Soothing noodles, tacos await shoppers at Ward
By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
By Helen Wu
As the Kaka'ako residential building boom forges ahead, so does the expansion and revamp of Victoria Ward Centers, in anticipation of the new hordes of consumers. All those people have to eat, and the latest and coming eateries there show how local tastes are changing as well as dictating that evolution.
Whole Foods Market, the giant Texas-based natural and organic foods supermarket chain known for its prepared-foods department, is slated to open in early 2008 in the new Ward Village Shops (next to Pier 1 Imports). It will significantly affect the way food is sold here.
You can practically match the two new Ward fast-and-casual spots to the shops — bargain-hunting Nordstrom shoe fetishists are likely attracted to Goma Tei Ramen Restaurant's budget chic, while Wahoo's Fish Tacos should lure the Roxy/Quiksilver crowd.
GOMA TEI RAMEN RESTAURANT
Yellow stone tiles, wood tables and a polished stone bar shaped like a quarter note make Goma Tei's sleek interior the perfect set for a K-drama.
Espresso and panini would fit right in the spa-like aura of the place. Instead, you get soothing bowls of steaming hot ramen. Goma Tei specializes in two preparations — shoyu and tan-tan. Char siu shoyu ramen's ($7.75) good-enough broth and noodles were topped with choy sum and three large, spiraled wheels of tender pork bordered by fat, what sets Japanese-style char siu apart from the Chinese version's typically dense meat outlined in red.
Ample amounts of thinly sliced poached chicken float in the tan-tan ramen's ($7.50) tasty, nutty broth. The kitchen always made sure that noodles — from Kalihi's Sun Noodle — came out nicely chewy. Even in the vegetable cold noodles ($6.95), topped with shiitake, button and straw mushrooms. I would have preferred raw carrot and cucumber shreds to the blanched carrot chunks and sliced choy sum stems, but I still enjoyed the dish.
Side orders of light, crisp gyoza (5 for $4.95) and chicken tatsutaage ($5.95) are wonderful for snacking. The kitchen marinates chicken pieces in apple, ginger, garlic, sake and a secret soy sauce blend, then dredges it in potato starch, yielding a delicately crunchy coating around moist meat. They combined the goodness of fried chicken and cracklings.
WAHOO'S FISH TACOS
Skate and surf stuff at Wahoo's Fish Taco spin a cool image. But even Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli character in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" wouldn't be caught dead in a pair of limited-edition Wahoo's-Vans sneakers. Still, he'd definitely scarf down one of their burritos while watching a surf video — another of Wahoo's many gimmicks.
The food suffers from an overdose of the same adolescent appeal, often sounding better than what you actually get — mostly hefty portions of lukewarm mildly seasoned food spiked with sweetness and saltiness.
Wahoo's touts Cal-Mex, Brazilian and Asian flavors, but doesn't really deliver, unless you consider overcooked Cajun-seasoned fish stuffed into a tortilla with a side of rice and beans successful cross-cultural fusion.
Pick from 10 different fillings, such as shrimp and pork, listed on a board.
A safe bet was the Outer Reef burrito ($6.99; add $1.50 for shrimp or steak), with the works — lettuce, shredded jack and cheddar cheeses, guacamole, sour cream, salsa and black or white beans. Order the filling Banzai burrito (same price), and your tortilla comes bulging with seasoned white rice (called Ahee), black beans, salsa, sauteed veggies and lots of teriyaki sauce. My filling of choice was carne asada, which here is marinated in shoyu, garlic and herbs.
Those with smaller appetites can try a simple soft taco ($2.75). Taquitos (3 for $4.99) arrive hot and crunchy from the fryer.
The local franchisers — siblings Stephanie, Mike and Noel Pietsch — have plans to open up to 10 more Wahoo's, joining a family of some 40 locations nationwide.
But why do people go so crazy for a chain's fish tacos when we've got indie-owned spots — Mi Casa, South Shore Grill, Baja Tacos — serving their own made-from-scratch versions? And at Diamond Head Cove, owner Marcus Marcos makes wraps filled with 'ahi — that he often catches himself.
Reach Helen Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction to food, service and ambience in relation to price. Menu listings and prices are subject to change. Reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. The Advertiser pays for meals.