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Reviews From Hawaii - Kauai, Poipu & Oahu, North Shore and Honolulu [Long]

OK, how best to post the notes on the Kauai and Oahu (North Shore & Honolulu), so that they do the most good? After a few days of contemplation, while on various airlines heading back to AZ and the Mainland, then to London and back, I’ve decided to post under one heading, but then do a separate “Reply” under that main article. I hope that the administrators do not take offense to this method. I decided that, rather than one very, very long article, reflecting restaurants on two islands, it would be easier on the reader, if they could just view the reviews, that interest them, or might fit into their itinerary.

I’ve reflected on my dining experiences, and also on previous articles/reviews of some of these restaurants. One thing that stuck out in my mind was that I was finding vastly divergent reviews of the same dining spots. Well, I thought, maybe it was just a matter of the reviewers’ tastes. Or, perhaps, it was predicated on the night that the reviewer dined at a specific location. Hm-m, maybe something else was afoot... After 16 days of dining around Kauai (Poipu Area), the North Shore of Oahu and Honolulu, I think that it was this “something else.” I’d call this whole set of reviews “The Tale of Two Entrees.”

My wife and I have similar tastes and grade a meal on like criteria. This trip was very interesting, as it was first an anniversary celebration, the significance of the meals was stated at the time of the reservations and almost every meal was in a “high-end” restaurant with reservations made up to six months in advance. There are no real “family-dining” establishments covered and certainly no “cheap eats.” In many of the restaurants, I had requested a floral arrangement to be placed on the table in the earlier dinners on each island, or side-of-island, and a rose for almost all other occasions. Each restaurant knew, in advance, that this was in celebration. Many probably thought that the actual night that we dined there was THE night, but the trip was actually seven months after the anniversary, but was in celebration of it - as was the entire trip. What was odd was that my wife always ended up with the lesser of almost every entree - almost EVERY dinner! As we most often order separate courses, and then share, this was not a real problem, but it was uncanny that she always seemed to get the lesser of the dishes. I think that this might attribute, in part, to the variations in previous reviews. If one were to have ordered exactly as my wife did, and the course delivered was as her’s were, I’d expect to see some lower scores. In my case, however, if one followed my choices and got the same courses that I did, the reviews would have been glowing. Odd, in all respects. Some of these restaurants were “resort” dining destinations, but many were “free-standing,” chef-driven establishments. With only one exception, nothing was bad [1], just uneven.

In all, the dining was very good, to great. I would recommend almost any of these establishments with but a few caveats. The only regret that I have is that there were too many restaurants and too little time. With one exception, I’d go back to all of these. Some are a definite must-return-to. A few new comers (to me) are now on my Must-Dine list, and an old favorite is on shaky ground.

I also need to note that our meals always include wine (breakfast being an exception, and also not reviewed here). Wine, wine glassware and wine service are all part of what makes a dining experience “special” to us. All reviews include comments on this aspect of our dining. Also, for us, the total dining experience is figured into the reviews. I know that ambiance cannot replace good food, and that good food cannot excuse bad service, but I try to weigh every aspect of the experience, when doing the critiques. Without attempting to devise a Robert Parker, Jr, 100 Point scale, I’ll state that the reviews are roughly:
50 pts Food - ingredients, preparation/cooking, innovation, presentation, plating and any special aspect.
25 pts Wine - selection, wine-service, glassware, price/value and special consideration for wines by-the-glass and half-bottle selections.
15 pts Service - all aspects from the telephone/Internet reservations, the host/hostess, and how the meal is handled, including the replacement of used utensils and bussing of dishes.
10 pts Ambiance - everything from decorations, noise-level and furniture to spacing of the tables.

All prices are in US $ and reflect the cost of the meal, the cost of the wine, some of which was rather expensive and the tip, which usually ran between 15% and 20% with a few exceptions up to about 22%. In almost all cases the tip was based on the total cost of the meal, including wine.

[1] In the case of the bad course, a replacement was quickly placed on the table, the offending preparation was removed from the service area, and, though not requested, the cost of this course was deducted from the bill.

