Friday, August 22, 2008
Helena's Hawaiian Food
The Porn King
All this time, I had been thinking that I wasn't going to be able to eat at my favorite: Helena's Hawaiian Food. When asked about "the" place to go for Hawaiian food, most tourists and locals name Ono's as the place. Not me. Ever since Aunty Helen Kwock had her old joint on North King Street across from the old halau studio, I've been going to Helena's and have never looked back.
Whether it was the old place on King Street or this new place on North School Street, Helena's can only be called rustic, perhaps hole in the wall. It's decidedly so. They've got the same formica tables they've had for years and the same decorations hanging on the wall, with the early 2000s addition of a James Beard Award.
Unfortunately, Aunty Helen is gone now, having passed away last July. With the passing of the matriarch, one might worry that standards might slip, but her grandson, Craig Katsuyoshi, still mans the stove and you know all is well. Aunty Helen is just watching over from a different location now.
Helena's has been making Hawaiian food now for over sixty years. They've got to be doing something right.
We're here today because of The Porn King. It was his birthday recently and while he thought he was supposed to arrive in Honolulu yesterday, he arrived today - and hungry for Helena's. The text message was simple enough: meet at helena's at 10. I didn't need further encouragement.
There's really nothing at Helena's that I haven't liked. It's literally "all good." Just keep the dishes coming. Today's meal is going to be a tasting meal, of sorts. Kalua Pig, Lomi Salmon (with real, honest to goodness chunks of salmon), Squid Lu'au, and my absolute favorite: pipikaula short ribs. Oh, and lots of rice.
It all arrives at once, allowing us to bite and sample to our hearts desire. The Kalua is moist and tender, with just the right amount of Hawaiian salt. The Lomi is chunky with salmon - unlike so many other places where its tomato, onion and the essence of salmon. The squid lu'au is just delicious. Tender, pink pieces of squid stewed with lu'au leaf until milky and sweet. Unreal.
But the true piece de resistance is the pipikaula short ribs. Years ago, when I had first moved to the mainland, I tried to convince Craig to take pity on me and share with me their recipe. He refused. Now I long and yearn for these ribs. They're truly something special.
To make, they take thin sliced crosscut beef ribs (like for Korean Kalbi) and marinate. Then they hang the strips from the range hood in their kitchen until dried. Once dried (or perhaps sort of dried) they cut and pan fry until done and serve. Eat the short ribs with a generous amount of chili peppah watah and Hawaiian salt and you believe that there is a God in the Universe. It's amazing. It's sublime. It's true beef perfection. I can't get enough.
Sliced Sweet Onions, Haupia and Alaea Salt.
And apparently neither can The Porn King. He's ordered three additional orders of pipikaula short ribs to take to his staff. Two for the staff and one for the ride back to work. I, on the other hand, order only one serving, but with two scoops of rice for the plane ride to Los Angeles. In my minds eye, I imagine the envious looks of other passengers as I dine on Helena's Pipikaula Short Ribs while they gnaw on some unidentified kind of meat and potatoes. Poor bastards.
The morning is growing long and I'm gonna be late for my flight back to the mainland, but I leave with a pound of shortribs in a plastic bag and the hope for a quick return to Helena's.
Pipikaula Short Ribs
Helena's Hawaiian Food
1240 North School Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817