Manhattanville, NYC | Spam is one of the products that, at least in the U.S., you ate not so much because you wanted to, but because you had to. I was once not allowed to leave the table until I finished all the Spam off of my dinner plate. I defiantly sat at that table for a full two hours before my plate was clean.
I was 8 years old then—my tastes have since matured and adapted. My palate is far more refined and broadened, and the prospect of sampling the staple Hawaiian dish spam musubi at Makana in Manhattanville—the only restaurant in all of NYC that seems to serve it (albeit in two locations)—was not only something I am no longer averse to, but welcomed enthusiastically.
And suddenly everything about Spam made complete sense! Somehow the slightly "offal-y" taste properties of the otherwise familiarly meat, salty pork—spiked with the Asian nuance of teriyaki sauce—works well with the intense, beach-evocative, sea salt-enhanced, nori (dried seaweed). The sticky rice that it's all wrapped around is an ideal base vessel to let all the unique and unusual flavors mix agreeably without become overwhelming.
On this particular visit, from a few months ago, I was intent on immersing myself in Hawaiian cuisine, so I also ordered another traditional dish—the loco moco, a beef burger patty topped with gravy and a fried egg, over rice.
Unfortunately, the loco moco was less satisfying, almost far less so. I can't even speak to the burger as I could barely feel it in my mouth, much less taste it underneath endless, thickly sweet soy-heavy, gelatinous "gravy", which overwhelmed pretty much everything on the plate. Not helping matters was the fried egg on top. I don't mind well done edges, although not my preference—but I do mind egg whites that aren't fully cooked, even if it guarantees a runny yolk. Don't know how my egg was over-cooked on the edges and near raw in the middle, but along with the quickly congealing gravy, it made for an unpleasant mouth experience. (The side of macaroni salad was serviceable at best.)
Now, not having had either of these dishes before—and so not having anything to compare them to—I can't speak to whether or not they truly represent authentic Hawaiian cuisine. As a newbie, though, I can remark I was pleasantly surprised by my first musubi, good enough to warrant a return visit and a recommendation.
I might still be at the table, however, if I had to finish the second dish before leaving.
MAKANA | 161 W 106th St., New York, NY 10025 | (212) 678-4569 | makananyc.com