Note: It seems that some of my accents and diacriticals are not translating from the wordprocessor to the Web site with Ctrl-c/Ctrl-v, so please excuse this fault. Also, I have decided to not use the Hawaiian “`”, except where the chef included it in the menu. Last comment, before we go review some restaurants - Spell Checkers are only as good as their databases. When it comes to Hawaiian names, etc. almost every other word gets flagged, so it makes doing an actual Spell Check extremely time consuming. For the ingredients and preparations, I copied what the chef, server, host/hostess gave me. What you see is how they spelled that item.

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  1. Shells, at Sheraton Kauai Resort, http://tinyurl.com/fwde5 is an interesting restaurant.* It offers ala carte and a buffet, which is not totally uncommon with resort dining in Hawaii (see Palm Terrace, The Turtle Bay Resort, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii). What IS interesting is that it is an indoor/outdoor restaurant with a tiny area set aside for two other restaurants of differing cuisines, Italian and Japanese. Also, one can order from the menus of these two variations while dining at Shells Restaurant. This almost makes it four restaurants in one. Since we were traveling to Kauai from San Francisco this day, we wanted something a bit more simple and close. I chose Shells almost by default. I was unable to find any reviews of Shells, either here, or on any other dining fora, but booked anyway, not expecting much. Besides, the heavy-hitters were soon to come.

    First, the restaurant is open-air with dining under the roof, plus al fresco on the patio overlooking the Sheraton/Kiahuna Beach, and dining in either Naniwa Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, or Amore Ristorante Italiano, both in opposing corners of Shells. The area is quite lovely, especially when dining on the patio. Not being buffet folk, we opted for the ala carte menu, and it was pointed out that we could also order from the menus of the other two restaurants, where the preparation would reflect the theme of either. It seemed that the course could be done with either a Japanese, or an Italian influence. We chose the straight Shells’ version of everything. The sunset (actually, the sun sets to the other side of the building, but clouds in our field of view illuminated very nicely) setting was excellent, as was the overall service. Our waiter was attentive, without being overbearing. Considering the myriad of possibilities for menu selections, he did a very good job of explaining our choices and the preparations. The courses arrived together and everything was cleared promptly with silverware being replaced, as used.

    My starter was the Pan-Fried Calamari with a Japanese inspired dipping sauce, and my wife choose Caesar Salad. The Calamari was adequate, not too chewy, but only about average, while the Caesar was rated as good.

    For our entrees, I chose the Seared Opakapaka (pink snapper) with Gingered Miso Buerre Blanc and Fried Nori, my wife chose the Pan-Roasted Ono (wahoo) and Pacific Shrimp in a Citrus-Scented Butter Sauce, Seasonal Vegetables and Star Anise Rice. The Opakapaka was slightly over-cooked, but still very good. The Buerre Blanc needed a bit more soul to it, but still very good. Unfortunately, my wife’s Ono was overdone, and the Shrimp were not the freshest. While they might well have come from the Pacific, it was not an area of that ocean near Hawaii.

    The wine was an ‘03 Chalk Hill Sonoma Chardonnay** and an ‘02 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir.
    The glassware was just OK, and our waiter had to search a bit for “the best in the house.” The wine service was very good, despite the glassware issue.

    Total charge was $237.17.

    * It is also the location for the included full-breakfast buffet at the resort - not reviewed.
    ** You will see this wine (or this vineyard) again, as it was one of the better choices of domestic Chardonnay on some of the lists.

    1. The Beach House, 5022 Lawai Rd, Koloa, Kauai, http://www.the-beach-house.com/. This was one of the restaurants where the reviews seemed to be across the board. Some loved it, and some were greatly disappointed. I puzzled over this paradox, but booked it anyway. When we were last on Kauai, Iniki had just devastated the island, and there was not much that had been able to reopen in the Poipu Area. One of my favorite restaurants, A Pacific Café, in Kapaa is now closed. Chef Jean-Marie Josselin had opened The Beach House, but had sold it to partners, before opening A Pacific Café. I had heard that there had been some ups and downs, but that now problems were well ironed out, there was a new chef, Todd Barrett, was at the helm and that it a “must try,” on this side of the island.

