HANALEI — Generations of Japanese immigration to Hawaii has made the islands a hub for ramen, the Japanese noodle soup. The problem on Kauai, says local chef and restaurateur Jim Moffat, is that there aren’t all that many places left serving up these slurpable, belly-warming bowls of broth and noodles, apart from the few-and-far-between mom-and-pop shop.
So, in September, Moffat and his business partner Jondy Malone launched Ama, a modern ramen and raw fish restaurant in Hanalei. The new eatery’s name is the Hawaiian word for the outrigger of a Polynesian canoe.
Cast in the shadow of Hanalei’s iconic, waterfall-drenched mountains, Ama is an Asian-inspired cevicheria with the feel of a Japanese whiskey bar. Apart from an indoor bar with bench seating, all the restaurant’s dining tables are outdoors. Like its decor of natural woods, Ama’s food menu is simple. The main event is ramen, served in rich, silky chicken, pork or miso vegetable broth that simmers for 24-hours before it is served.
“In the big cities, ramen is killing it,” says Moffat, who also owns Bar Acuda, Hanalei’s reservation-only tapas and wine bar. “Our island is wonderfully behind the times by about seven or eight years, so we are just catching up to what the big cities like San Francisco and New York are doing.”
The noodles are made in Honolulu by Sun Noodle, a ramen manufacturer founded by a second-generation noodle maker from Japan. Add-ons include soft eggs, pork belly, fried tofu and garlic chips. Finished with kombu seaweed, shaved bonito flakes and shiitake mushroom, Ama’s piping ramen bowls are best described as umami, the so-called fifth flavor that informs a great deal of Japanese cooking.
“It just gives you that savory, rich full-mouth feeling,” Moffat explains.
In addition to ramen, Ama serves up raw fish, salad, kushiyaki-style skewers, beer-battered fish tacos and a spicy shrimp burger. Menu favorites include a Burmese salad brimming with flavor. Ginger, jalapenos and a fish sauce vinaigrette excite the tongue, while peanuts and sesame seeds provide a satisfying crunch.
Hawaii fishers and farmers are the sources of many ingredients, including mahi-mahi, tuna, Bok choy and green onion.
For dessert, the choice is simple because there’s only one: House-made doughnuts with chocolate sauce and caramel ice cream. They pair best with a cappuccino or a spot of sake beneath a starry Hanalei night sky.
Located in Hanalei Center, Ama provides guests with a relaxed, spruce atmosphere for an outdoor meal or late-night cocktail. There are large tables for party seating, as well as a fire pit and a grassy area that guests sometimes utilize for games of bocce.
“After living here for 15 years, we’ve come to really recognize what our community needs and it needs more outside restaurants,” Moffat says.
Ama is open for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Monday service is slated to begin in December.