Rounding out his 2017, Bauer returned to ‘Aina in the Dogpatch to give it a proper review. The critic last checked in when chef-owner Jordan Keao added dinner service, but now that the restaurant has added counter seats for chef Chris Yang’s $60, six-seven course tasting menu, the budget-minded Bauer is over the moon. Yang uses Hawaiian ingredients with California products to create “complex and multilayered” presentations like tea-smoked duck and pipikaula made from Wagyu short ribs smoked over imported kiawe wood. Poi, the traditional Hawaiian dish made of pounded taro root, “usually has the charm of wallpaper paste,” Bauer says, but Yang’s hand-pounded version — served with a slice of pork belly and smoked coconut foam — “comes out loose and silken.”
But the tasting menu “is only one reason to visit,” Bauer notes, because the “aloha spirit” carries over to the rest of the restaurant as well. The french toast, made from bread flown in from the Big Island, immediately “shows why the restaurant has captured a coveted place in the burgeoning brunch market.” But the “stylized” a la carte items like tuna poke and a Portuguese cassoulet show the same care and effort as the tasting menu. Throw in some “surprisingly sophisticated” desserts and ‘Aina has earned three stars.