The sun sets on the warehouses of Waipahu. It is industry and raw, the streets are empty and the surroundings remind me more of my college days in Philadelphia than in Hawaii. However, similar to how these islands are a pocket of land in the middle of the Pacific there is a spot of lights and music in the shadows of industrial Oahu. In one of the warehouses, hidden in the back from Farrington Highway, there is life. No, there is SOUL.
This past Saturday (11/13/10), I once again had an invite to Off-Menu Catering Service’s Off-Premise Dinner 2. This time it was with Chef Sean Priester (formerly of Top of Waikiki, and now of Soul Café), who was just awarded the 2011 Hale Aina Award for Best New Restaurant. Chef Sean brought soul and jazz to the affair, but as always with his signature a touch of aloha.
I know a lot of guests arrived with trepidation, but that soon melted away when tried the Kukui Sausage Chorizo and Black Bean Nachos with Local Sweet Corn-Asiago Cream. This was definitely fun take on Nachos and I liked how different the cream played with the nachos and sausage from traditional cheese and nachos. Added to the fun was that these pupus were served from Chef Sean’s famed Soul Patrol lunchwagon. It was very fun to get food from a truck in the warehouse, and a creative touch to the whole experience.
During this time the guests were able to hang out in the front of the warehouse trying to guess what the pictures fruits and vegetables were posted on wall as twilight turned to evening. The diners giggled and munched on their nachos as many of them colluded to try and figure out if #2 was lima beans or edamame (it was lima beans). After the appetizer and guessing was done we were ushered behind black curtains to a tent, but much like how I described the general evening the tent hid another surprise.
It was a done up like a jazz lounge. Fun and festive, dark and colored lights,, and a DJ spinning jazz, R&B, and other lounge favorites.
After sitting we had out salad, but like the nachos nothing what we are used to here in Hawaii. Haricot Vert Salad with Nacked cow feta Citronette is not a salad I’m used to, but that was a good thing. The green beans definitely had more crunch and bite than any old piece of lettuce and provided an interesting backdrop for the cow feta with the balsamic citronette. It was a unique tasting experience, which I appreciated.
Now, for what I considered the highlight of the night, the Braised Kalbi Shortrib Tacos with Kim Chee Sour Cream and Ginger Scallion Tomato Relish. I echo my fellow HGC Member and Yelper when I say this, “Chef Sean, please add these to your menu.” I had two, and I’ll be honest I wanted two more. It was the right amount of meat, which was also nice and tender, spiciness from the Kim Chee, and I found myself digging the relish. Also the flavor of the braising was able to hold its on against all of those flavors. Only thing is I’d say for taco construction (similar to burger construction) is that a little less of the ingredients would make for a less sloppy experience, but then again I do recognize some people like licking their fingers.
I had the chicken version of the SOUL Seafood Jambalaya due to my allergy, but I have to say I enjoyed it, but after the tacos I kind of kept thinking back to them. The spiciness of the Jambalaya was good for someone who likes things mild to slightly spicy. I basically found it easy to keep taking full bites and letting the spices dance in my mouth. However, I felt that out of the dishes that I could get this anytime because Chef Sean has Soul Café, so I would have liked to see something different like the other dishes. This is not say it was a bad dish, but just that I was familiar with it already.
The evening had a great pacing to it and I was looking forward to dessert, Pecan Pie Cupcakes, provided by another vendor and not Chef Sean.
I have to be honest. I love sweets, cupcakes, and I am game for trying things that I normally don’t like in one form, but being re-presented to me in another form, but I was kind of disappointed with these cupcakes. I understand that Hokulani and Cake Couture have a certain method of making their cupcakes, but if that is the base that a customer is going to envision when eating their cupcake than any new entrant should be aware of this fact. What has predecessors done and have they shaped the market’s view of how the product ought to be? Unfair, but that’s business.
I felt the cupcakes were too reminiscent of some of the drier pastries found on the East Coast. It was more muffin-like than the moist cupcakes that I favor. In addition, many of the other patrons agreed that the frosting was either too greasy or buttery for their palette.
Despite that I still have to say I had fun for most of the night. I enjoyed all the dishes, the company, and the ambience. Being in contact with the management of Off-Menu I know they have a bevy of fun ideas, venues, and chefs they would like to put forth in an Off Premise context.
Off-Premise Dining is quickly becoming like the garage band that is ready for a stage act. I highly recommend you check out one of the events if you can. It is an experience that may touch your soul, but definitely the stomach.