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April 04, 2006

The Hualalai Grille by Alan Wong


Dominic Armato
The color adjustments necessitated by the extremely low, warm light somehow made this look like a seventies cookbook photo, but this is an anti-seventies dish in every way, with the possible exception that it's both meaty and greasy.

Owing to some minor illness, our plans to plow through the menu at the Hualalai Grill by Alan Wong were curtailed somewhat, but we still managed to have a great meal Saturday night. I could have tried some new items. I probably should have. But I ended up going back to get the full version of two of the tasting items we'd had a couple of nights prior. I've already mentioned his Ginger Crusted Onaga with Miso Vinaigrette, but I didn't get to his "Soup and Sandwich".

This is one of those dishes that seems gimmicky on first glance... a jazzed up grilled cheese with tomato soup... but when you get into it, you realize that it's extremely well-conceived, and that the playful reference is a happy coincidence more than anything. The grilled cheese is made with mozzarella, kalua pork and seared foie gras. It's rich and greasy and delicious and wonderfully paired with his chilled tomato soups. The rice vinegar and natural acidity in the tomatoes cuts right through the sandwich's richness. You take a bite of the sandwich, have a sip of the soup, and realize very quickly that this is not a gimmicky dish.

In my limited experience with the man, this dish is very representative of Alan Wong's cuisine. You look at his dish descriptions, his presentations, his ingredient selections, and you want to write him off as a flashy fusion chef. But to do so is to dismiss him too lightly. Yes, some of his choices are showy, but they're not without merit. His wild and explosive flavors are the result of sound fundamental culinary choices, and as a result they inspire appreciation well beyond their wow factor. I'd have liked to have been able to get through more of the menu, but I suppose you have to have something to go back for, right?

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