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The Hawai’i-inspired eatery brings a heavy dose of nostalgia to a new family-style set menu.
Tess Bevernage and her husband, Thomas Robillard met on O’ahu, where they both grew up—and now they run their Hawaiian restaurant, Hānai, here in Vancouver where they honour the flavours of back home in a space that feels both like an escape from the city and very Vancouver.
I’m no stranger to Hawaiian food, and when I was offered the opportunity to try Hānai’s new four-course Ohana menu ($60 per person), I was beyond delighted. Ohana means family in Hawaiian (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi) so it makes sense that the meal is served family style. We also enjoyed our meal with drink pairing ($39). See below for what you can expect.
The meal began with snacks which, in my opinion, was a wonderful way to curb my already ravenous hunger. Peanuts boiled with ginger and star anise were paired with a short glass of their POG slushie. POG is the classic Hawaiian combo of passionfruit, orange and guava—but this time, paired with vodka and slushed up with ice. This drink was sweet, refreshing and way too easy to drink. The peanuts were equally tasty with pops of savoury aromatics that made them extremely addictive.
Beach snacks arrived next, along with a sparkling, unfiltered sake. Hānai has an impressive sake menu, and this one tasted particularly light and fresh. Chef Bevernage explained that the beach snacks were just that—items that she and her husband would regularly bring to the beach back home in Hawai’i. A small bowl of sweet and salty candied baby anchovies, pickled turmeric cauliflower, pickled green mango with li hing mui powder (dried plum powder) that has an addictive tanginess, and my favourite: dried squid with gochujang. The squid is chewy in a good way and has a hint of spice without overwhelming all of the other more delicate flavours at the table.
We switched gears from snacks to a more savoury course with the arrival of shoyu beef, which is Hānai’s take on traditional Hawaiian style beef jerky called pipi kaula. More like a braised beef than jerky-in-a-bag, Chef Bevernage explained that the dish originated when cows were brought to Hawai’i—cowboys from Mexico taught local farmers to carry (and therefore age) small strips of beef in their saddle bags as they rode throughout the day. This version of the dish was served in a complex sauce with bursts of soy, garlic and sweetness.
Along with the shoyu beef were adobo potatoes. Chef Bervernage told us that this Filipino-inspired dish were inspired by her mother-in-law’s potatoes. Lavender-coloured spuds served with Japanese mayo and furikake, this tasted like everything I’ve ever wanted potato salad to be. The bright and acidic Austrian white wine we had alongside cut through any richness with ease.
Huli huli chicken came next, which was sous vide in a sweet shoyu marinade and arrives at the table glistening. The chicken, which is sourced from the Fraser Valley, was tender and deeply flavourful all the way to the bone. Served with the chicken is a small, pickled papaya salad that brought some additional brightness. At the same time as the chicken, garlic butter paprika prawns were served. Served shell-on which doesn’t necessarily make for great first date food, but luckily my partner and I have messily eaten together for years. Inside the garlic-laden shells were plump and beautiful prawns that were well worth the de-shelling trouble. Hānai’s famous Fun Rice was also served with—a fluffy rice mixed with furikake sesame crunch that as I’m writing this, I wish I had with me to eat.
Dessert was exceptional: a slice of kulolo, which is a coconut and taro cake that is traditionally cooked in ti leaves underground. Served with a shoyu caramel, this cake or perhaps it’s best described as a pudding, is chewy and reminiscent of the insides of a butter tart. Served with a fior di latte ice cream, this is the a la mode dreams are made of. To cap off the night, one of Hānai’s signature cocktails was served: The French Guy Surfing. Named after chef Bevernage’s father (a French guy, who liked to surf) and sort of like a boulevardier, this bitter, Campari-based drink was the ideal counterpart of the sweet richness of the kulolo.
Hānai’s Ohana four-course set menu is now available, but changes based on what is on their menu that week. So, although you might not have the exact same meal that I did, you can definitely expect the feeling of comfort and nostalgia.
Address: 1590 Commercial Drive