Plate and Switch

I’m not a food snob, but I am a plate snob. It’s not just for ecological reasons that I don’t want to eat off Styrofoam plates or use plastic utensils — I just find throwaway plates and flatware to be ugly and trashy. And I put my money where my mouth is: I bring my own silverware and dishes to picnics, because I cringe at the sight of a plastic fork.

That’s the reason it’s taken me seven months to finally taste the food at Max and Kim Chao‘s Ohana Hawaiian Grill (7301 West 91st Street in Overland Park), which was called Ohana Hawaiian Barbecue when it opened last summer. The name isn’t the only change that the Chaos have made. When I first walked into the colorful fast-casual joint last year, I couldn’t bring myself to order the pineapple chicken or the teriyaki shrimp when I saw that they were served in white Styrofoam boxes. I was hungry, but I had such a visceral reaction to seeing Styrofoam that I would have rather eaten straight off the tabletop. So I went somewhere else for dinner.

Last week, I returned to see Max and Kim and ate a fabulous lunch served on real plates with metal flatware. Even more exciting to me was the recently expanded menu, which has added a number of excellent Korean and Chinese dishes that Max used to prepare at his former Max’s Noodles & More, which once stood at 17th Street and Main.

“These Johnson Countians are a tough crowd to please,” Max said, explaining the changes at Ohana. “You have to be perfect.”

Those fussy suburbanites, bless their hearts, snubbed the Styrofoam and complained bitterly that the Hawaiian barbecue menu had too much meat and too many carbs. Diners who wandered over from shopping at Whole Foods next door asked for more vegetarian dishes. So Max and Kim pulled out the recipes for their signature dishes at Max’s, including crispy fried tofu, Vietnamese bun, pad Thai and the best egg-drop soup in town.

“We’re getting a lot more customers now,” Kim said. “It’s funny that little things make such a difference.”

Well, everyone knows that. Asian noodle dishes just taste better on a pretty Japanese plate.

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