      We opted for a very early seating to be in place for sunset. I’m very glad that we did, as the sunset was spectacular and we were seated in a tiny area of the patio, with only one other table - almost private, considering that there was a full restaurant, just a few feet away, and a public beach beyond a small separating wall. The ambiance and the service were absolutely great.

      For starters, I had the Macadamia Nut Encrusted Crab Cake with Papaya/Black Bean Salsa and Ginger Beurre Blanc and my wife the Fried Calamari with Ginger Beurre Blanc, which were extremely tender and flavorful - probably the fourth best we have had. We followed this up with the Molokai Watermelon Salad of Omao Greens, Caramelized Macadamia Nuts, Gorgonzola and Raspberry Vinaigrette, which we split - delicious! For our entrees, I chose the Lemongrass and Kaffir Lime-Crusted Scallops with Saffron Rice, Chili Aioli and Baby Bok Choy and my wife, the Yamase’s Grill, which was A’u (black marlin) that night, on Warm Tomato Couscous Salad, Orange Sherry Vinaigrette, Lilikoi Prawn Salsa with Basil Pesto Drizzle. My Scallops were some of the best that I have had, very large, extremely fresh and flavorful. The Lemongrass and Kaffir Lime were an excellent accompaniment to the tender Scallops. The A’u was a bit of a disappointment as it too was over cooked. Maybe this is a trend to satisfy the tourists, but it seemed all too common. It was not dried out, just over done. It tasted more like Swordfish, than Marlin, which I normally find a bit lighter in flavor, with a softer texture. The accompaniments were OK, but didn’t live up to our expectations, based on the copy in the menu. I must comment on their breads. All were excellent and one, garnished with red-dirt sea salt (alaea) was superlative. My wife picked up several iterations of alaea, and then received a bag from Alan Wong in Honolulu. Right now, we’re pretty well setup with red sea salt.

      We started with bottle of the ‘00 Borgeot Chassagne-Montrachet Clos St Jean and sent our server on a journey to find larger glasses. While the glassware was very nice, the “white wine” glasses were a bit small. We settled on a pair of their Bordeaux stems. I did not check the logo on the glasses, but would guess that they were either Riedel, or similar. Had I known that they had Burgundy “balloons,” I would have chosen those instead. Riedel released a model in their Vinum, called “Montrachet,” which looks very similar to their Burgundy balloon, but with the top 1/2" cut off. These work wonderfully for bigger whites. Our server “decanted/caraffed” the Montrachet and got some very strange looks from the wine-steward regarding the glasses and the decanting of a white wine, but we just smiled and explained that we made her do it! Our second wine was an ‘03 Domaine Serene Evanstadt Pinot Noir. This was when I discovered that they had balloon glasses for Burgs/similar. Oh well, live and learn. I’m sure that the wine-steward would have puzzled over that choice for the Montrachet, as well. We would possibly have done better to do a Chablis for the Scallops, but the PN went well with the A’u.

      We finished with a couple of decaf coffees and were surprised by a chocolate tort to celebrate our anniversary. Total was $288.63.

      1. Donderos, Grand Hyatt Kauai, 1571 Poipu Rd, Koloa, Kauai, http://kauai.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/e..., is at the higher-end of the many restaurants at the Grand Hyatt Kauai. They specialize in Northern Italian fare, though are not limited there. I do not normally think of Italian dishes, when in Hawaii, but had read quite a few reviews on this location, so it was quickly included, as was Tidepools, also on the Hyatt property. I had really liked the wine list, which was available online at: http://www.thehyatteditor.com/images/.... (I’d urge more restauranteurs to put up both the menu and the wine list on their Web sites. I always enjoy researching what I am likely to encounter and getting a feel for how the staff thinks of wine with regards to food parings.


