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Aug 9, 2006 03:51 PM

Tale of 2 Chef's Counters - Hoku's - Ehhh..., Alan Wong's Awesome as Always

Our table at Hoku's wasn't ready, so we decided to sit at the chef's counter. About 5 seats & only those closest to center could see much. Neither counter has exactly stellar views of the goings on, but both are still much more fun than sitting at a table. At Hoku's, the chefs were friendly & the service very good. Fiji water from bottles as table water - I like that!! Sadly, the food lacked something. Didn't eat a lot - had the Heirloom Tomato & Burrata salad - 2 tomato types/slices were great, other 2 not ripe yet. Burrata had gone to that grainy, as opposed to creamy, inside state - still tasted good, but was over it's sell-by date texture-wise. Nice dressing - ok dish. Foie Gras - boooring - on a soggy taro (I think) brioche, with unripe (as opposed to green) mango chutney - ripe mangoes would have helped. Foie gras didn't have all that much taste & wasn't seared too well - definitely would not order again. Husband had the shrimp dish, which was basically deep fried shrimp on a bed of veggies - was ok, but nothing to write home about. Prices were super-high - $94 for a Rack of Wisconsin lamb a la carte (well, looked like a pile of the umbiqutious mashed potatoes underneath, but that's it) for 2, $20 for my little foie gras. Perhaps we ordered the wrong stuff, but was hoping for a whole lot more excitement.

Contrasting, had an excellent dinner at AW's the next night. Chef's counter (of course!). I did the tasting menu - stand-outs (as always) were the cold 2 color tomato soup served in a martini glass with sandwich - grilled kalua pork & foie gras - light on the foie, but still delicious! Poki-pines crispy on the outside, cool creamy avocado & ahi hiding within. Ginger crusted Onaga delicious - love those Hamuka 'shrooms! Highlight was the butter poached Kona Lobster - just about 3 bites, but each heaven. By the time we got to the Kalbi shortribs, I couldn't eat anymore, but they were delicious for lunch the next day! Well, saved a bit of room for dessert - I loved the Haupia Tapioca with fresh fruit & hubby loved the Chocolate crunch bars. He ordered a la carte - cold crab with avocado on crispy noodles - yumm!! & the Rib Steak, two ways - had enough to bring home for 2 sandwiches the next dat. All in all, a great meal, great service & nice to be reminded what a wonderful meal with no slip-ups really can be.

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  1. Torta,

    I am counting on you to keep these reports coming. I still have time to change my reservations in mid-Sept.

    Question, at Hoku, was that $94 for a rack that feeds more than two? Even in Hawai`i, that seems high. I did several top-chef tasting menus last week in SF and they were about that price (without wines). OTOH, I usually do lamb on my grill, so I don't know the market rate.

    Thanks for the comments,

    1. Thanks Bill - hopefully all good advice. Yes, the $94 for for just 2 - looked like 4 or 5 chops (& not the hugest ones I'd ever seen either) piled around a mound of what looked like mashed potatoes. There were plenty of them roling out of the kitchen.

      BTW, AW's tasting was $65/$90 with paired wine, which really is a bargain. I didn't do the paired wine as my husband wanted to share a bottle, but would have been fun.

      I left out that on our last 2 nights, we were still so full, we shared ahi sashimi that was like butta & edaname that we got to go from Kusashi in the Hyatt. Sat at the bar (which is much less crowded & more relaxing than the other bars on the beach hotels), enjoyed the music & did the same night #4, but with the ahi 3 way appetizer from The Colony.

      Just found out I'll be back in 10 days, but taking my 15 year old along, so will be checking out more fun stuff for her. Definitely want to try the Hula Grill - the Regency Club Concierge @ the Hyatt recommended it too! If I can just deal with the crowds getting there...

      1. Just back from Oahu -- we had a better experience at Hoku than you did, but we didn't get to AW, so couldn't compare. Hoku wasn't uniformly eye-popping, but definitely had flashes of brilliance. And except for dessert, what wasn't brilliant was damn good. That's not bad, even for the money.

        I got great pleasure from the room and view -- palm trunks and water. Not overpowering, but serene and beautiful; an elegant backdrop, especially as night fell. Each menu has a panel of woven copper, again, lovely. I also quite liked the chilled Fiji water and the stemless wine glass it was poured into. Service surprised this stuffy East-coaster with its informality, but the servers were pleasant and knowledgeable.

