we were all super excited to hear that prima family member chef kevin lee was a finalist in food & wine magazine’s best new chef “people choice”. it’s great to see someone so deserving get a little recognition, although if you have ever met kevin, you would know that the last thing he wants is the spotlight…sorry for putting you in the spotlight kevin.
Opened in September in Kailua on Oahu’s windward side, Prima Kailua is one of the newest Italian restaurants on the island — and quickly becoming one of the most popular. It specializes in good, healthy food on plates small enough to share. It’s got a nice array of shareable plates, pizzas and interesting dishes like this pappardelle noodles with a curry meat sauce.
Is it breakfast or dinner? Is it sweet or salty? All of the above. Breadshop brioche, already rich and buttery on its own, is prepared as French toast and topped with generous foie gras shavings. They melt like butter over the hot, custardy bread, imparting a rich and savory flavor. Coconut powder and strawberries provide contrast, while maple syrup sweetens the deal. Our entire table gasped in wonder and delight after the first bite.
Prima has the wood-fired pizzas you get at V Lounge, including the boquerones (white anchovy) pizza that made Food Network Magazine’s 50 Best Pizzas list. In Kailua, the crust is slightly different, a nicer texture, since the partners popped for a spiral dough mixer.
When Prima first opened, chefs Kevin Lee and Lindsey Ozawa set out to never repeat a soup. Their goal: 100 different soups. But then they couldn’t stop. They just created their 150th. In the beginning, there was a Dungeness crab and corn bisque, then a creamy mushroom. They pulled flavors from different ethnicities: Mexican albondigas (meatball) soup; South Indian avial, a vegetarian coconut milk-based soup; fried mochi soup.
Credit the young chefs at Prima—Alejandro Briceño, Kevin Lee and Lindsey Ozawa—for energizing O‘ahu’s dining scene with a well-crafted array of pastas, pizza and small plates. The Kailua eatery may have a relaxed, no-fuss appearance, but the menu projects a sophistication that has discriminating eaters trekking to the Windward side for such dishes as veal sweetbreads, fennel panna cotta, buffalo clams with duck confit and homemade gelato. The chefs—all under 35—adhere to a simple, yet refined, concept of creating easy-to-share dishes that are crafted from seasonal, local ingredients.
Just a quick look at the menu for this new Italian fusion restaurant ensures that all the bases are covered: locally-sourced, slow food with an emphasis on sharing plates and exciting combinations of flavors. For instance, one item on the menu—the “Buffalo” clams with duck confit—uses Frank’s Red Hot, a fact Prima proudly points out on the menu. Unpretentious and delicious can be tough to come by. If you’re not eating at Prima, that is.
After four years of what could be called the Golden Chain Age—when we were all aflutter about the openings of big-name, hotel-based restaurants like Nobu, BLT Steak, Morimoto and Kauai Grill—2011 has turned out to be a banner year for notable indie eateries. Salt Kitchen and Tasting Bar, Heeia Kea Pier General Store and Deli, pop-up restaurants The Pig and The Lady and Plancha, bakery Let Them Eat Cupcakes and now Prima.