oliver, duh — and also happens to offer coffee and tea served in cups you are never going to want to throw away. So wee and twee and somehow even beautiful, I still can’t bear to part with mine.
But what goes in it is just as good. My Chai was nice and slightly spicy, with some added flavor from the almond milk I opted for. Even the Americano (which incorporates a “Hale 412” blend from Caffe Luxxe Artisan Roasters in Santa Monica, California) was richly flavored, a little dark and chocolatey.
But let’s go back to these cups. It took every ounce of mental strength, along with a strong desire to not come off like a crazy person, to not ask for more to take home with me.
PARKING Easy breezy (valet only)
SERVICE Fast and friendly
TIMES I’D LIKE TO RETURN Infinite
MINUTES WAITING FOR A TABLE 0
MAHINA & SUN’S
The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
412 Lewers St.
Phone number (808) 924-5810