Downtown Huntington Beach on a late Spring evening is a parade of recently-released students from the nearby colleges, a random assortment of beach bums and twenty-somethings, all cruising the bar scene, of which there are many dotted along Main St. Added to this scene are the numerous bar/restaurant outfits, where the noise of the crowds are only superceded by the din of the music emanating from their open patio doors. Into this mélange Mr. Foodiekat and I ventured, trying to escape the madness by dining at the comparatively quiet No ka oi, a Californian/Hawaiian restaurant, which has the obligatory bar, but was refreshingly light on both rowdy patrons and tiki kitsch.
Offered our choice of tables in an otherwise half empty restaurant, we are greeted with a friendly 'Aloha.' We choose a corner table in the back, and order our drinks. No gimmicky cocktails served up in coconut shells here, just a few tropical variations on the basics and a decent wine list for such a small place. I chose a Chilean chardonnay, and selected our appetizer, the vegetarian spring rolls. These are served quickly, the shredded veggies are wrapped in generously thick deep fried won ton skins, but these lacked any real flavor punch. The Thai style dipping sauce does add an element of flavor to an otherwise fairly unexciting dish. The main menu, however, is a more intriguing fusion, with offerings such as Fijian halibut with Champagne-ginger sauce, topped with a tasty papaya-mango salsa and served with purple mashed potatoes (yes, purple). Mr. Foodiekat enjoyed this mostly harmonious, sweet and savory mix of flavors and colors. My choice was the 'lava java' salmon, encrusted with crushed coffee beans. The fish was properly cooked, though not quite 'wet' enough for this sushi lover, and the sauce, though flavorful, was a little too sweet. The coffee beans added an intriguing aftertaste that was much more subtle than I expected. The star of this dish however was the macadamia nut risotto, which had a uniquely savory, delicious zing. Overall the restaurant had a casual, relaxed atmosphere, and the service was friendly and very swift. This is a nice choice for couples trying to escape the downtown HB bar scene and for food lovers who like a taste of Hawaii but are not hardcore enthusiasts.
No Ka Oi
215 Main St., Huntington Beach 92648