        The setting is lovely, with both interior dining and an al fresco patio, situated above Tidepools and the oceanfront property at the Hyatt. While sunset was a notch below that from The Beach House, it was wonderful, none the less. We had an intimate table on the patio, right at the railing and the service was impeccable. Our server was the wife of the wine-steward at the Beach House, and we shared our experiences from the night before. At least we were able to give her details to take home on our choices at the Beach House.

        I had the Calamari Fritti Fra Divalo (I had to try every version of calamari on the island, or so it seemed), served in a Spiced Marinara Sauce. Very good with just the right amount of heat from the spices. It was not as good as the Calamari from the Beach House, but not too far behind. My wife had the Insalata Di Gamberi Con Erba D’Aqua, a Shrimp and Watercress salad with Orange and Grapefruit segments and a Citrus Vinaigrette. Again, the Shrimp were just OK, not great. For our main courses, I their Filetto Di Manzo Alla Griglia Con Lasagna Di Melenzane, a grilled beef tenderloin with an Eggplant-Goat Cheese Lasagna and Sun Dried Cherry Sauce, at the server’s strong suggestion. My wife chose the Ossobuco Alla Milanese, oven-baked veal shank with Carrot, Celery, Onions, Saffron Risotto and Cremolata. This is were the surprises came in. First, I don’t normally think of beef in Hawaii, even though I’ve had some very good Big Island tenderloin in the past. Also, Ossobuco is a “standard” in most higher-end Italian restaurants, so this was a no-brainer, especially as my wife loves the slow-cooked veal shank. Well, I admit to being a carnivore and also to have had the gluttonous pleasure of having had Kobe beef (not the “Kobe-style,” but the real thing), but I was in no way prepared for my tenderloin. It was absolutely the best beef that I have ever had - period! It was perfectly cooked, and was truly a “melt-in-your-mouth” experience. What flavors!! This experience launched me on an Hawaiian beef binge. The Lasagna was very good too. Now, for the disappointment of the evening, and maybe the entire trip, the Ossobuco. What can I say? It was tough and fatty. I’d guess that it was not slow-cooked, and maybe not long enough - unlike some of the seafood that we encountered. I know that this dish takes some time, but we were in an Italian restaurant, after all. Luckily, my tenderloin was large enough for both of us, as the veal was only edible for about half of what was on the plate - not counting the bone. Also, there was no marrow spoon and, had there been, it probably would not have been useful with this veal shank. Too bad, as all else was excellent.

        We started the meal with a bottle of ‘05 Villa Maria, Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This is not my favorite producer from that region, but they didn’t have Cloudy Bay, or Nautilus on the list. The glassware was a step down from that of the Beach House, and this surprised me. I expressed my amazement to our server, especially as her husband was wine-steward at the Beach House. The glassware wasn’t bad, just too thick (dishwasher safe!) and with rather small bowls - both the white and red glasses. When a couple is spending $200+ on wine, they should expect very nice, appropriately sized crystal. Next, we had the ‘98 Tommasi Amarone Classico, which was a perfect accompaniment to the tenderloin and should have been with the Ossobuco, had it been a better dish.

        All in all, a strange meal - the best tenderloin that I have ever experienced and the worst Ossobuco, that my wife has ever had. We should probably have sent the veal back for another, though I’m not sure that it would have been better. My guess is that either the choice of veal shank was poor, or that the preparation was just lacking. The service was excellent as was the setting. I would travel to Dondero’s for that tenderloin again, and just not let my wife order the veal.

        Total price for the evening’s dining, $362.08.

        1. Plantation Gardens, 2253 Poipu Road, Koloa, Kauai, http://pgrestaurant.com/. Again, I had found mixed reviews on this establishment, but wanted to try it for myself. It is located directly across the street from the Sheraton Kauai Resort, just across a lovely garden at the Kiahuna Plantation Resort. The setting is lovely, with both inside and al fresco dining on the veranda. We chose al fresco and watched twilight engulf the Moir Gardens. This could not have been a more spectacular location, except if it had an ocean view, beyond the garden’s edge. Though our server seemed disinterested, the overall service was good.

