Hawaiian food is having its moment on the mainland. And it’s not all poke shops. HPR’s Molly Solomon reports on how one New York restaurant is elevating island favorites.
Nearly 5,000 miles away, on an island of a different kind, Noreetuh is a modern Hawaiian restaurant in the heart of the Big Apple. Tucked away in the East Village, I popped in recently for a visit.
“So here’s our menu,” said Chung Chow, a local boy from Honolulu whose culinary resume includes stints at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in California and Per Se in New York. The Roosevelt grad grew up helping out at his parent’s noodle shop on King Street. He says a lot of his dishes pay homage to that island upbringing.
“I grew up eating a lot of noodles,” says Chow, reflecting on his childhood. He even includes an item called “Chow’s Noodles” on tonight’s menu. “That’s actually a recipe from my dad’s shop. I’ve worked or helped out there since I was 11 or 12-years old. I knew it was something I had to bring here.”
Scanning the menu, items like mochiko chicken and kālua pork jump out. Other local ingredients are more subtle.
“We have li hing mango in one of those pickle plates and the hearts of palm we get from the Big Island,” said Chow. “If you look at it as a whole, it just looks like a regular menu. And then you think hard, and you see a lot of Hawai‘i influences.”
Like using taro instead of potatoes in a gratin. Even Chow’s musubi has a twist: corned beef tongue instead of spam.
“Being from Hawai‘i, I think that was one of the reasons we went with this concept,” said Chow. “To showcase where I’m from and really do what I’m familiar with and what I grew up with.”
But Chow will be the first to say what he’s cooking is not traditional Hawaiian food.
“I would never say this is a Hawaiian restaurant,” said Chow, who prefers to call it modern Hawaiian or a restaurant influenced by Hawaiian flavors. “There’s many flavors that encompass what Hawaiian food is, and depends on which era of Hawai‘i you’re talking about too. From the plantation era to the modern era, even the Hawaiian food right now in Hawai‘i is not Hawaiian anymore. You have a lot of people doing fine dining, French influenced, and it’s still Hawaiian food. But what makes it really Hawaiian?”
That question, Chow says, is still evolving. He hopes his modern take can further the conversation while still paying respect to his local roots.