The Island’s Dazzling Culinary Horizon

Cafe Julia@YWCA partners (from left) Bruce Watanabe, Lance Kosaka, Derek Watanabe and Emerson Ribao

Economists looking for hopeful news might point their predictors toward our local restaurant industry. May is the month of new restaurants, and with The Whole Ox already established (in less than a month) as a Honolulu foodies’ favorite and a host of new bars in the works, the culinary horizon is looking quite dazzling.

Here’s a quick rundown on just a few of the restaurants opening this month. More next week!

* Café Julia@YWCA Lance Kosaka, formerly of The Pineapple Room and Alan Wong’s longtime executive chef, finally cut the apron strings after almost 17 years and opened Café Julia@YWCA on Richards Street May 1. His Shinyou group (with partners Bruce and Derek Watanabe) signed an agreement in March to take over the former Café Laniakea, transforming the dining room, with a menu of locally sourced food and a chance to see Kosaka unleashed.

The soft opening came as no surprise to those who’ve been anxiously awaiting a peek at Kosaka’s menu, but Café Julia will have its first test of a bustling business on Mother’s Day (May 13) when a menu of carved, homemade porchetta, grilled marinated meats and sausages, egg stations, poke, house cured salmon, Asian-inspired curries, ceviche and locally farmed salads and vegetables will give guests an idea of what’s to come. To make reservations (you’d better!), call 538 7061.

* Ferguson’s Irish Pub A block down Bishop Street in the Dillingham Transportation Building, Ferguson’s Irish Pub has been given the makeover of all time. From a small, oppressive, narrow bar serving only liquor, the “almost-open” Fergie’s will now feature small plates of food, a sophisticated wine list, cocktails, beers and one of the city’s best-loved bartenders as general manager. Brian Blair (formerly Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Restaurant Row) joins Ferguson’s partners Don Murphy (Murphy’s Bar and Grill) Jay Niebuhr and Danny Dolan (J.J. Dolan’s) and completes a team bringing experience, vitality and new energy to the bar/restaurant scene. The handcrafted bar is work of art – I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful one in Honolulu. The rebranding of Fergie’s is a testament to what’s possible with old-fashioned blood, sweat and tears. It’s worth a visit just to be wowed. Look for Ferguson’s to become an instant favorite with the downtown pau hana crowd.

* Pint and Jigger The black-and-white signs next to Gulick Deli on South King Street announce the “coming soon” opening of Pint and Jigger, a gastropub dedicated as much to great service as excellent food, wine and beer.

With bright, young, local chef Kanani Lincoln (Hale Aina Caterers) and a bartender with one of the strongest followings in town, Pint and Jigger appears to have all the ingredients for success. Much like Fergie’s, the team of young owners has transformed a dining room (the former Kochi Restaurant) with enthusiasm and a lot of hard work. As the May opening date approaches, Honolulu foodies should expect exciting plates – and cutting-edge cocktails (just wait till you see who’s tending bar) from this young, energetic group. * Menchanko Tei Menchanko Tei noodles are famous in Japan and New York, and they’re just slurp away from being the talk of the town in Honolulu. Famous for house-made, wheat-based noodles seasoned with Mongolian salt, then formed into three different thicknesses, Menchanko noodles are served nabe style in a variety of soups and stews. Its first Honolulu location is 902 Keeaumoku St., and it’s open now.

Hopefully the hard work going into new bars and restaurants pays off for all. Certainly there’s no better way to kick-start our own economic resurgence than through great food, wine, beer. And the brave, adventurous souls who venture into one of the world’s toughest industries deserve our support.

Happy eating!