Lani Kai, Upscale Hawaiian Food and Drinks in New York City

June 12th, 2012 · 2 Comments

Jess and I got together one night when I was in New York. We were both working pretty late and wanted to have a nice dinner with some good drinks to unwind. We decided on Lani Kai, a Hawaiian restaurant in Soho that Jess had heard was good. She had told me about it when I was in New York a few weeks ago, but we didn’t have time to go. That’s the thing about New York, though, right? Even when you live there, there is never enough time to go to all the places you hear about!

Jess trying to decide what to order.

So many delicious cocktails.

Kamehameha Rum Punch

Happy with my drink selection!

After getting turned around just slightly, we found Lani Kai on a quieter section of Broome Street. The interior felt like a high-end resort on the islands and was not a cheesy tiki bar, as I’d feared. The first thing we did was go about trying to choose drinks. There are two full pages of tropical cocktails and another two pages of beer and wine. Unfortunately, there were no Hawaiian beers (if they can get them at Citi Field, why can’t they get them here?), but that was ok because I wanted a cocktail anyway. After much deliberation, Jessica got the Pacific Swizzle (white rum infused with rosehip, lemongrass and hibiscus tea, lime juice and passion fruit) and I got the Kamehameha Rum Punch (Nicaraguan and dark Jamaican rums, lemon, fresh pineapple juice, grenadine and crème de mure). The drinks were not cheap ($13 each) but they were large and tasty and had plenty of fresh ingredients. We could see the bartender making them with care… and besides… $13? It was New York, afterall. Not that crazy. We both really liked our drinks. Jess’s was a bit sweeter than mine, which made me like mine a little more.

Small plates

Crab Wontons


Loco Moco

Once we got our drinks settled, it was time to order food. Lani Kai has one page of the menu with pupus and small plates. On another page were larger entrees. Some of the entrees looked great – they had Kalua Pig and a grilled Hawaiian fish – but we decided to stick to smaller things that we could share. Out of the gate we got the Crab Wontons (lump crab mixed with mascarpone cheese in a crispy wonton, served with mustard sauce), Tuna Poke (ahi tuna with cucumber, onion, ogo and pickled jalapeño served with taro root chips) and Loco Moco (crispy Japanese rice cake topped with a spiced beef patty, fried quail egg and demi glace). The crab wontons were pretty standard. The poke was clean and fresh. I liked the addition of the taro chips to add a crunch while eating it. And though this was the fanciest loco moco I’ve ever had, I thought it was really tasty and didn’t stray too far off course from the classic dish.

Back to the cocktail menu!

Blue Hawaiian

Time for round two. Again, we were lost in two pages of cocktails trying to pick another. We both decided to try the classic, Blue Hawaiian (demerara rum, lemon, pineapple juice, coco lopez and blue curaçao). I was afraid this was going to be too sweet, but it was just perfect. Plus, how pretty are these drinks! And I was happy to see a flower in my drink that was just like the flower garnishes in Hawaii, and not the pansy that was in Jess’s first drink. Pansies are pretty… but not very Hawaiian :)

Char Siu Baby Back Ribs

Huli Huli Yakitori

Poi Doughnuts

And time for some more food. Instead of getting entrees we decided to get a couple more things to share: Char Siu Baby Back Ribs (ribs roasted in Chinese barbeque sauce, garnished with crushed macadamia nuts and scallions), Huli Huli Yakatori (grilled chicken skewars marinated in a house-made huli huli sauce), and Poi Doughnuts (doughnuts served with a warm caramel & rum dipping sauce). I love char siu so I liked the ribs, even if they did overdo it on the sauce a bit. I thought that the mac nuts were a good addition to the dish. The huli huli chicken was simple, but super flavorful. The poi doughnuts were a good ending to the meal, even if there was no actual poi to be seen.

Lani Kai

You can see our cute, hip waitress here helping another table. She was really attentive and sweet. You can also see some of the Lani Kai decor. Overall I liked the place a lot. When I saw the menu and saw our food, I knew Dallas would be rolling his eyes and objecting. A quail egg on a loco moco? Demi glace? This is not the Hawaiian food that he grew up with, but again… we’re in New York. In Soho. It’s an upscale place. I’ve had all the classic versions of these dishes and I’ve had fancy versions of them as well. I think there’s a time and a place for each. And I thought the food at Lani Kai was really good. And so were the drinks. It was definitely not the cheapest meal, but they do have a happy hour (pau hana!) where drinks are discounted $5 each and there are pupu specials. I think Jess has to go back for that! I would if I lived there just so I could try some more of those tropical drinks!

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