‘āina Wins Bib Gourmand

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Last fall, the Hawaiian restaurant, ‘āina, was awarded a Bib Gourmand award from The Michelin Guide, the first Dogpatch or Potrero Hill restaurant to receive the accolade.

The Michelin Guide, published annually as an iconic red manual by the eponymous French tire manufacturer, is widely viewed as the world’s most prestigious and influential fine-dining handbook. The first edition, issued in 1900, was intended to encourage automobile travel in France. Today, the company’s restaurant inspectors range over most of Western Europe, as well as parts of Asia, Brazil, and four North American cities, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Each year, just before Michelin releases its coveted “stars” to mark the best of the high-end culinary world, it issues its Bib Gourmand list. The starred restaurants offer formal dining experiences, with costly tabs; the Bib Gourmand honors casual eateries that provide excellent food at a moderate price point. For an establishment to qualify, a customer must be able to order two courses and a dessert or glass of wine for $40 or less, excluding tax and tip. “Bib” refers to the company’s white mascot, Bibendum, better known in the English-speaking world as the Michelin Man.  In French “gourmand” means “a person who eats a lot, or who has refined tastes in food.”

In the Bay Area, 75 neighborhood restaurants made the cut for the 2017 guide; ‘āina was one of 12 new additions.

Started as a weekend-only pop-up in Bernal Heights, ‘āina moved to a brick-and-mortar space in Dogpatch last sprng. Until mid-October, the restaurant served only brunch, adding dinner to its operations the day of The Michelin Guide announcement. Chef-owner Jordan Keao said that he and his business partner, Jason Alonzo, received the good news from a friend’s text message while they and their team “were all really busy getting ready.”

“It was great to know that we were headed in the right direction, and this award definitely let us know that we were on the right track,” Keao said.

So far the restaurant hasn’t seen “any large increases” in business, as they “are still trying to get the message out that we are open for dinner.” Although ‘āina was known locally for its brunch-only concept, expanding its hours and menu to include dinnertime at the restaurant’s “six-month mark” was part of the original plan, according to Keao.

Chef Keao was born and raised in Hawaii, and previously cooked for La Folie on Polk Street, in addition to serving as a chef for technology companies like Google and AirBNB. He explained that, like his well-known brunch, his dinner menu “focuses on local foods in Hawaii, but digs deeper into the less mainstream dishes. We also serve more fish and seafood and are able to start applying more technique to our food.”

In 2015, before ‘āina moved into its 22nd Street location, a San Francisco Chronicle reviewer praised Keao’s “sugar-coated malasadas,” referring to a type of Portuguese doughnut that came to Hawaii in the late 19th century, as well as “a menu of elevated Hawaiian dishes, like house-made Spam and Kalua pork belly. Ingredients like haupia, starchy Okinawan sweet potatoes and tangy li hing powder testify that Keao is working with the real flavors of the islands, not the faux-Polynesian ones from ’50s suburbia.”

In Hawaiian “‘āina” translates to “the land which feeds us.” The restaurant, which sits catty-corner to the trattoria Piccino, plans to install outdoor seating in the near future.