Mahina & Sun’s: Ed Kenney’s Return to Waikiki
June 3, 2016
“Local first, organic whenever possible, with aloha always.”
Ed Kenney has been here before. Decades ago. Where Surfjack is now, there used to be Soda Pops, a punk rock, new wave club, where, as a “rebellious skate punk teen,” Kenney used to hang out into the early morning hours.
So when everyone asks the Kaimuki resident and restaurateur why he’s opening his fourth location in Waikiki, it is, for him, returning to a half-remembered past. And not just one that holds memories of mohawks and defiance, but one of the golden years in Waikiki.
Kenney’s father, Ed Kenney, who starred in the original, Gene Kelly-directed production of Flower Drum Song on Broadway, and his mother, hula dancer Beverly Noa, were Waikiki legends. In Kenney’s youth, before his turbulent teens, he used to watch his parents perform at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, back before it became a sprawling resort, and at the Halekulani when it used to be just bungalows on the beach.
“What was going on with the Rat Pack—with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin—was going on here with a group of Hawaiian entertainers,” Kenney says. Entertainers who included his father and Don Ho. So when the Surfjack owners came to Kenney with the vision of redoing the existing hotel, of stripping away the years and honoring Waikiki’s golden era, they were all speaking the same language.
That’s how Mahina and Sun’s was born. (Well, after the consideration of other restaurant names. Among them: Lures, a play on Lewers Street, Surfjack’s address, and the Department of Fish and Wild Life.) Mahina means “moon” in Hawaiian, and the restaurant name a throwback to the neighborhood family butcher shop, often called “____ and Sons.”
The emphasis at Mahina and Sun’s is on fresh, local, and sustainable fish. You’ll find them on the menu under their Hawaiian names—the only Hawaii restaurant to do so. There’s a‘u ku, or broadbill swordfish, served with u‘ala (sweet potato) puree and dashi-braised cabbage, finished with a bacon broth. There’s ‘ahi palaha, or albacore tuna, over a 12-grain salad and topped with a limu salsa verde. And what Kenney is most excited about: the Mahina Family Feast, a big, family-style spread centered around a whole fish—perhaps ‘opakapaka (snapper) or uhu (parrotfish), whatever’s fresh that day—served with pan-roasted ulu, pohole (fiddlehead fern) salad, and other fixin’s.
The dishes are new and stylish, and yet, there’s something familiar and comforting in their flavors. They are flavors from a Hawaii home and are evocative of Kenney’s past—part Waikiki golden era, part punk. But they also have touches from Kenney’s present; they are stories from a modern Hawaii soul.