Aina has been on my list of “places to go when I am back home” for months now. FINALLY last week, I made it there. And wow. Wowwwww. That is what I have to say! Ok I have more to say but let’s start with wow.
I am a hugeeee fan of Hawaiian cuisine. I love how it combines Asian (mostly Japanese) flavors with traditional Hawaiian food and American “military” style cooking… think Spam, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. I think it is remarkable when fusion foods occur naturally (aka not by a push of a trend or restaurant) and become a staple in the cuisine.
Anyways, back to Aina. Aina serves modern Hawaiian cuisine, sourcing its ingredients from not only the islands of Hawaii but also from local farms around the Bay Area. Another fun fact I learned when I ate there is that every week the chef, Jordan Keao, gets a whole pig and uses every part of it to complete his menu.
The restaurant itself is in a hip corner of SF’s Dog Patch neighborhood, which, as a Bay Area native, I don’t know much about and haven’t spent much time in, but it is a great spot! The restaurant it pretty small, so I would definitely recommend making a reservation. There is a bar in front of the kitchen, but it is for meal service so there isn’t a ton of room to sit, have a drink and wait for a table. Luckily, there are some cool bars in the area if you need to wait a bit.
On to the meal. We ordered a ton of small plates and one larger meal and everything was amazing. The flavors were unique, bright, fresh, innovative and reminiscent of traditional Hawaiian food.
We started with a Spam Musabi with stone valley farm pork spam, preserved lemon gribiche, tsar nicouli smoked trout roe. It. Was. Incredible. The Spam is HOMEMADE and tastes more like scrapple than a traditional salty-canned meat.
Then the Poke’ came to the table, with limu, inamona, ahi tuna, fresh Hawaiian heart of palm, smoked seasame oil, crispy forbidden rice, shiso and sea grass. It was some of the most incredible poke I have ever had. The fish was flavorful and fresh. The rice was crunchy and added great texture. The sea grass was just the right amount of salty and the seasoning balanced the whole dish out.
Misoyaki Cauliflower came next, with shiso verde, togarashi and forbidden rice. My mom even loved this, and she is not a fan of cauliflower! The cauliflower came in a large “steak” slice and the seasoning was really delicious. I often order cauliflower when I see it on the menu, but this was unlike anything I had eaten before.
Then came two meat dishes. First, the Kiawe Smoked Char Siu Ribs with fermented red cabbage, basil and puffed rice. Then came the Shoyu Cured Pipikaula which is shoyu cured beef short rib, pudded pa’i;ai, black garlic puree, yuzu kosho ailoi, and shiitake mousse. The ribs were incredible. The were sticky, sweet, savory and overall, fall-off-the-bone delicious. The char siu seasoning tasted like a combination of Chinese Five Spice and Sichuan pepper corns. The Pipikaula was probably my least favorite dish we got that night, but it was still delicious (just comparatively speaking) and something I had never had before. They somehow managed to get short ribs into a sort of roast beef form and it was super interesting.
For the last item (before dessert!) we got the Portuguese Butter Bean Cassoulet that came with stone valley farm Portuguese sausage, Kalua pork belly, Iacopi butter beans, edamame cream, and pistachio brown butter panko. Aina makes the sausage in house and it was really incredible.. and the pork belly legitimately melted in our mouths. The dish was pretty heavy for our last dish, but overall the flavors were unique and soulful.
And of couuuurrrrse we couldn’t not get dessert! Please, we are Goldbergs after all! We went for the Baked Matcha Mochi with kuromitsu caramel, sesame tuile, yuzu merinque, macadamia nut ice cream and fresh peaches. It was delicious and surprising light in flavor and texture. Truly the perfect way to end the meal.
Overall, Aina was incredible. I haven’t (and probably won’t for a while) stopped talking about it. the food was blow-your-mind good and the service was exceptional. Aina is absolutely NOT to be missed next time you are in San Francisco!!