While a North Shore eatery was undergoing a quick facelift recently, it suddenly sported a new name. The place once known as Moana Cafe had been reborn as the far more exotic-sounding Dazoo.
The drastic changes in the dining room were a welcome upgrade in the Paia restaurant that hadn’t changed its layout in over 20 years. When new owners David and Yulie Law bought Moana Cafe in 2012, they lightly redecorated but kept the original name. When they started more substantial construction, it was time to change the name.
“We wanted the community to get used the the few updates we were making,” says Yulie Law. “So we have slow rolled the changes. We are loving the new look, and the feedback has been great from our customers. We aren’t done changing yet. We are taking over the empty space next door and planning to have a grab-and-go bakery set up there, but that is happening later.”
The restaurant has completely changed their dining room, moving the bar and bakery case and bringing in new, modern furniture. There’s new color on the walls, a new hostess stand to greet customers at the door and lighting in the restaurant that’s warm and welcoming. The fixtures, art and signage are made from recycled cardboard. There are a few community tables for large groups as well. The acoustics of the room remain lively, and the new bar has an exquisite menu to boot, but we’ll visit that another time.
“All of our fish is sourced fresh from Hawaiian waters, which we buy from Maui Seafood,” says Yulie. “Our fresh catch changes daily depending on what’s caught. The flat iron steak is from Maui Cattle Company, and we buy our breadfruit from our good friends at the Breadfruit Institute out in Hana as well. Our executive chef Helen Hong is at the farmers market every Tuesday and Friday, to hand select the finest produce. We also source from Traje farm, Waihee Valley Plantation, Maui Grown Tomatoes, Maui Sprout Farm, and many small scale growers who harvest from their backyards.”
The menu has an eclectic mix of creative dishes from Chef Helen Hong, touching on her Korean background as well as the local fruits and vegetables she can find. The gluten-free and vegan-friendly Ulu Luau is really delicious–plus, you don’t see breadfruit served regularly on a dinner menu. The puffed rice nori is loved by adults and kids alike. I keep asking if they can make bag fulls for me to take home.
“The ssam with the Maui Cattle flat iron steak is the dish I recommend,” says manager Ryan Mabbut. “Ssam is such a fun way to eat. Ssam translates from Korean to English as ‘wrap.’ With this dish, you’re served the steak alongside four side dishes called ban chan, and fresh lettuce leaves to make a wrap. I love the idea of compiling my own wrap from start to finish and it’s great to share among two people. It’s a very lean and healthy way to eat.”
The Sunday brunch scene was also hopping, and early mornings are a quiet way to indulge in their bibimbap bowl. That bowl comes with rice that’s sizzling and crisp below and then topped with a healthy array of julienned carrots, zucchini, bean sprouts and their crave-able house-made kim chee. You choose your protein to top it, ranging from tofu to steak, and the spicy Korean gochujang sauce is served on the side. An egg served sunny side-up graces the top and you can special order a Maui egg for just 50 cents more.
They’ve also got bahn mi–the famous and wonderful Vietnamese sandwich.
“The kalua pork bahn mi to me is the perfect sandwich–it’s well-balanced and really flavorful,” says Chef Hong. “The salty and meaty kalua pork balances really nicely with the sweet and vinegar-ry pickled carrots and daikons. The tomatoes and cilantro add fresh flavors and you get a good burst of heat from the jalapenos. It’s all held together with a garlic aioli, and placed inside these incredible baguettes, which are made in-house. They are soft on the inside with a lightly crispy crust.”
If you’re planning to hit up the bakery case, Pastry Chefs Lokelani Sribura and Hillary Hawkins are busy like Christmas elves on the Key Lime Pie and Cheesecakes that are proving so popular. If you’re having dessert, Sribura says you have to try her pot de creme–it’s gluten-free and served with a Hawaiian Sea Salt macadamia brittle.
“We want our guests to think about what they are eating,” says Yulie. “Whether that’s through our use of local ingredients, our Korean spiced flavor combinations or encouraging people to try something they’ve never had before, like our puffed rice nori seaweed. We also encourage all of our guests to share our dishes, kind of like Tapas style, so everyone has a chance to try something different.”
All photos courtesy of Sean Hower Photography
71 Baldwin Ave., Paia