Hawaiian kitchen breezes into high gear
By Greg Sabin
Kau Kau, the new Hawaiian hotspot in East Sacramento, has already hit its stride. Open only four months, this home-style island eatery feels like it’s been part of the Sacramento food scene for years.
I typically don’t judge a restaurant until at least six months after opening. Menus change, personnel shifts. The realities of opening a new business in any environment—not to mention a pandemic—mean things aren’t always at their best the first few months. But Kau Kau nails it.
Partners Amanda Bridger and Chris Tocchini took over the space at the 57th Antique and Design Center formerly held by Evan’s Kitchen. The closing of that Sacramento institution upset many. Yet, Bridger and Tocchini have filled the considerable shoes of former owner Evan Ellsberry with incredible grub, stellar service and more than two scoops of aloha.
With several generations of roots in Hawaii, Bridger brings a slew of family recipes and personal twists to create a bang-up menu. This is a kitchen where just about everything is house made. Even the spam. Chopped and pressed pork shoulder blended with secret seasonings makes up the house version.
The house spam reaches into a number of dishes: spam musubi, spam and eggs, and a spam plate lunch. The Hawaiian plate lunch—typically meat served with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad—feels like a ubiquitous West Coast food at this point, with multiple chains serving it up throughout California.
Kau Kau’s plate lunch is a step above. It’s good enough for dinner. Meats are prepared with care and the sauces, like the huli-huli on grilled chicken thighs, are bright and undeniable in flavor. Options range from kalua pork to fried chicken cutlet (katsu) to garlic shrimp.
Those crispy shrimp with garlic sauce are reminiscent of shrimp trucks on the north shore of Oahu. Bite into one shrimp and you hear the wind off the Pacific and see farm cats peering around the corner of the truck in case you drop a morsel. This food is transportive.
The brunch menu is equally fun and expert. Loco moco, the classic Hawaiian comfort food made from hamburger patty, rice and eggs and covered in gravy, is about the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve had my share. The chicken and waffle space on the menu is filled with macadamia nut waffles topped with chicken katsu. It’s a cheeky turn on a favorite.
Tocchini runs the front of house and does a splendid job. His casual, friendly vibe belies an off-the-charts restaurant IQ. He manages to look cool during a brunch line out the door and never fails to make each diner feel like a special guest.
The old room at Evan’s had a dark, clubby feel with wooden booths and low lighting. The overhauled dining room at Kau Kau is light filled and airy. The exposed ceiling has been whitewashed and provides reflected light for leafy plants along the clerestory. Banquettes line each wall and a large family table dominates the center of the room.
A petite bar is tucked away in one corner with high chairs and a restrained beer and wine selection. Copper and stainless pipes running out from the bar are quirky, industrial and eye-catching. It gives the otherwise floaty room a little earthiness.
If you were waiting awhile to try the new Hawaiian restaurant in East Sacramento, you need not. It’s up and running and has found its stride.
Kau Kau is at 855 57th St. in East Sacramento; (916) 431-7043.