Displaying their true appreciation for island agriculture, rising star chef couple Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka let their ingredients and purveyors shine at their new Kapi‘olani eatery, MW Restaurant.

Two decades after 12 of Hawai‘i’s most talented chefs came together to create a new American Regional Cuisine distinct to the islands, we are seeing the results of their “culinary offspring” as Hawai‘i’s next generation of chefs take the leap to open restaurants of their own, showcasing their unique version of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine.

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Ahi poke with salmon roe and uni. Photo courtesy MW Restaurant.

The largest leap to date came last fall with the opening of MW Restaurant by Alan Wong’s alumni and husband/wife culinary team Michelle Karr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka.

“We were raised in Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. That’s what we know, so we follow that mold—utilizing local products, working with the farmers, and showcasing the diverse backgrounds and cultures in Hawai‘i,” says Wade who spent 17 years training under chef Alan Wong. “But for us, it’s not just “farm-to-table” or the local culture, we think of it as a philosophy, a value—it’s a way of life,” he adds.

Since opening, MW Restaurant has already garnered both local and national praise. Most notably, Michelle earned a nomination for 2014 Outstanding Pastry Chef and MW earned a nomination for 2014 Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation. Located at 1538 Kapi‘olani Blvd.—part of a new development in what was formally the site of the old KGMB news studio—MW’s sleek ground-up build out and shinning new exhibition-style kitchen is the first sign that this chef couple is not cutting any corners.

“In addition to working as the pastry chef for Alan Wong, I worked for chef Keller (multiple James Beard winner Thomas Keller of The French Laundry) and he was a huge mentor for me,” says Michelle. “He taught me how to strive for excellence—he once told me that there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is only a mindset so don’t think anything is perfect; always try to make it better,” adds Michelle.

And making it better is exactly what Michelle and Wade achieved when combining their names and their culinary expertise to create MW Restaurant. At first glance, the menu may look unassuming, with familiar local-island favorites such as Fried Chicken, Twice Cooked Pork Tonkatsu and Oxtail Stew and Rice. However, Wade has taken these dishes to a new level by reworking them using premium ingredients and complex cooking techniques. So before complaining about having to pay $28 for “stew and rice,” trust in chef Wade’s five-star abilities.

“The process for the ‘stew and rice’—Stuffed Oxtail Roulade on Beef Stew Risotto, Peanuts & Mushrooms—takes a lot of time and effort to prepare,” says Wade. “We take the whole oxtail and then debone it, so that process alone is quite lengthy; then we make pork hash and re-roll it so the pork hash is supposed to resemble where the bone was. It’s a very big de-boned piece of oxtail to say the least. And that’s a big tail … so you can imagine the time it takes,” adds Wade.

Other standouts include Wade’s signature Mochi Crusted ‘Opakapaka with Somen Noodles, Assorted Condiments and Yuzu Koshu Soy Vinaigrette, a recipe inspired by his mother’s cooking. The Kaua‘i Shrimp with Seafood Ravioli with Spicy Uni Sauce, Soy Katsuo and Shiso has been slightly revised from when MW Restaurant first opened. According to Wade, the dish was previously served with homemade pasta; however if diners chose to dine family style, and the dish happened to sit on the table too long, it would become sticky. For those opting to dine family style, Wade recently created a five-course menu tasting. The first course consists of four shared “family style” appetizers, followed by three smaller portions of Wade’s signature dishes and full portions of Michelle’s Lilikoi Sorbet, Ka‘u Orange “Creamsicle Brulee.” For first-time diners to the restaurant, this is the best option to truly experience the range of flavors MW has to offer.

While Wade’s signature dishes rarely change, pastry chef Michelle’s dessert menu is varied in an effort to showcase the island’s seasonal ingredients. Some of these desserts, often touted as the “star of the show” at MW, have created such a strong following that she has been unable to remove them from the menu. The Hawaiian Crown Chocolate Banana Cream Pie with Graham Crackers, Chocolate Pudding Banana Cream and MW Cookies; and MW Candy Bar with Macadamia Nut-Praline Crunch, Salt Caramel, Waialua Chocolate and MW Cookies “have pretty much been on the menu from the start because every time I try to change it, it really doesn’t go over well with the customers,” says Michelle. “My manager also just recently called me this week and said, ‘You have to make a Lemon Meringue Brûlée.’ I told him that we took it off the menu, as Meyer Lemons are no longer in season. We now do a Tropical Fruit Creamsicle Brûlée. He said, ‘Well, we have to quickly find some Meyer Lemons as she has flown from the mainland with a magazine clipping of your Brûlée and she is crying to me on the phone.’ I ended up making the Brûlée,” says Michelle.

The sophisticated cocktail program at MW’s bar is on par with the first-rate dining experience provided by the duo, and in my humble opinion is currently mixing up some of the best libations on the island. Created by Southern Wine & Spirits mixologist Chandra Lam, the menu reflects the chefs’ commitment to showcasing island products while letting the ingredients shine. For the ladies, the bright magenta colored cocktail Feel The Beet, which features tequila, ginger, fresh lime and house-made beet syrup is the perfect mix of sweet and earthy and almost tricks you into thinking it is healthy for you. For something slightly heavier, the whisky-based Speyside Spice, featuring Glenlivet 12 yr., Lehua honey and house-made chili pepper water is a cocktail that is truly unique to the islands.

MW Restaurant is currently open six days a week (closed on Tuesdays) for lunch and dinner service and offers a special Small Plates Menu daily from 2 to 5 p.m.

MW Restaurant, 1538 Kapi‘olani Blvd., 955-6505 or www.mwrestaurant.com