          I started with the Roasted Duck Spring Rolls with Oyster Mushrooms, Napa Cabbage and Sweet Soy Sauce, and my wife chose the Marinated Pork Pot Stickers with Shiitake Mushrooms, Cilantro and Ginger-Sweet Chili Sauce. Both were excellent.

          For our main courses, I chose the Kiawe Grilled Ahi (yellowfin tuna) with Steamed White Rice, Sauteed Local Baby Spinach, Tropical Fruit & Avocado Salsa with Kaffir Lime Cream Sauce, and the wife went with the Kiawe Grilled Tiger Prawns with Coconut Infused Thai Black Sticky Rice, Baby Bok Choy, Mango Salsa and Thai Red Bird Chili-Garlic Beurre Blanc. The Ahi was wonderful, fresh and the Kiawe grilling was perfect. I was glad that the spinach was “local,” as this was during the “big spinach scare.” Too bad that the Tiger Prawns were not as fresh as they could have been, and were slightly overdone. The Marinated Pork Pot Stickers were definitely better. About now, I should note that my wife is from New Orleans and grew up with fresh seafood, prepared to perfection. One of the great joys that we have had has been the seafood in Hawaii, over the years, especially as we have lived inland for the last thirty years. Both the freshness and the preparation of much of the seafood on Kauai was just not up to what we had come to expect. It wasn’t bad, just not 100%. Also, with very fresh seafood, one should approach the heat with a delicate hand and good timing - it makes all of the difference in the world. It’s probably picking nits, but is worth mentioning.

          Since we had consumed a bottle of ‘97 Louis Latour Puligny-Montrachet (in glasses borrowed from Shells) on the lanai of our room, earlier in the afternoon, we went light on the wine with dinner, settling on a 1⁄2 btl. of ‘04 J. Lohr Arroyo Seco, Monterey Chardonnay and a bottle of the ‘01 David Bruce Paso Robles Petite Syrah. I had looked at the wine list on-line, so I knew not to expect too much. I also got about the glassware, that I had anticipated - about the same as we borrowed from Shells. The fruit-forward aspect of the J. Lohr made for a simple, but enjoyable starter and did well with my wife’s Tiger Prawns, though they probably could have benefitted from a bracingly acidic SB. The spiciness of the Petite Syrah was excellent with both our first, and main courses. Its smoky/earthy notes complimented the mushrooms in both first courses and worked nicely with the Ahi, and its Kiawe grilling.

          The meal was good, the service adequate, and the setting romantic and exotic. Yes, the wine list could stand some work, as could the glassware, but it was a very nice dinner for $169.46.

          1. Tidepools, Grand Hyatt Kauai, 1571 Poipu Rd, Koloa, Kauai, http://kauai.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/e..., is the other higher-end restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Kauai, like Dondero’s, which overlooks it. The restaurant is constructed to resemble a Tahitian grass hut, and overlooks a lovely lagoon. The setting is spectacular, though there isn’t an ocean, or sunset view. We were seated at the railing, overlooking the Koi-filled lagoon. Obvious jokes about the “catch-of-the-day,” were in abundance. Service was very good - just a notch below Dondero’s. they shared the same wine glassware though. Too bad.

            We started with the Tidepools’ Pupu Platter for two, consisting of Lobster and Mango Rice Cake, Sake and Peppered Beef Carpaccio, Togarashi Seared Ahi and Watermelon Salad. All were extremely good, with the Watermelon Salad being just a shade behind that of the Beach House. For a main course, I chose the Sauteed Opakapaka (pink snapper) with Young Spinach, Roasted Potato and Kabocha Pumpkin and Roasted Tomato Broth. My wife ordered the Grilled A`uku (swordfish) Hawaiian Style, marinated in Hawaiian Salt and Fresh Herbs. the A`uku was great, especially the salt rub. It was far better than her A`u at the Beach House. My wife stated that this was her best main course to date, though not the best A`uku that she’s had. Still, things were definitely looking up.

