All The Pretty Dishes on ‘Aina’s New Hawaiian Tasting Menu

Dogpatch Hawaiian restaurant ’aina has taken a rare trajectory in SF dining, completing the journey from a popular brunch pop-up to a brick-and-mortar restaurant with a modern tasting menu. That menu will be served at the chef’s counter starting November 10, and it’s six courses for $60.

Owners Cheryl Liew and Jordan Keao, the restaurant’s executive chef, opened their modestly sized “mom and pop” space in spring 2016, serving just brunch, which remains a hit. Six months later they expanded to dinner service, which is going to continue as usual in the dining room. 

But these days, with two years on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list and chef de cuisine Chris Yang handily running the kitchen, Keao can take on a more “visionary” role, he says.

Hence Keao’s tasting menu, which he calls mo’ olelo, meaning story or legend. “The tasting menu allows us the time to tell the story and educate diners on the culture of Hawaiim,” Keao told Eater SF last month.

One big story is about poi, the pounded taro root that ’aina has shipped in from an organic, sustainable farm in Hawaii. “[Poi] is such a dying practice and is just coming back in Hawaii,” the chef told Eater SF last month. “Rice is great but why aren’t we eating poi?” he asks. The answer: The restaurant is limiting its use of rice on the dinner menu.

inamona limu poke: Hawaiian ahi tuna, roasted kukui nuts, fresh limu seaweed from Montereywith black rice arare (“to resemble lava rocks”) served on ti leaf with a shiro shoyu dashi froth (“to remind us of the ocean”)

pipikaula: Marin Sun Farms waygu beef cured with double-brewed shoyu, kiawe’ wood smoked and aged for 2 weeks. Paired with a bone marrow flan, black garlic pureé, beef tendon chicharon, toasted arugula

Keao may be a traditionalist, but he’s also a modernist, equally at ease pounding poi with a carved lava stone and tweezer-ing edible flowers onto foam. That’s all on the $60 menu (with an optional $20 wine pairings from ‘aina general manager Rai Calma), served at two seatings (6 p.m. and 8 p.m.). Reservations are on Resy.