Dinner at Kama’aina Grindz

I am always in search of good Hawaiian food in the Northwest. Not surprisingly, what we get here is not in the same league as what you’d find on the islands, but not for the lack of places that serve it. The numbers of Hawaiians living up here ensures some level of demand, not to mention local visitors to Hawaii who may want to relive what they ate there. By one estimate, there are nearly 20,000 Hawaiians in the Seattle area alone, surely not a huge number but still a good size. So, if you’re on the hunt for spam musubi, saimin, Portuguese sausage with eggs, loco moco, poke, lomi salmon and the like, you’d likely find one or more in the local restaurants. Uwajimaya also has a very good stock of Hawaiian goods and food from its deli.

Recently, there has been an uptick in interest among Hawaiian-born chefs to offer menus inspired by island flavors and ingredients. In Hawaii, you could say the trend was started by the likes of Sam Choi and Roy Yamaguchi, who subsequently spread their wings across the nation. Not content to put forward only traditional foods made in the traditional way, they’ve come up with fusion eats that borrow freely from the islands. There is usually an attempt to “update” the food with more vegetables, both fresh and cooked, for Hawaiian plate lunches are notorious for being largely absent of them. These chefs typically have cut their teeth in the restaurant industry, eventually deciding to demonstrate their talents on food they grew up with. Locally, the Marination chain and Ma’ono (though known primarily for its fried chicken) are examples of this trend. Of the celebrity chefs, Sam Choi’s empire runs a food truck (Poke to the Max), while Roy’s had a brief but unsuccessful run here on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle.

Into this mix has come Oahu-born Dean Shinagawa who previously helmed at the prestigious Tulalip Casino restaurant by way of Piatti Restaurant and Roy’s in Seattle. His Everett venture is called Kama’aina Grindz, which translates loosely to “local (Hawaiian) eats.” There is nothing in the interior in the way of Hawaiian ambience except for a few island-inspired paintings on the brick walls. Shinagawa and his sous chef can be seen working behind a high counter, punctuated only by a welcoming sign, “Friends & family gather here.” The maitre ‘d, who doubles as the bookkeeper, was very welcoming and warm, the embodiment of the aloha spirit.

One look at the menu spoke volumes about what the food was going to be about: familiar island ingredients used in imaginative ways and traditional foods reinterpreted. Our good friends, who brought us, have eaten here a few times and loved it. They spoke highly of the Portuguese sausage bibimbop (called Maui style on the menu), which none of us ordered today.

My wife picked the Asian Style Ahi Tuna Salad Sandwich (☆☆½). The cooked tuna, cucumber and red bell pepper mince, bound together in a mayonnaise-like sauce, was tasty but personally I would’ve preferred raw tuna, as in poké, but then it would hardly qualify as tuna salad as we think of it. The fries were steak-cut and tossed in a sriracha-style sauce, sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds. These too were very tasty but somewhat mealy (☆☆☆).

Ahi tuna salad sandwich
Ahi tuna salad sandwich

My Broiled Unagi and Smoked Chicken Fried Rice was quite good (☆☆☆). Savory and slightly sweet, the rice was attractively presented, as if inverted from a ramekin, mixed with pieces of tasty smoked chicken. It was obvious on first bite that the eel was fresh, superior to the packaged, pre-frozen kinds from foreign lands available at Asian markets. Topping all this was a mound of lightly dressed spinach mingled with carrot and daikon (white radish) shreds, crispy wonton slivers and white and black sesame seeds.

Broiled unagi and smoked chicken fried rice
Broiled unagi and smoked chicken fried rice

One of our friends ordered miso ramen with shiitake mushrooms, but she remarked that the broth was weak and the noodles overcooked, though to be fair Islanders prefer their noodles that way. Our other friend asked for a modification to a menu item. Instead of a “Huli Huli” Chicken Breast Sandwich, he requested and got just the chicken with a side of rice. The entrée arrived with a spinach salad and fried taro chips. The only comment he made was that the chicken needed more flavor.

Miso ramen
Miso ramen
"Huli huli" chicken breast with rice
“Huli huli” chicken breast with rice

Because Kama’aina Grindz is located in the downtown area of Everett, close to Comcast Arena, we’re not likely to drive over here just for a casual meal, but we would most certainly do it when we’re in the area. The menu is too interesting not to.

Kama’aina Grindz
2933 Colby Ave
Everett, WA 98201

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