Bistro offers pleasing taste of Pacific islands

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Why: Kiawe Island Bistro recently opened with a menu offering Pacific Island and Asian fare ranging from Spam (an island staple of sorts) to pupu platters. Ingredients are hand selected by the chefs, meats are sliced and prepared in-house, and desserts are made from scratch. The family-friendly, casual restaurant serves lunch and dinner.

What I tried: I settled on the kalua pig and cabbage, and my dining companion had the chicken teriyaki. We also sampled the crispy wontons and the Spam musubi for our appetizer. To complete our meal, we tried the ladyfinger cookies and the pineapple upside down cake.

The crispy wontons had pork filling. Obvious care was taken in the assembly of them; each was a neatly folded triangle and fried to an even, golden and crispy finish. They were presented atop a bed of greens and lightly drizzled with a sweet sauce. Alongside them was a soy mustard sauce for dipping. The Spam appetizer was a block of rice between two slabs of fried Spam that was wrapped in nori seaweed. Its flavor was very predictable based on its ingredients.

Both lunch entrees came with rice (diners may choose white or brown) and a macaroni salad on the side, as well as a small portion of a spicy cabbage relish. The kalua pig (pulled pork), served on a bed of cooked cabbage, was moist and fall-apart-tender with a smoky-sweet flavor that permeated the meat. I noted that the cabbage had a garden-fresh flavor in comparison to cooked cabbage served at numerous other fast-casual restaurants. The teriyaki chicken was expertly grilled, sealing the juices inside. The island-style macaroni salad incorporated carrots and black sesame seeds.

Although our appetizers and plate lunches were plenty filling, we were glad we didn’t pass up dessert. The pineapple upside down cake was the best I have ever had. Typically, I find this variety of cake too sweet, with the pineapple covered in syrupy goo, which can soak into the cake, making it soggy. Kiawe’s had cake, pineapple, macadamia nuts and a light yellow frosting that complimented all the ingredients. It would be perfect to take the place of coffee cake in the morning.

The ladyfinger cookies, made with Hawaiian sweet potatoes, were exceptional as well. The only characteristic they share with traditional cookies of this sort is the shape. Other than that, they are purple, somewhat crisp and flaky. I have never had a cookie like this. Unlike the menu, the desserts are different by the day. If the two that I tried are any indicator, you are in for a treat no matter what is available.

Menu highlights beyond what I tried: The seared red snapper sandwich made with smoked-pepper Pacific red snapper and roasted pineapple aioli, and the Portuguese sausage fried rice made with eggs, green onion, cabbage, carrots and sesame seeds sounded delicious. I was intrigued by the Loco Moco, which includes rice, macaroni salad, two eggs and brown gravy.

Kiawe’s menu includes items that feature Spam, such as the fried saimin and the Spam fried rice.

Sushi options include spicy Hawaiian nigiri, a crispy tempura shrimp and mango roll, and smoked ahi poke.

Atmosphere: The restaurant’s strip mall location is not particularly eye-catching, but then, not all good things come in fancy packaging.

Once inside, the decor brings a calm, pleasant vibe to the space. The island theme is reflected in various pieces of art. Seating consists of contemporary-style tables and chairs and an upholstered wall bench. Orders are taken at a brick-faced, deli-style counter and delivered to tables. A chalkboard menu hangs above the counter and a separate lighted board makes daily specials easy to spot.

Other observations: This is one of those places that will likely surprise the unsuspecting diner. The service was great, the food was fresh, appetizing and beautifully presented, the portions were adequate and the overall cleanliness was impressive.

Kiawe Island Bistro has some catering options.

Cost: Appetizers range from $3 to $8. Sushi is $4.50 to $10. Saimin, a noodle dish, is $9. Plate lunches are available in half or full sizes costing $9 to $15. Sandwiches come with sweet potato or regular fries and cost $8 to $11. Salads are $9 and $10. Fried rice dishes are $8 and $9. Sides are $1.75 to $6. Family meals include two meats, steamed white rice, macaroni salad and kimchi for $36. Pupu platters are $15 to $18. Kids meals are $5 and come with a small beverage.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday.

Where: 212 N.E. 164th Ave., Suite 12, Vancouver.

Telephone: 360-254-5544. Visit Kiawe Island Bistro’s Facebook page for daily specials and additional information.

Health score: Kaiwe Island Bistro received a pre-opening inspection, which is not scored, and is scheduled to receive a routine inspection in the near future. Zero is a perfect score, and Clark County Public Health closes restaurants with a score of 100 or higher. For information, call 360-397-8428.