        If nothing else, the dip for the bread gave me an evening's worth of happiness. Aoli with scallion, cilantro, and ahi poke chunks. Addictively savory, perfectly balanced. I ordered a second little dish of it, oh-so-surreptitiously went after it with my fingers. I’ll be trying to figure out how to duplicate it at home.

        We had the iced seafood appetizer, a special that night. A two-tiered lazy susan with six different dips (cocktail sauce, wasabi, soy-based, wine-based, aoli, mustard, something else) on the bottom and a mound of ice studded with seafood, cooked and raw, on the top. No fancy preparation, but a tremendous play-with-your-food fun of plucking different things from up top, trying different combinations of dips and sea critters. The oysters were especially good.

        My only gripelet was being served crab legs served only partially split and without special implements (picks, wet clothes). I finally wrestled out my meat by combining my fork and a chopstick, and hoping my nice clothes would survive. Adding to the annoyance was that my exertions kept tipping my small-based dish.

        Lovely little amuse bouche of cherry soup with oregano-y mint leaves, sweet and savory.

        We were wowed by my entrée, cold-smoked pork chop with farro. The pork was gloved in fat, amazingly tender and flavorful, slightly, but not overly smoky. Buttery haricots vert and corn kernels with mushrooms -- must have been the Hamuka mushrooms you named – so luxuriantly meaty that I thought at first they were bits of marrow. My husband’s grilled ahi was simple but perfect, surrounded by something that resembled, maybe was, tapioca pearls (too translucent to be Israeli cous-cous), which he loved.

        Dessert did not send us. The only non-chocolate dessert was a berry-and-ice-cream dish my husband liked, but didn’t swoon over. Contrastingly, someone should be spanked for what I got: “Bananas, Bananas, Bananas.” The promise was banana cake, chocolate cake and peanut butter, butter-rum sauce and caramelized bananas. I wouldn’t have ordered peanut butter if the kitchen hadn’t earned my trust for combining playfulness with goodness (as in the iced seafood dish); shouldn’t have overcome my trepidation. Not only did the peanut butter overwhelm all other tastes, but it overwhelmed the texture of the feather-light cakes layered around it. Worse, the top layer of the cake was (I’m pretty sure unmentioned in the menu) diced pineapple, which felt Hawaii-obligatory and which married with nothing. Sad ending, but most everything else was top notch.

        On the other hand, I would not go out of my way to return to the Hula Grill. Crab and macadamia nut wontons were OK -- a little too much crust for the (nice) filling, and the soy-based dipping sauce added nothing. I may be mixing up dishes, as we were a bit jet-lagged at the time, but though the grilled maki and macadamia encrusted ahi were fresh and nicely handled, there was a consistent problem of unbalanced sauces and accompaniments. A slaw weighed down with excessive horseradish, for instance. As for the setting, like the rest of the Outrigger Waikiki, a bit mall-ish.

        1. and WE just got back Tuesday, after 4 nights at the Hilton Village.

          on recs. from this board, we had Thurs. PM res. at Alan Wong's. Against my initial thought, we brought the Pup and his running buddy (15 and 16) with us.

          Mr. Wong did not disappoint.
          The Pup says it may have been the best single meal he's ever had (he split the "Chinatown Duck Nachos" with me, which I though were more interesting in concept than in reality, and then moved onto the shrimp in Black Bean Sauce, and the Bites o' Cheesecake, which I grabbed some of) Running buddy Dyl went with the lamb. Ditto.

          Chowspouse went for the tasting menu with wines, (subbing extra fishes for the mammal course) and was knocked out. Said that even those wines which she wasn't crazy about by themselves worked perfectly as paired with the food. I had the above-mentioned ginger Onaga; perfect and subtle.

          A lovely restaurant.

          We also hit the Pineapple Room on the weekend. While not as transcendent as Wong's King Street Restaurant, it's unquestionably the best meal I've had in a department store, and that includes Tokyo, Kyoto and London.

          Hula Grill was pretty tasty for a place above a bar full of crazed drunken revelers (it was Sat. night...)

          r gould-saltman