Munching Ate-Oh-Ate

Wifey and I really enjoy Hawaiian food. Heck, we just love Hawaii. That's why we got married there and have taken multiple trips to the islands. We love the food, both the fresh fish of the islands and the plate lunch-style foods.

So when the owners of Simpatica - one of our favorite Portland restaurants - opened a new Hawaiian restaurant, we had to go. One of the Simpatica owners is from Hawaii, so he wanted to bring the flavors and dishes of his youth to the Portland market.

Located on East Burnside, Ate-Oh-Ate (808 is also the area code of the islands) offers a menu full of all of the most well-known of plate lunch foods: loco moco, saimin, katsu, Hawaiian-style teriyaki and kalbi, and all sorts of other dishes that promise yumminess. It's a takeout or dine-in place where you make your order and pay at the counter, then they bring the food out to you.

It's funny to me how Hawaiian places generally seem to get little respect in the Portland foodie community. They go on about the use of Spam or the overuse of mayonnaise, or talk about how the teriyaki isn't like what a Japanese restaurant would make, when that only shows they are completely missing Hawaiian food. It's alternatively fresh and purely local - with fruits and fish - while at the same time all about convenience, with the spam and heavy mayo. It's also heavily influenced by Korean and Japanese flavors, but it's not supposed to be the same - they've taken those influences, applied flavors uniquely Hawaiian, and made it their own.

Because of that and the way people seem to approach Hawaiian food, I personally think many completely miss the boat when they pan a place. It's valid to say one doesn't like Hawaiian or doesn't like the way the dish has changed, but that's a completely different viewpoint. Don't compare it to Japanese or Korean, because it's not intended to be the same.

Okay, rant over.

Wifey has been wanting to try saimin - sort of a Hawaiian-styled ramen - for awhile, so that made one dish an easy order. I opted for the pork katsu plate.

The katsu plate came with housemade katsu sauce, a side of pickled vegetables, two scoops of fresh rice and a scoop of Hawaiian-style macaroni salad.

The macaroni salad was nicely balanced. Non-Hawaiians, such as us, tend to be turned off when the mac goes overboard with the mayo, but this one had plenty of creaminess without making you feel like you just ate a side of lard. The pickled vegetables were fine, a tad hot but not too much, but I'm not sure where exactly they fit in.

I really enjoyed the katsu sauce, even though it's nothing like any katsu sauce I've had before. It had a sweetness neither of us could place, something fruity. Was it berry? Or maybe pineapple? Not sure...I can see people either loving it or hating it though.

The pork katsu itself was just okay. The problem, I think, was the pork had been flattened too much, leaving it so thin that after it was breaded and fried the pork flavor was just about gone. This is a dish I've made at home, eaten in Hawaii, had at Japanese restaurants, Hawaiian restaurants - and never had it this flat. I really think it was just a mistake in the kitchen. It's unfortunate, because I liked everything else on my plate (well, the veggies, as I said, were just fine).

Wifey's saimin looked fantastic.

Strips of pork belly (in the picture's foreground), fish cakes (on the right), half a soft boiled egg, and a sprinkling of greens promised to be quite yummy. And they were. The red pepper added a nice bit of heat as well. The crazy thing? The entire dish smelled fishy, which is really odd because the stock isn't a fish base. And it didn't taste fishy at all - the fish cakes were that overpowering smellwise.

Each individual flavor was very good. The pork had a very nice crust on it, the fish cakes were light, the noodles as expected, but all together it seemed to be lacking. Perhaps too many competing flavors cancelled each other out? Maybe the stock wasn't rich enough on its own to bring everything together? Not sure. It was decent, but not necessarily something we would order again.

It might sound a bit like we didn't really enjoy our food, but I don't know that that would be the right takeaway. It was fine - each dish had positives and drawbacks - and we do plan on going back to try other dishes. The loco moco, the burger, the kalua pork, the kalbi beef short ribs - they all look good. We'll give it another shot; one visit isn't quite enough for me to form a complete opinion.

But yes, if the second time fails to impress, it's unlikely we'll go back.

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