Local flavors at Honolulu shopping center's new eateries

Stripsteak from Michael Mina opened at the International Market Place in August. Coming in spring is Mina's Street food hall, which will eventually house between 12 and 18 casual restaurants.
Stripsteak from Michael Mina opened at the International Market Place in August. Coming in spring is Mina's Street food hall, which will eventually house between 12 and 18 casual restaurants. Photo Credit: Stripsteak/Mariko Reed
Honolulu's International Market Place, which reopened in August after a major renovation, already boasts Michael Mina's Stripsteak and Roy Yamaguchi's Eating House 1849 in addition to ramen, coffee and pizza establishments.

This year, several new restaurants and dining options are opening up at the Waikiki commercial center, including new ventures from Mina Group and Hakkasan Group.

Mina Group opened the Hawaii outpost of its steakhouse brand Stripsteak when International Market Place reopened. Coming in spring is his new concept the Street, a food hall that will eventually house between 12 and 18 casual restaurants. The hall will have a social atmosphere and offer diners the chance to sample dishes from various cuisines.

So far the confirmed participants are Kai Poke, International Smoke and the Ramen Bar. Mina is partnering with some chefs from the Mina Group, as well as some outside chefs on the various restaurants.

"Visitors will be able to pick and choose what they like to eat, all in one small area," said Gerald Chin, a vice president at Mina Group in charge of the steakhouse division who put together the concept and menu for Kai Poke. "It's like having a bunch of different food trucks in one spot. There will be communal tables. It's a fun way to eat."

Chin took his research seriously, hiring an Uber to drive him around to at least a half dozen Honolulu poke spots all in one day.

"There are a lot of poke places popping up all over mainland, and there it is a lot of build-your-own," Chin said. "On the islands, where it's been around for a while, it's mostly premixed. So we are kind of in between the two. We have five to six different styles you can choose from, and within those styles there are certain things you can pick and choose."

Chin, fully aware of the spread of poke places as a new culinary trend, has put his own twist on the menu and wants to take advantage of the fish and other quality ingredients available locally. One base for the poke bowls is an edamame avocado guacamole that Chin says is one of his favorites, and he also added a crispy, spicy fish taco made with local wonton skins to the menu. To wash it all down, he's featuring refreshing nonalcoholic beverages like strawberry watermelon lemonade.

"One reason poke has taken off for sure is health," Chin said.  "Nowadays a lot of diners, including myself, are really watching how heavy they eat. Poke is light, the flavors are not heavy at all, it has a good umami thing going. It's quick, light and fresh  the perfect combo."

The barbecue joint International Smokehouse comes from Ayesha Curry, wife of two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, who first developed the concept last year as part of Michael Mina's test kitchen, a pop-up project in San Francisco.

Hakkasan Group will have two restaurants at International Market Place when work is completed. The company recently announced Yauatcha Waikiki, its Chinese dim sum restaurant and teahouse, will open Feb. 15. In addition to menu items from the Michelin-starred original Yauatcha in London, the Waikiki version will have special items such as the roasted tender branch jade oolong tea made with Hawaii-sourced hibiscus flowers.

"We are continually blending fresh ideas with classical techniques to create new taste sensations that will delight the palate," Yauatcha's head chef Ho Chee Boon said in a statement." We are also playing with local flavors and products, such as taro, to create a dim sum unique to Yauatcha Waikiki for the opening."

Adding to the options for hungry shoppers at International Market Place, later in the year, Hakkasan Group is expected to open a version of Herringbone, a surf and turf restaurant from former "Top Chef" contestant Brian Malarkey.
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