LAHAINA - Aloha is definitely their first name, as the slogan says, and now Aloha Mixed Plate returns to local roots with Aloha Friday menus every week.
As the new corporate chef for Na Hoaloha 'Ekolu family of restaurants, Chef Ivan Pahk - a 14-year veteran of Sansei Kapalua and DK Restaurants - is looking to his roots for inspiration in Aloha Mixed Plate's menus.
"We'll feature more local food than ever, because we want to make this the go-to place for locals," said Pahk.
Corporate Chef Ivan Pahk (left) and Director of Marketing Ka‘ala Buenconsejo of Na Hoaloha ‘Ekolu family of restaurants. PHOTOS BY KAREE CARLUCCI.
As I stepped up to the open-air lanai to join Chef Ivan for lunch, I was struck by the perfect postcard setting and waterfront view - two more reasons to revisit this restaurant. But it was the chef's new dishes that I was really looking forward to trying. Chef Ivan's talents range from five-star cuisine to gold star local food, and he's a proponent of farm-to-table ingredients.
"Any chef would kill to have his own farm, and we do; it's 61 acres and really exciting for me," Ivan related. "We can alter the menu to what has been harvested that day."
Bobby Pahia farms the acreage and keeps Aloha Mixed Plate, Star Noodle, Leoda's and Old Lahaina Lu'au stocked with kalo, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and bananas. Kalo (taro) is the foundation for the farm, and Chef Ivan is making it the foundation for his Aloha Friday dishes.
He explained, "We use all of the plant - leaf, ha and corm - and we make our own poi. Bobby wants poi to replace rice as a staple and feels that everyone should be able to eat poi, so I've introduced poi bowls to the menu."
Ivan has created a great way for newcomers to try poi in the form of these bowls, which also offer delectable flavor combinations for poi lovers. I learned that poi soaks up the flavors that are added to it.
We tried three bowls: freshly pounded poi was used as the base and topped with shredded kalua pork and chunky tomatoes; the next was lomi lomi salmon over poi, and the third was shoyu ahi poke over poi - so 'ono! Each bowl had its own distinct taste, and the poi added a creamy feel. I was hooked.
Aloha Mixed Plate sells two-pound bags of fresh poi for those who want to take it home. The regular price is $10, and the kupuna (senior) price is $6. Considering the amount of work that goes into preparing poi, the folks at Aloha Mixed Plate are making it affordable.
Ka'ala Buenconsejo, director of marketing for Na Hoaloha 'Ekolu, sat down with us to try more new dishes. Traditional plates of fresh seafood were up next: tako poke with cucumber slices; ahi poke with onions and rock salt; blue crab in a spicy kimchi sauce. It was a cultural melting pot of flavors and textures.
"Ivan is not afraid to bring his local flavors to our restaurants," Ka'ala noted.
We were amazed when Chef Ivan brought out the Fried Akule special, which is a majestic whole fish poised on a bed of local bok choy and tomato wedges. The seasoned skin is crispy, and when you open the fish, you find tender white meat that is succulent and delicious.
Ivan said, "I grew up with this food, and it's great to be making it to share."
Beginning recently, every Friday is Aloha Friday at Aloha Mixed Plate. The new menu items, which include four to five types of poke, will be available from lunch to dinner. Happy Hour runs from 2 to 6 pm, featuring Budweiser, Bud Light and Rolling Rock beers for $1.75 and Mai Tais for $3.50.
Sergio Perez, who was recently promoted to executive chef of Aloha Mixed Plate, ensures all the dishes are made in-house. Pork comes straight from the imu, burgers are made fresh, fish is caught locally, salad greens are from Upcountry and pohole fern shoots are from Hana. In the kitchen, 80 to 100 laulaus are made daily, which is another feat of skill.
Ka'ala added, "It's a win-win all day long. We serve fresh food at good prices with a great view."
I highly recommend getting back to Aloha Mixed Plate on Front Street for Aloha Friday. Open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; call 661-3322 or see alohamixedplate.com.