            For our wine courses, we got the ‘99 Chalk Hill Sonoma Chardonnay and the ‘03 Ponzi Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. The Chard was a good sipper and went well with the Lobster and Mango Rice Cake and my wife’s A`uhu. The PN was a bit light for the Carpaccio, but paired nicely with the Opakapaka and the A`uhu. Too bad that more attention had not been paid to the glassware. After dinner, we had two decaf coffees and a Taylor-Fladgate 10 Year Tawny Port. Again, a chocolate torte was offered to celebrate our anniversary.

            The tab came to $351.86. I would definitely dine there again, though maybe I need to consider traveling with my own stemware. The setting was wonderful, with good food and attentive service. The tables were a bit close, but not that bad.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Bill Hunt

              My fiance and I are in Kauai right now and really enjoyed reading your reviews. (even though it's 2 years later!) So far we have eaten at Hukilau Lanai (located where we are staying so it's convenient. Food is decent. We both think the calamari is fantastic), Kintaro's (fresh fish but kinda sloppy cut rolls with not much flavor), Smith's Family Luau, High Tea at the Princeville (which is in it's last days), The Beach House (food OK, service good), Olympic Cafe for breakfast (their kolua pork is delicious!) and the best meal so far, Roy's. We both ordered Roy's Classic Trio. The fish was cooked to perfection. The butterfish was like butter in your mouth! The layout was interesting for a restuarant. Felt like we were sitting in a converted gallery or shop. Anyway thanks for taking the time to write these. As you can see people are still enjoying them!

            2. The Palm Terrace, Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku (North Shore, Oahu), http://www.turtlebayresort.com/Dining.... I have been staying at the Turtle Bay Resort, since early in its days as a Hilton. One of my biggest complaints was the dining in this area of the North Shore. OK, so you’ve got the shrimp trucks in Kahuku and a few spots in Haleiwa, but the property never had a good restaurant. Over the years, we tried them all. We had dined in the location that is now the Palm Terrace, at a long defunct Japanese restaurant, at the buffet right at the entrance with a different theme for each night of the week and live entertainment, at a steakhouse, whose name I long since forgotten and even at the pool gazebo. I had heard a lot of good things about the three new restaurants at the TBR, both from various fora and from the management. Two, Palm Terrace and 21◦ North, are operations of the resort, with the third, Ola, being a leased location owned by Chef Fred DeAngelo, an award-winning Exec. Chef with Palomino, Tiki’s Grill, Black Orchid and Gaylord’s. I expected the Palm Terrace to be the poor step-child in the bunch, especially as it was both a buffet and an ala carte restaurant. The old buffet at the entrance is gone, but the themed buffet is still in place at the Palm Terrace, albeit sans live music, which is now upstairs in the Bay Club. We went with the ala carte menu, and were not disappointed. Matter-of-fact, it might well have equaled any restaurant on the property and was certainly the best “value.”

              The setting is a bit sterile, but not so drastic as it used to be in years past. It has the feel of a hotel restaurant from the 60's or early 70's, with a great view, but a bit of an “industrial” feel. The buffet line is still a bit disconcerting, and I wonder how many people head there, rather than enjoy the menu.

              We started with an Arugula Salad with Gorgonzola, Sweet Pears, Walnuts, Shaved Maui Onions and Walnut Vinaigrette. I followed this with the Maui Onion Soup (soup of the day) with Gruyère and a Toast Round. Possibly the best onion soup that I’ve had recently, with a rich, heavy beef broth and the sweetness of the Mauis, which was a great counterpoint to the pungency of the toasted cheese topping - a steal when you consider that the addition of the salad and the soup was only $6.00.

