CHEF ED KENNEY

Located in the Surfjack Hotel in Waikiki, Mahina & Sun’s is the latest restaurant from local chef Ed Kenney. I originally became of fan of Chef Kenney’s food when he first opened Town in Kaimuki. Town was a bit ahead of its time for Hawaii, bringing one of the first concerted efforts to expand the “localvore” movement to something other than Pan-Asian cuisine. Since opening Town, Chef Kenney has gone on to create more restaurant concepts including Mud Hen Water, which made its way on to Eater’s “America’s Essential Restaurants” for 2017 and 2018.

CURIOUS ATMOSPHERE

Mahina & Sun’s directly overlooks the small hotel pool, which is made Instagram-worthy by tiles at the bottom that read “Wish you were here” (see below for a pic of the pool). The entire restaurant is open air, with two distinct feels. The interior feels more like a typical restaurant, while the seating along the pool is much more relaxed. During my visit there was also a silent disco going on around the pool, which made for some curious people-watching. Projected above the pool was an old movie (didn’t catch the title) whose story was centered around surfing on the North Shore.

ELEVATED HOME COOKING

Mahina & Sun’s website describes the menu as “elevated home cooking inspired by Hawaii’s people and place“. The style of food at Mahina and Sun’s is, on first glance, a merging of Town and Mud Hen Water. There is undoubtedly a focus on local sourcing with broader techniques, but with an added deference to local cuisine. There is a large format shared menu option for a per-person price that centers around a whole fish which is then served with various side dishes. For this visit we passed on the shared “feast” and ordered a few items ala carte.

Avocado Tacos - Shishito, pickled red onion, smoked yogurt

Looking online this seemed to be a popular appetizer so I jumped at the chance to try it. The lightly fried avocado adds a rich, creamy texture to each bite. The avocado’s natural oils were offset nicely by the pickled onion. The smoked yogurt added lightness but with a touch of additional savory notes from the smoke. The dish was lacking a touch of salt though.

He'e Beignets - Lemon aioli, bonito, green onion

This was an interesting appetizer that was reminiscent of takoyaki in texture and form. The golden brown exterior gives way to a slightly dense batter, filled with chunks of octopus. The lemon aioli adds a touch of zest to each bite. Overall I found the flavors to be pleasant, albeit again a bit under-seasoned.

Monchong - Ulu, green bean, cherry tomato, chervil

For our first entree featured a local favorite, monchong. The fish itself was prepared quite well, moist yet retaining its firm texture. The broth was savory with a burst of acidity from the cherry tomatoes. This lightened the whole plate and was a good alternative complement to the fish versus your traditional citrus-fruit acidity. Ulu, or breadfruit, is a prominent feature in this dish. It was prepared well and I appreciated the use (and highlight) of a unique and local ingredient option.

Pan Roasted Half Chicken - Hapa rice, pickled mushroom, green coriander chutney

This dish feels like one I’d find at Town. The perfectly roasted half chicken was tender and juicy, but retained a lightly crisp skin. The coriander chutney read a bit like a light pesto. Pickled mushrooms added not only a light earthy flavor, but a zing of vinegar. I didn’t get as strong a sense of local flavors here, but this dish certainly fit the bill of “elevated home cooking”.

Dark Chocolate Butter Mochi - Black sesame gelato, local jam

I grew up eating butter mochi at family gatherings, so this dish in particular reminded me of home cooking. Mahina & Sun’s iteration is up-leveled with a black sesame gelato and caramel “jam”. The chocolate mochi was very moist and rich, balanced by a lightly nutty and very mild astringency from the black sesame gelato.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

The food at Mahina & Sun’s is similar in style to Chef Kenney’s other restaurants. All the dishes we had were well cooked, although a couple were a bit under-seasoned. I definitely can feel in a few of the dishes the theme of “elevated home cooking”, and that rustic quality carries through the entire menu. While the food was competently prepared, I hadn’t come across any particular dish that wowed me beyond what I have experienced at Town or Mud Hen Water. I do feel that the food here is not quite as strong as those other establishments.

Our server was attentive and friendly. She checked in regularly and was also kind enough to let us know about the Swim Club program at the Surfjack for kama’aina, which helped me get parking validated for free (otherwise valet is $10 with validation). The atmosphere of the restaurant was very casual and relaxed. The open air design of the restaurant overlooking the pool definitely gave it that Hawaii-patio vibe.

In terms of value Mahina & Sun’s suffers a little bit, probably due to its location in Waikiki. You definitely do pay Waikiki prices (especially if you had to pay for parking). On the plus side the portion sizes, especially in the entrees, are healthy and we definitely walked away feeling full and satiated.

SCORECARD

Food 80/ 100
Service 90/ 100
Atmosphere 80/ 100
Price Value 80/ 100
Overall Score 82/ 100

Mahina & Sun’s
412 Lewers Street
Honolulu, HI 96815
Ph: 808.924.5810
http://mahinaandsuns.com/