Picture a Hawaiian restaurant. Noreetuh is not that place. There’s no tiki-torched, lei’d-back Pacific camp on display at this dark-wood East Village bistro, looking more like a sleek, softly lit wine bar than a restaurant cracking open tins of Spam on the daily. That’s not a shock, given the pedigree behind the place: Jin Anh, Gerald San Jose and Honolulu-raised chef Chung Chow all have fine-dining tenures at Per Se under their belt.
But white-tablecloth eating this isn’t. It’s sophisticated, no doubt—a smartly curated and generously priced wine list by Anh takes the place of any coconut-hulled cocktails—but Chow embraces the Hawaiian lowbrow as readily as he does the high.
Musubi, that junky gas-station novelty comprising grilled Spam slapped atop a tile of rice and wrapped in seaweed, gets upgraded via lean corned-beef tongue nestled on cilantro-sauced grains with crunchy peanuts ($6). The canned ham arrives camouflaged inside tender tortellini instead, its porky funk nondescript, bridled by bittersweet goji berries, wilted yu choy and runny poached egg ($17).
More successful in its aim to refine is Chow’s poke salad ($17), quivering cubes of sesame-oil–slick big-eye tuna texture-bombed with chunky macadamia nuts, pickled jalapeños and delicately briny seaweed tendrils. A chilled bowl of silken tofu ($12) is a culture-crossing beaut, nodding to the still-prevalent Asian migrations to the islands, soft as chawanmushi with equally Japanese touches like poppy ikura, shiitake mushrooms, anisey shiso and velvety slips of uni.
Not everything works—croquettes filled with kalua pork (swine traditionally cooked in an underground oven, a favorite of luaus) are worthy of space on an Applebee’s menu—but Chow does ample work giving the underserved cuisine its proper due.