              For our mains, I ordered the Grilled Big Island Filet Mignon and Jumbo Prawns with Béarnaise Sauce and Kabayaki Demi Glace. I was hoping for a repeat of the tenderloin from Dondero’s. It was good, but I had already tasted “heaven.” The wife chose the Panko Crusted Ahi Tiger Eye with Crab Meat, Chili Tobiko, Green Onions, Soy Mustard Butter Sauce and Jasmine Rice. Excellent is all I can call it. Perhaps the best Ahi of the trip and only $24.00. It looks like her luck was starting to change.

              For wines, we chose an ‘04 Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Vineyard Sonoma Chardonnay by the bottle, and then The ‘04 Rosemont Shiraz, ‘05 Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir and the ‘02 Beaulieu Vineyards Napa Merlot by-the-glass. As expected in this level of restaurant, the stemware was a bit commercial/restaurant-grade, but not a surprise. The wine list could stand a re-work, as could the stemware (this is becoming a broken record), but then the majority of the diners are probably there for the buffet and are not looking for much besides a harmless white, or a domestic blush anyway.

              Considering my expectations, this was a very good meal. Total cost, $169.05.

              1. Haleiwa Joe’s 66-011 Kamehameha Hwy., Haleiwa (North Shore Oahu), http://www.haleiwajoes.com/. This spot used to be a Chart House, and since I have dined at several locations of that chain and was not impressed, never felt the need to try this one. We always dined at Jameson’s By the Sea, just across the highway and were always satisfied. On several visits we had their Calamari and deemed it the third best ever. I was persuaded to try Haleiwa Joe’s, with promises that it was “far better” than Jameson’s. Big mistake.

                We arrived a bit early, but one never knows how long it will take to get from Kahuku to Haleiwa. They do not take reservations, and Mondays are not that big a dining out evening, but I still wanted to dine and get back, before it got too late. We were seated, but told that we could not order dinner for approximately thirty minutes. OK, we’d just have a glass, or two, of wine, and wait. The server mentioned that we could order an appetizer from the “bar,” and, as we were planning to get a starter anyway, took him up on the offer. Their bar appetizer menu was presented, and we choose the Thai Fried Calamari (thinking of Jameson’s), “lightly breaded, fried, and served with lemon grass and spicy Thai dipping sauce,” and the Crunchy Coconut Shrimp, “large shrimp dipped in tempura, rolled in coconut and cooked golden.” Well, the calamari were about as chewy a bunch of cephalopods as I have ever tasted. The more you chewed, the bigger they got. At least the Thai dipping sauce was good, especially as the sauce with the Coconut Shrimp was just orange marmalade. The shrimp were way overcooked, but paired with the dipping sauce from the calamari they were edible.

                The main endorsement that I had gotten for Haleiwa Joe’s, was that they had the freshest fish on Oahu, bar none. The “Fresh Baked” of the day was Mahimahi (dorado/dolphin fish), “baked with a macadamia nut crust, served on a pesto veloute with steamed white rice and vegetables.” I asked about the Mahi, as it is not my favorite fish, and was assured that it was caught fresh that very day. Well, I’ve had a few good Mahi dishes, but this was not one of them. The cut included most of the “blood line” that runs through the fish. I’m not sure if the problem was with the freshness of the fish, the preparation of the cut or the recipe itself. Regardless, most of the cut was left behind. My wife chose the Fresh Whole Hawaiian Moi (threadfin), “seasoned, fried and served whole on a bed of sweet and sour sauce accompanied by steamed white rice.” I have fished with cut-bait that smelled fresher than the Moi and the “sweet and sour” sauce tasted like it came from a jar.

                For wines, we were extremely limited, but they had an ‘03 Matanzas Creek Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc at a good price. However, the glassware was about what I would expect from a “mom-n-pop” type of restaurant. I noted that they have several locations, having taken over the old Chart House at the Haiku Gardens, outside of Kaneohe and a location in Palm Springs, CA, so they are heading toward becoming a chain, of sorts. The entire experience had the feeling of “tourist trap” all about it. I was also puzzled by the number of flies around the patio dining area. While it is right on the harbor, Hawaii isn’t really known for its flying insects, except mosquitos in some of the more marshy areas. We were bothered by hundreds of the little buggers and found it difficult to eat.

