Yet another pop-up is settling down into a permanent home. This time it’s 'āina, a Hawaiian brunch concept from former AirBnB and Google chef (and Hawaiian) Jordan Keao. Keao started 'āina (which means "that which feeds us," in Hawaiian) because he couldn’t find the dishes he grew up with in the city. "It’s very rare to find not only just snacks that are associated with Hawaii, but also some of the quintessential dishes or flavors," he said. "I’ve always had to cook those dishes in my home." Popping up on the weekends on top of a full-time job proved to be too much, though, so he stepped away from corporate life and signed a lease in the Dogpatch. Come this spring, 'āina will have many of the popular favorites from brunch (kahlua pork belly with spring onion puree and egg), but Keao also wants to introduce people to more traditional, sometimes forgotten food beyond well-known Hawaiian dishes like spam musubi and loco moco.
"I'm kind of excited for people to see what a different side Hawaiian food can have. There’s so many different elements and cultural influences. The food has evolved but there are still the traditional Hawaiian dishes that are harder to find these days" he explained. Dishes like lau lau, which is salted pork and butter fish wrapped in tea and taro leaves, then cooked in the ground for hours and topped with fermented poi (taro) paste. Keao is trying to source all these ingredients, which are currently hard to find in the Bay Area.
Jason Alonzo (La Folie) is developing low-ABV cocktails for the restaurant, and he’ll be running front-of-house when it opens. Keao’s wife Cheryl Liew is also part of the time as CFO. 'āina is expected to debut this spring with brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and eventually happy hour and dinner will be added into the mix.