Friday, December 5, 2014

Hoping That Da Lu'au Will Be Da Bomb

Da Lu'au Hawaiian Grill
41 Auto Center Drive Ste. #101
Foothill Ranch, CA 92610

One food that I don't think gets enough love is Hawaiian cuisine. A quick search of Urbanspoon shows that there's only 43 Hawaiian restaurants in OC, and some of those are fusion restaurants that just happen to have a few items from the islands on their menu. Almost every time I have had Hawaiian, I've left the restaurant enjoying my meal. I was hoping that was going to be the case when we left Da Lu'au in Foothill Ranch.

Da Lu'au gets a lot of love from the OC Weekly. They've named this one of the top 10 spots for breakfast, they gave a pretty glowing full review of the food here, and Gustavo wrote them up in his always entertaining "Hole In the Wall"  column last year. Besides all that, the real reason I had this place written down in my notes was because a reader of the blog, Missy, had commented that I needed to try this place. Not one to let a tip go un-followed, we headed up to Foothill Ranch on a recent Saturday night.

This Hawaiian restaurant is located in an out of the way shopping center that people would only come to if you made a wrong turn, or had a specific reason for coming here. The shopping center is home to a Jersey Mike's, Cinnamon Productions, and Mustard Cafe, a restaurant we reviewed back in 2011. We were definitely hoping for a more positive experience at Da Lu'au than we had there.

Da Lu'au had a pretty good flow of business on this Saturday night. Lots of takeout orders, and half of the fifteen or so tables in the small dining room were filled at least one time during our stay. Ordering was a little confusing. There was a register near the front, where we ordered, but for everyone else dining here, they were served by a waitress. After ordering at the counter we selected a table, got our drinks at the fountain, and waited for our food to arrive.

I didn't know this when I started dating Katie five and a half years ago, but she's a poke fiend. It's almost always assured that she will order poke anytime she sees it on a menu. That was the case at Da Lu'au as well. This Ahi Poke ($8.95) came seasoned with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sea salt, then was served on top of mixed greens, sliced avocado, green onion, lettuce, sliced cucumber, and a few tortilla chips scattered about. This was more like an ahi salad than I had imagined getting. The ahi was very fresh and seasoned simply to allow the natural flavor of the fish to come through. It came with a soy sesame ginger dressing that was rather boring. The spicier dressing that they provided us with was a much better option for me with this. We wish there was more of the ahi and less of the greens, but it was a good cure for Katie's ahi cravings.

Katie selected what a lot of people probably think about when thinking about Hawaiian food, a Two Item Combo Plate ($9.95). At Da Lu'au you have the option of picking two of their fifteen entrees to complete your combo meal. Katie had the BBQ Chicken and the Kalua Pork. The BBQ chicken was the better of these two. It was tender, with a nice char to it. The pork was a little on the dry side, and was only made better when sauce was added. This was not even close to the pork we had at Hapa J's, which has been the best kalua pork we have had on this side of the Pacific. For her two sides she went with White Rice and Potato Macaroni Salad. The rice went well with the chicken, but the clear winner was the potato macaroni salad. I'm not really a big fan of macaroni salad, but this was excellent. It had equal parts of potato and macaroni, it had the right amount of moisture, and the flavor was spot on. A very good side.

When it came time for my order, I decided to recreate the exact same two item combo meal that the guys from OC Weekly had when they ate here. That meant I would be having the Meat Jun and Mochiko Chicken. Two items that were brand new to me, and rarely seen on Hawaiian menus on the mainland. The Meat Jun could best be described as a flat slice of rib eye, egg dipped, then grilled. Kind of like a meat version of french toast. It had a sweetness that kind of went with it, but neither of the sauces that came with this were the right fit for the meat jun. The mochiko is deep fried chicken thighs, with ginger, and battered in sweet rice powder. These fried chicken nuggets were a winner. Not overly greasy, tender chicken, and they were made even better with their hot and spicy sauce. Along with the potato macaroni salad, I opted for the Asian Coleslaw. If you are not a fan of cilantro, forgo this side item. The overpowering cilantro gave this an almost minty quality. Refreshing, but not for everyone.

We're really glad that reader Missy and the group over at OC Weekly steered us towards Da Lu'au. Not the best Hawaiian food that we have had, but not the worst by a long shot. In fact it's pretty good for a fast casual place. Prices were not crazy, with only a few items reaching the double digit mark. Maybe not destination dining, but if you're in the area, and jonesing for Hawaiian food this could be the spot for you.

Out of five outrigger canoes, (which happens to be the official team sport of the state of Hawaii), five being best to zero being worst, Da Lu'au gets 3 outrigger canoes.

For more information about Da Lu'au Hawaiian Grill, go to their website here:

Da Lu'Au Hawaiian Grill on Urbanspoon

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