Onomea opened in December and we can’t wait to try it:
When the Spam arrived, a prefab-pink stripe embedded in a triangle of rice trussed with nori, I turned to my dubious companions and said, “This will be the best thing we eat tonight.” 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.)….
Still, you are not quite in Brooklyn anymore. The food is all the more exotic for being almost familiar. And the spirit is sweetly sincere. At the end of the meal, a sign on back of the door bids you “A hui hou malama pono.”
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