OnJin’s Cafe

I’d love to be one of those ladies who lunch. You know. Those ladies. The ones who dine at Neiman’s Mariposa or Pineapple Room all the time because they never have to work. In fact they eat there sooo much that Mariposa’s popovers with lilikoi butter are no longer a treat but an expectation. They are spoiled with food yet thin as sticks because they dine to look and not to eat. But the ladies who lunch at Onjin’s are of a different breed. I’ve written about Ojin’s in the past, but there’s much more on the menu that needs to be done justice. You see, the people, or at least the ladies, who lunch here, come to eat. In this well lit and owner run restaurant in Ward, they don’t come to impress people or don their Diors, but come with the anticipation of finely executed food at a fraction of what you’d be charge at Mariposa or Pineapple Room. Of course there are sacrifices such as ordering at the counter and paper napkins, but once you get a taste of…oh perhaps an Ahi Don or their Misoyaki Salmon (all for less than $10), you’ll realize that you’ve hit one of Oahu’s “nice” lunchtime jackpots. I recently came with my mom’s clients for lunch (the awesome ones who brought us croissants from Boulangerie :) and we dined on half a dozen dishes, nearly all wiped clean. (The bread pudding plate was especially clean). In fact the bread pudding was so good that I think we should start with that first.

Flavor changes daily but quality is consistent through and through. Today was blend of two classic flavors, chocolate and coconut. More bread than pudding, it was nonetheless a moist creature with bold flavors, melting shards of chocolate and the slight crunch of coconut flakes. However the pudding found fierce competition with the softly whipped cream, which can be better noted as the lightest cream that retained a body so sumptuously rich and silky. A touch of sweet with a mysterious tang, a bowl of this cream with strawberries would be a very fine dessert. My favorite bread pudding faithfully rests at Kakaako Kitchen, but this is a mighty second!

Moving backwards, because in my mind, all meals should begin with dessert, I had the Crispy Snapper ($8.25). I never fail to order this for some reason even though I always tell myself I need to get something new instead of ordering the snapper and then picking off everyone else’s plate (after finishing my own, of course). But it’s so good, it’s terribly hard to move on. A simple filet drizzled with lemon caper sauce. Brown rice on the side along with caesar salad, white beans and broccoli with just a bare brushing of light tangy vinaigrette. Simple, clean and absolutely gorgeous.

My mom had the special which was the Roast Leg of Lamb ($8.95). All entrees come with the same sides that change on a daily basis, so the “meat” was the only different between our dishes. The lamb was marinated in rosemary and thyme, of which both the herb flavors clearly shined through but never dominated the tender, and truly succulent pieces of lamb. Lamb and brown rice never went to well together!

I thought the Korean Style Ahi Don ($9.75) was the most attractive of the dishes. A gorgeous bowl filled deep with a fresh mix of island Nalo Greens, generous slices of sashimi and a spill of deep red fish eggs. A pour of the Kochoojang dressing brought an unusual, yet well twist our usual ways of eating sashimi. A bowl of their brown rice (the main reason my mom comes here!) came on the side, steaming hot, softly cooked and studded with red beans and chickpeas. It’s such a “pretty” dish that you really feel like you’re destroying it one you mix it all up, but please go ahead and do, but the taste value far exceeds the aesthetics, if you dare believe.

The Linguine with Wild Mushrooms and Chicken in a Creamy Marsala Wine Sauce ($10.50). I had this on a past visit and what impressed me most was that despite the rich velvetiness to the sauce, it was not a touch too heavy. A fair variety of sautéed mushrooms and quite moist slices of chicken cooked just so, I only wish more places in Hawaii could served pasta this well.

Grilled Chicken Thighs ($7.50) was the call for our friend’s daughter (who at the tender age of 5 really knows her food!) Boneless chicken marinated in the black bean sauce familiar to many Chinese dishes, the grilled till you got some good bits of “char” to them. It was smoky and slightly sweet with that magic that black bean sauce never fails to deliver. So while you are encouraged to dine at Mariposa (you know I’m in love with popovers and lilikoi butter) and Pineapple, take some time off for those smaller, one man (or woman) own restaurants. Restaurants owned by the people who work there, work the register, work the kitchen and are rewarded with your smiles and compliments as you walk out the door. And just like that, Onjin’s proves that one of the finest lunches in Hawaii can be best found tucked away on the ground floor of an office building. We live in paradise, after all.

OnJin’s Cafe
401 Kamakee Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 589-1666

  • shann
    November 30, -0001

    kathy! it’s not fair to post about home food when i’m not at home.also, i forgot to tell you that i went to this new place called ‘Tisserie’ on union square, i think it replaced a deli. anyway, they make their own croissants! i just thought you would want to know. that’s what i had for dinner. a croissant and their tomato pumpkin soup which was a little sweet but still good. their croissant was good too it didn’t smush down but popped up all fluffy after every bite. i didn’t get to try their coffee but i will sometime. they were super crowded at dinner time but during the day were less crowded, it seemed liek a nice place to hang out or study.

  • KirkK
    January 20, 2007

    Hi Kathy – Wow, now Onjin’s, you sure are “making the rounds” as we say! And I think many would agree that any meal should start with dessert. LOL!

  • Chubbypanda
    January 21, 2007

    I really can’t see you as one of those “ladies”. You’ve got the looks for it, but you’re not useless. =)That bread pudding looks lush!

  • Kat
    January 22, 2007

    Wow this place looks good! HOpefully the next time I’m near Ward I’ll check it out!Have you tried that new place at Ala Moana, La Palme D’or? They did a segment on the news about it and it looks pretty good. I think they sell macarons too!

  • anonymous
    January 22, 2007

    one of my good college friends will be moving to hawaii in a couple weeks. i guess that means a trip to hawaii is inevitable now. and the first place i want to eat is here!on a different note, duk or dduk, doesnt really matter how you spell it. but in korean, the consonant that represents the ‘d’ sound is doubled, so i just followed along with the same pattern using the alphabet. :)

  • Kathy YL Chan
    January 23, 2007

    Hey Kirk!In the ideal world, all meals would start with bread puddings, hehe :)Hey Shann!I know, but that way we can kinda like PRETEND it’s home. Even though it is million degrees colder in CA and a billion degrees colder in NYC. Tisserie is soooo pretty! We can hang out there come fall if you want, and then after we tired of sitting down we’ll just walk over the City Bakery for hot chocolate revival – really want to try their pretzel croissant!Hey Chubbypanda!Thanks man! That’s a good way to describe the dessert – lush! The cream does look “lush” doesn’t it :) Now I just want to walk around and say the work lush over and over again. People are going to start thinking I’m crazy! :)Hey Kat!I’ve gone in so many times just to look, but never bought anything there. It all looks so picture perfect! They just opened up a similar place in Ward called Satura Cakes. We’re seeing a pastry shop revival!!! :)Hey Ed!Neato! Maybe you should think about moving to Hawaii also…hehe :) I could eat here every day and never tired of it. It also helps that the bread pudding changes flavor on a daily bases! Is ‘dduk’ pronounced like ‘duck’? I want to say it out loud but don’t want to sound like an idiot!

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