Today is a Sunday. A day of relaxation, Sunday supper with my family, and time to reflect the past week and the coming week. After relaxation, I decided that I needed to run a few errands, do a little shopping, and grab a quick bite since Sunday dinner with the family would be a little later than usual.
I was at the Arcadia Crossing strip mall at 44th Street and Thomas and after a hedonistic trip to Costco, I was driving west on Thomas Road and looking for a place to grab a quick bite. There was Schlotsky's, Arby's, Jack In the Box, McDonalds, and a host of other suspects. What caught my eye, however, was a little place in the middle of a detached part of a strip mall at 38th Street and Thomas.
Ono Hawaiian BBQ sort of jumped out at me. The idea of a bit of Teriyaki Chicken or the like sounded good. I pulled into the parking lot, headed in and scanned the menu. While I was looking, I was remembering the sudden influx of talk about "Hawaiian" cuisine and seeing a few articles and the like on the web, in the paper and in general conversation. Apparently, the cuisine from our 50th State is all the rage now.
Looking at the menu, I found myself eyeing the Chicken Katsu ($5.99), a large breaded chicken cutlet deep fried and cut into strips. (I know this is more Japanese than Hawaiian, but if it is on the menu, it is fair game.) It was served with two scoops of white rice and a scoop of Macaroni Salad. I decided to wash it down with a large Diet Coke. I approached the register and waited for someone to take my order. I waited a few minutes more. Then I noticed what the problem was.
One of the staff was busy chatting on the phone and giggling while twisting her hair and applying lip gloss. Another of the staff was busy adjusting his CZ earring and then, in what can only be described as bizarre, lifted his "Ono Hawaiian BBQ" t-shirt and undershirt and began rubbing his chest and abs with his hands. This should have been a cue to me that nothing good could come of this visit to this eatery.
One of the cooks noticed me and caught the attention of Narcissus and he approached the register. He stopped and stared at me. I finally said that I wanted the Chicken Katsu and a large Diet Coke. He rang up the order, took my debit card, ran the transaction and handed me my receipt. He never spoke a word to me. It is good to see those who are vocally challenged getting work these days.
I filled my beverage cup at the drink station and saw that there were two pumps offering sauces for my meals. I could get the Teriyaki sauce, which was marked with a "CAUTION - HOT" sign, or I could opt for the cold Katsu sauce. I decided to get a little of both. The Katsu sauce was a reddish-orange color with flecks of black pepper in it. I went to get some Teriyaki sauce and the pump mechanism on the sauce container ended up splattering hot Teriyaki sauce all over the front of my shirt. After a quick clean up, I found a table.
I surveyed the restaurant and I liked the fact that the space was very clean and spacious, despite its small spot in a strip mall. The tables were plentiful and there was a good amount of space between them. The chairs were also quite comfortable. The place was decorated with a few Polynesian-esqe items, but the featured "art" was the Arizona Republic article praising Ono Hawaiian BBQ for its large plate lunches.
I waited for my lunch and was called about 5 minutes later. I retrieved my meal and it was served in a standard 3-section styrofoam container with the self-locking lid. I returmed to my table.
I opened the container and the thing I noticed right away was that there was no distinguished aroma from my lunch. Not from the Chicken Katsu, the rice or the Macaroni Salad. The serving was quite plentiful, and the chicken strips sat atop a small bed of sliced cabbage. My first impressions was that this was a boring meal. My fault, to be sure, since I was ordering.
I took a bite of the rice. It was fluffy and cooked perfectly. No complaints here. I then took a bite of the Macaroni Salad. Now, I will admit right off the bat that I am not a big Macaroni Salad fan. I would always choose cole slaw or potato salad or even a pasta salad. However, this is a Hawaiian place and I have been assured by my roommate who's brother-in-law is Hawaiian that Macaroni Salad is the big sidedish in Hawaii for plate lunches.
The salad was bland. Macaroni and mayonaisse and a few scant pieces of carrot. There was no seasoning whatsoever. Most disconcerting was the fact that the top half of the salad had its temperature raised to above room temperature because of the rice and the chicken. This experience only confirmed that macaroni salad will always be something I will never seek out.
Next up was the Chicken Katsu. Now, I love Chicken Cutlets. I think that a good cook can make a very tasty entree by serving a chicken cutlet if the chicken is fresh, the batter is tasty and there is something to bring out the flavor of the dish (Red Devil Restaurant does a fantastic job of this by putting a garlic butter on its chicken cutlet). So, I dove into the Katsu, first dipping my first slice into the Katsu sauce.
The Katsu sauce reminded me of what you would get if you mixed Plum Sauce with Ketchup. It had a tangy bite to it, but the ice cold temperature was really a turn off. The chicken itself was clearly not at its best having been overcooked to the point where the meat was chewy. I then tried it with the Teriyaki Sauce. That sauce was infinitely better than the Katsu Sauce, but was unable to save the chicken from its chewy non-goodness.
I struggled to finish my meal but was simply underwhelmed. This is what is "all the rage"? Yawn. The best way to describe this meal would be "A serving of Boring with a bland sauce with a couple of sides of Nothing." I would expect something more for my $8.09, which was the total of my bill including tax.
Unfortunately, I learned a little too late that this place was a Californa chain that had locations in SoCal and in Arizona. If I had known that beforehand, I either would have 1) prepared myself for bland - which most chains do to cater to the lowest common denominator of American tastes or 2) not have ventured in at all.
This was just so completely unfulfilling and a waste of my time and money. Yet, the place was bustling with people. Maybe they wanted to see Mr. Narcissus caress his body. Who knows?
All I know is that I am lucky enough to have a Southern mom who will be cooking a wonderful roast for dinner tonight for Sunday supper. Thankfully, that will get the bland taste out of my mouth.
Ono Hawaiian BBQ
3923 East Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Dress: Hawaiian Shirt Casual
Notes: Other locations in Avondale, Gilbert and Scottsdale plus all over SoCal.