678 Hawaii: a new Korean yakiniku restaurant in Honolulu
No, it's not Psy, that creepy, glowing, life-size cut out in front of 678 Hawaii. It's Korean celebrity Kang Ho Dong, who owns 678 Hawaii as well as a bunch of other restaurants in Korea, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
Ambiance and design details aren't usually items worth mentioning about a Korean restaurant. But here, at this hipper-than-most yakiniku place, where all the waiters wear earpieces and mics (and for the holidays, Santa hats, like meat-delivering elves), many little touches delight us immensely. Like the metal can seats with removable cushions so you can store your bag inside. Or the call button on the tables to summon waiters (it alerts them through their watches). The hanging napkin dispenser at the table.
The young, Korean, male waiters swap out different grills for each type of meat—one with slats for the pork jowl, one grid-like, similar to a fry basket, for our bulgolgi.
All the meats are highly marbled and rich; 678, pronounced in Korean, means quality meat.
Left: pig skin, right: pork belly. The grills have moats, with compartments containing garlic, onions, kimchee, egg custard and corn cheese (or more accurately, cheesy corn).
Some unique items to 678: pig skin, which arrives already cooked and infused with sugar and chili. We char it further on the grill, and it emerges as pig candy—crisp edged, sweet, and chewy from collagen (and yes, fat). Our server, while grilling, threatens to abscond with it, such is its addictive lure.
Also of note: the old style Korean lunch box, with rice, egg, kimchee and fishcake, is presented in a shallow box, like a tin of chocolates. The server mixes it, snaps on the lid, shakes it, and gives it a resounding smack before opening the box. It certainly doesn't look pretty anymore, but the end result, thoroughly mixed with seaweed, tiny sweet and salty dried anchovies, tastes wonderful.
A moat surrounds the grill. They fill a portion of it with egg, and part of it with corn and cheese; the egg sets up as custard as the grill heats up, and cheese oozes over the canned corn for a stoner-food concoction, further flavored by the meat fat that has drained into the egg moat and corn cheese.
At the end of the night, we find the pendant hoods over each grill that drop down like bendy straws have done their duty. It's the first time I've left a yakiniku restaurant not doused in smoky meat perfume. It's a minor miracle.
Combination meat set $43.99 to $54.99, feeds two to three people.
678 Hawaii, 1726 Kapiolani Blvd., 941-6678