Dec. 18 2015 03:39 PM

The Lanai excels at fresh fish, poke bowls

mangocake_IMG_5239
Mango cheesecake
Photo by Jenny Montgomery

In my house, one of our annual Christmas traditions is watching National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. And as I'm writing this, Clark Griswold is looking out the window, fantasizing about the swimming pool he hopes to build with his Christmas bonus. As he imagines seeing his family frolic in the pool, as well as the sexy shop girl stripping out of her bathing suit, Don Ho croons "Mele Kalikimaka."

Some people don't think it's Christmas without a snow-covered, Currier & Ives landscape, but I love the blue-sky charm those of us in warmer climates get to enjoy, and that scene always reminds me of how much I love winter in SoCal. And it also makes me crave Hawaiian food.

Head to the beach in Leucadia now, while the weather is crisp, and enjoy minimal tourist traffic, sparkling water and a brand new place to eat. The Lanai (1114 N. Coast Hwy 101) brings the flavors of Hawaii to a little patio on the highway.

The Lanai, which has been open for just about a month, is a small place with big flavors. Sandwiches, rice bowls and classic Hawaiian plate lunches are served from Tuesday through Saturday. But my favorite treats to dig into are the poke bowls. The House bowl is pretty basic, with soy sauce, sweet onion, togarashi and Hawaiian sea salt. I really loved the Poisson Cru, a pile of quivering pink cubes of ahi soaked in coconut milk and lime juice and tossed with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Fun bits of crunch come in the form of some funky little veggie chips, puffy white disks of salty yumminess.

The traditional plate lunch does not disappoint. It's hard to resist a healthy serving of kalua pork, but you can also go for a burger patty, teriyaki chicken, chicken katsu or the fresh catch of the day. I love the simplicity of kalua pork, tender as tissue and melting in your mouth after being cooked for hours in its happy, green ti leaf wrapping. Douse the pork in sweet, warm teriyaki sauce or try it with a creamy miso dressing that has a nutty and unexpected warmth. The miso sauce is also terrific with the fresh fish. If you're not feeling like pork, go for the catch of the day. A giant piece of mahi-mahi is a great anchor for your side of mac salad. And speaking of macaroni, this creamy side dish has a bit of a spicy kick; a nice twist on the usual sweet and gloppy mess.

I'm already planning on going back to check out the Loco Moco. This sandwich is made up of a burger patty, two fried eggs and onion gravy. Because after the holidays, everyone needs more gravy.

The rice bowls change daily, as do the desserts. If the mango cheesecake is there, grab a slice, although the accompanying scoops of coconut pineapple ice cream are the real sweet showstoppers.

Bon appétit and Mele Kelikimaka!

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