The new Windward Café has a Singaporean flair and a Laksa weekend
TIt’s definitely one of those “if you know you know” spots. If you are driving on Kihapai, Kailua Alley, and see the sign for CafÃ© Kopi, you might be wondering what kopi is?
The people of Kailua know Kihapai Street. And now, many of them know that kopi is a traditional coffee drink served in Singapore and Malaysia.
I had heard about CafÃ© Kopi from Kailua foodie Marianne Schultz but was not invited to go until Singapore transplant Chunen Choy said she tried their laksa off menu ($ 18), which is only served on weekends. And, she added, it’s legitimate. The dish includes wheat noodles in a rich broth topped with shrimp and a range of treats complemented by the spicy coconut soup. If you know, you know.
So, Choy and I went to Cafe Kopi the following weekend to get some and found other transplant Singaporeans having dinner there. And when I posted on my Instagram, savvy Southeast Asians also vouched for its legitimacy.
It turns out that owner Jeanne Ng is from Singapore, where she met her husband Ernest Shih. When they got engaged, they decided Hawaii would be the best place to live. Shih owns the building in which the cafe is located and has operated a t-shirt business there for many years. The mural of a sumo wrestler surfing outside is a holdover from this era.
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The couple had never owned a restaurant before, but had a romanticized notion of the concept. So, in November 2020, Ng moved to Hawai’i, they got married in January 2021 and opened CafÃ© Kopi at the end of July.
Things fell into place for them, for example, their baker is Barry Yadao. Wait. Barry Yadao, the longtime pastry chef of the Hale Koa Hotel? The same Barry Yadao from Halekulani and Prince WaikÄ«kÄ«? Yes, if you know, you know: Yadao has been baking in hotels for decades, and now he’s at CafÃ© Kopi.
The cafe offers daily French pastries ($ 4.25 to $ 6.50), and by French I mean they are full of butter. The croissants are chewy and flaky at first glance and incredibly chewy on the inside. My favorite is the almond croissant, filled with marzipan, but the big seller right now is the seasonal pumpkin croissant. There are desserts ($ 4.50 to $ 8) like individual logs of cheesecake, fruit pies, coffee jelly, and even vegan and gluten-free chocolate pie. One of the best sellers is bread pudding, which is so rich it’s like eating hot ice cream.
If you need a meal, the panini sandwiches ($ 8.50 to $ 14.75), the salad ($ 12.75) and the Asian dumplings ($ 8) that Shih makes by hand.
If you will find the usual range of coffees and teas, you can also count on the traditional kopi of Southeast Asia, and some fruit iced teas (tip: get the pomelo). And since October is Honolulu Pride Month, baristas will be showcasing the art of the Rainbow Latte, with 50 cents from each cup donated to Hawai’i Health & Harm Reduction (formerly The Life Foundation).
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But back to the laksa. What makes it so legitimate? Ng and his fans say he uses the right spices and the right coconut cream. In fact, she wants to introduce other Singaporean specialties, like kaya (an egg jam made from pandan leaves), but this has to be homemade, and she can’t find the right pandanus in Hawai’i yet.
We can all keep watching to see if CafÃ© Kopi starts selling kaya by following their Instagram (@cafekopihawaii). And now you know.
(Parking is on the street, or if you know it, you can park in the parking lot behind the surf sumo wrestler.)
Open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., laksa available Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until full. 45 Kihapai Street, (808) 262-9050, cafekopihawaii.com, @cafekopihawaii