Liholiho Yacht Club moved temporarily into the Mission as a pop-up during our ongoing, seemingly everlasting Pandemic Times, and I finally got to try it. Reservations aren’t easy to come by at this gem. It’s moving back to its original space soon — not in the Mission, sadly, but they’re keeping the space on 18th Street and reopening with a new-but-similar concept. I’m told it will be called Good Good Culture Club, which will skew towards Filipino and Laotian flavors.
This is good and bad news. I’m very sad to see Liholiho go, but really looking forward to this next project. The current incarnation is Hawaiian in its roots, and although I was grateful not to see a loco moco lunch plate on the menu, there is a Spam dish. But Spam as you’ve never had it (or maybe that’s just me.)
We sat outdoors on the festive, rainbow-splashed rooftop patio on a blisteringly cold night, despite the heat lamps. Booze helped. My friend had The Poolboy, a gorgeous spirit green with mezcal, lemon, passionfruit, gentian, yellow chartreuse, and blue spirulina. I tasted it and it was very good, lightly sweet, delicate. I had an As You Wish, with cocoa nib-infused bourbon, black sesame syrup, cardamaro, chocolate walnut bitters, and rocks. It was an assertive, strong and manly drink. I womaned up and downed it.
For eats, we started out with Kennebec chips and kimchi dip.
I’ve never know why or when Kennebec potatoes became the “It Girl” of the potato world on so many menus. Apparently they’re the most ubiquitous potatoes used for fries and chips, and have been around since the 1940s. Nonetheless, these were really good chips, served here with their delightful kimchi dip, flecked with furikake. The chips offered a great contrast between the crunchy, diaphanous potatoes and the creamy dip.
We got the tuna poke, which we also scooped up with the chips.
The tuna was sparklingly fresh, with perfect avocado chunks, slivered radish, and a tamari sesame oil.
Next was quite possibly the best-goddamned bite I’ve had during the entire Covid-19 extravaganza, and perhaps even into the Before Times:
Smoked beef belly with an oyster sauce rub, in a steamed poppyseed bun, with pickled watermelon radish and miso aioli.
Melt-in-yer-mouth, the puffy bao snuggled the rich, fatty- but-not-too, super smoky beef gently, gently. My mouth swooned and thanked me. We split this and I totally resented my dining companion for it. I could have had two of my own and gone home happy.
Next, the Spam.
Pickled spam steak was kind of a revelation, again with that lovely smokiness! To its credit, this was more ham-like than Spammy, with a lovely, tart bite from the pickling. Crunchy/cool pickles with togarashi graced each bite. Certainly the best Spam prep I’ve ever had.
We also split a whole fried petrale sole.
Ultra crispy and light, with delicate white meat inside, the fish luxuriated in a coconut milk marinade and turmeric salt, and was enhanced but not overshadowed by the cilantro/ginger sauce that accompanied it.
We also had a side of cabbage roasted with miso and fermented turnip and salted daikon: Buttery, sweet, nutty, and homey.
I’m not that into desserts but my friend really is so we got two: the pandan ice cream sandwich with a pistachio-pandan shell and vanilla-pandan swirl ice cream.
The second was like a tiny baked “Hawaii” with strawberry sorbet, black sesame cake, vanilla cheesecake, black sesame crumble, and fresh strawberries. Pic of it cut open, because LOOK HOW PRETTY.
Both were very good, but I particularly loved the extreme crunch factor of the sandwich. I’m also told that pandan, a Southeast Asian tropical plant, can be very aromatic, yet the ice cream was well-balanced.
I found Liholiho’s food rustic but refined: The textures, flavors and presentation elevate this type of cuisine, even as most of the food was homey, satisfying comfort food.
And there is so much more on the menu to explore, and so little time to do it, at least while Liholiho remains in our neighborhood. I’m dying to try the sashimi, the pork belly, crispy onigiri, St. Louis spareribs, their salads, and mochi. They offer many other intriguing cocktails, carafes/bottles of wine and bubbles, and beer and sake.
So get yourself a reservation before they leave us (or visit them at their old/new digs in Nob Hill soon.) And see you at Good Good Culture Club in the New Year!
Liholiho Yacht Club (website)
3560 18th St.