84 Havemeyer Street (at Metropolitan Avenue)
Brooklyn, New York 11211
Cuisine: Hawaiian, Spam, Seafood
Our Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Cards: All Major
Price: Entrees $11-$15
Hours: Tues-Sun 5:00 pm – 1:00 am
Subway: L to Bedford
NY Time says:
There is nothing ironic about Spam at Onomea (pronounced oh-no-MAY-ah), a Hawaiian restaurant that opened in August in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Some seven million tins of the pork-and-ham-based luncheon meat are consumed in Hawaii each year. Local McDonald’s serve it; street festivals celebrate it. Growing up in Honolulu, I ate glistening tombstones of it for breakfast and hard, salty nubs of it in my mac and cheese. (I still miss it.) Spam is to Hawaii what Vegemite is to Australia and foie gras is to France: beloved, iconic, a wedge of the cultural soul. So give some respect to Onomea’s Spam musubi, in which the meat product is fried until it sweats salt and sugar, then pressed into rice with a flurry of furikake, a briny-nutty Japanese seasoning of seaweed, dried fish and sesame seeds. In Hawaii, this comes as a plastic-wrapped slab at 7-Eleven; here it is slightly more elegant, cut on the diagonal into four slanting bookends and brought to the table with the outer layer of nori still crisp. Onomea is run by Crystalyn Costa, a 24-year-old novice restaurateur who grew up in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii. There is no chef; Ms. Costa taught the cooks her family’s recipes. She works the floor and jumps behind the stoves as needed. The kitchen could use a more practiced hand. Poke (rhymes with O.K.), little cubes of raw ahi soaked in soy and sesame oil, lacks the small crackles of seaweed and the buttery underlay of smashed, roasted kukui-nut hearts that make the dish refreshing and rich at once. An oversize ahi roll, plastered with panko and deep-fried, is curiously insipid for a creation of such girth. Even that glorious Spam musubi has an off-key note: a glaze of teriyaki on the plate, both inauthentic and unnecessary. Ms. Costa explained that diners were puzzled about the lack of a dipping sauce, so she improvised one. (The corrupting influence of the mainland.) What Onomea calls entrees are actually plate lunches, an indigenous Hawaiian format that comprises a protein, macaroni salad and “two scoops rice.” (The “of” is intentionally dropped.) Here the rice is downgraded to a single scoop, unless you “Hawaiian Size It,” and the mac salad is pleasingly restrained, with barely a sheen of mayonnaise. Mesclun greens are thrown in, too, but they don’t stand a chance — not up against kalua pig, pork shoulder roasted for six hours, shredded and left to wallow in its drippings. Better yet is loco moco, a brutal architecture of fried egg, beef patty and a summit of rice, all drowned in a nearly black gravy: a working man’s tournedos Rossini. Sugar creeps into nearly every dish, from chicken sticky with shoyu (soy sauce) to a teriyaki-suffused burger on a sweet Portuguese-style bun. Hawaiian Sun canned fruit juices, poured into blue-tinted Mason jars, have the candy edge of lipstick from junior high.Thankfully there is more Spam to redress the balance, standing in for char siu (Chinese barbecue pork) in fried rice. You could bypass the entrees entirely and order a side of it as dinner.
NY Mag says:
There’s no forgetting that you’re in a Hawaiian restaurant when you step into Onomea, a narrow dining room just off Metropolitan Avenue. The ocean-colored walls are lined with backlit photos of the 50th state, with its main eight islands carved out of the wood paneling in the back. Shipping-crate slats line the ceiling over resin tables and rustic metal chairs. A common Hawaiian snack, the spam musubi, is essentially sushi but with canned meat in place of raw fish — it’s an interesting, but acquired taste. The poke appetizer tops high-quality cubes of ahi tuna with seaweed and onions. The loco moco is a teriyaki-glazed burger patty on a bed of rice (white, egg-fried, or spam-fried) under a runny egg, an odd choice for dinner, but satisfying nonetheless. Not to be missed, the traditional juices are slightly sweet and refreshing, like the lilikoi-passion-fruit or the strawberry-guava.