Pono Hawaiian Grill brings island magic to Cypress Lounge
Cypress Lounge now shares its space with Pono Hawaiian Grill, brought to you by “Braddah” Timmy Hunt who previously co-owned Aloha Island Grill. The menu holds a bounty of traditional Hawaiian dishes and those influenced by Asian cuisine.
The Lounge’s interior now sports island-themed art, and the large patio has been revitalized with tropical ginger plants, woven reed wallpaper, and a roof thatched with palm fronds. Aloha Fridays feature live Hawaiian music.
Appetizers ($2.50 to $7.95) such as Hawaiian Fresh Spring rolls with pineapple-macadamia nut hoisin sauce, and Manapua dumplings filled with char siu pork make perfect bar snacks. Salads ($4.50 to $6.95) include Da Mana Salad, a vegetarian mixture of tofu poke, brown rice and vegetables.
Most of the meats, as well as tofu, are available in wraps ($5.95) with house-made pineapple salsa, and also in sandwiches and ramen-style noodle soup. Garden burgers ($6.95) join beef burgers ($7.95) with either teriyaki with grilled pineapple or pineapple barbecue sauce and onion rings.
Regular plates ($6.95 to $8.95) feature tofu, seafood, chicken cutlets and teriyaki as well as island favorites like steamed Pork Lau Lau. The kids menu ($3 to $3.50) includes quesadillas and burgers with fries. Pono’s beverage menu includes water and sodas and is independent from the Cypress Lounge bar where we separately purchased pints of Santa Cruz Aleworks’ hoppy IPA ($4).
Nine variations of poke, the Hawaiian raw fish salad, are served as an appetizer, salad or rice bowl. Offerings include a vegetarian version with avocado and tomatoes. A bowl of the spicy poke ($5.95) with cubes of soft red fish tossed with piquant green and white onions was drizzled with fiery Sriracha-style red chili sauce, dotted with black sesame seeds and topped with sesame-oiled seaweed. Quite ono (delicious).
In the popular Hawaiian snack Musubi ($2.75), a sheet of nori seaweed secured a block of rice and a piece of teriyaki chicken. It is also made with the traditional Spam.
Pono’s sliders are stuffed with Kalua pork which are served with ono pineapple barbecue sauce. A generous plate of Kalua Pork ($7.95) with cabbage pulled into fine shreds was tender, and its flavor held a hint of smoke. But with my mainland mindset, I would have enjoyed it more with a bit of the aforementioned sauce. A bowl of fruit (add 75 cents) to replace the macaroni salad included ripe blueberries and melons.
A loaded platter of Pono’s Seafood Combo ($12.95) held a wonderful combination of flavors. A large piece of seasonal fish cooked Katsu-style, which was the dense, flaky, white-fleshed mahi, was breaded and deep-fried and served with tonkatsu; the Japanese A1 sauce of sorts made with fruit and spices which was salty and sweet with a tart aftertaste. Deep-fried butterflied shrimp were coated with large shreds of sweet coconut. Thin slices of ginger-soy marinated Kalbi Korean short ribs were sweet and tender. The plate included two scoops of white rice and green salad (add 75 cents) dressed nicely with sesame vinaigrette.
Pono Hawaiian Grill at Cypress Lounge, 120 Union St., Santa Cruz, 426-PONO. Full Bar. Open Tuesday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Wednesday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit ponohawaiiangrill.com.