                I will say that our server was very friendly and quite helpful in getting us around the “no dinner before 5:30" rule. The bill came to $121.43.

                Next trip will find us going back to Jameson’s, with hopes that it has not gone downhill.

                1. 21◦ North, Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku (North Shore, Oahu), http://www.turtlebayresort.com/Dining.... 21◦ North is the higher-end of the two resort operated restaurants (the other being Ola, which is on the property, but owned by Chef Frank DeAngelo). Like the Palm Terrace, you can do either/or, except that here, it is the ala carte menu, or their five-course tasting menu, either with, or without, wine pairings. We chose to do the tasting menu with the wine pairings.

                  The starter was Blackened Ahi with Wasabi and Ginger Beurre Blanc. I’m not a really big fan of “blackened” fish, as I find that too many chefs overdo it and all flavor of the fish is lost, but this worked very well. The wine was Nicolas Feuillate NV Champagne. I am not familiar with this house, but this was a very nice sparkler with a lot of toasty citrus notes.

                  Second course was Tiger Shrimp Satay, done in classic Indonesian style. Better than most of the Tiger Shrimp (Prawns) that we had on this trip. These were quite fresh and the satay frying was perfect. The wine was the ‘03 Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay.

                  Third course was Crab Crusted Hawaiian Sea Bass in a Mixed Bean Cassoulet, Spinach, Roasted Big Island Tomato and Lemon Grass Coulis. This was an excellent fish course and the Cassoulet was delicious. The wine was the ‘04 Marco Felluga Pinot Grigio, Italy. Though I am not normally a Pinot Gris/Grigio fan (except for the King Estate Willamette Valley Reserve PG), this wine went very well with all aspects of the dish. I am totally unfamiliar with this producer.

                  The main course was a Petit Filet Mignon, “broiled to perfection and seared with Yukon Gold Garlic Mashed Potato with a Port Demi Glace.” OK, it did not measure up to Dondero’s, but then none has. The wine was the ‘02 Clos du Bois Briarcrest Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon. I’m not a big fan of past Clos du Bois wines, but this Cab was better than expected (kind of like the PG above... ). Though it would have benefitted from decanting/caraffing, or much swirling in a Riedel Bordeaux stem (there are not many young Cabs that wouldn’t), it worked well with the tenderloin.

                  The dessert course was a Crème Tart with Fresh Berries and it was paired with an Ironstone Symphony Obsession NV (late harvest). This was the first late harvest Symphony that I have tried. Most are produced as a very light wine, similar in many aspects to PG. It was probably the best Symphony wine that I’ve encountered.

                  Service was very good and the restaurant is well appointed. It is by far the best eatery to occupy this particular location at the resort. The wine glassware needs work, but all else was excellent. The tab was $261.74.

                  1. Ola, Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Hwy, Kahuku (North Shore, Oahu), http://www.turtlebayresort.com/Dining.... I wondered why I had to call a separate number for reservations here, than I did for either the Palm Terrace, or 21◦ North, but I discovered that this is a chef-owned restaurant in the space leased from the Turtle Bay Resort. Fred DeAngelo is the chef/owner and has an interesting spot, just to the east of the main building at the resort, http://www.turtlebayresort.com/Media_.... The location was a beach activities facility, and now is a high-end, but down-scale restaurant. You have to experience it to truly understand. When we passed by the restaurant, I couldn’t believe that this was the place that I had heard so many good things about. It looked more like a pool grill, or a soda-shack for surfers. On closer inspection, it has been re-done inside and the I’d term it as very casual elegance - very interesting concept. While the decor is a bit of a paradox, the endeavor is anything but. Chef DeAngelo is going full-tilt with this restaurant and the hard work is in evidence, though all was not perfect.

                    The menu is quite ambitious and showcases the chef’s Hawaiian ancestry with regards to the island’s cuisine. I started with the Kalua Pork and Goat Cheese Nachos with Maui Onions, Sour Cream, Asian Guacamole and a Ginger Plum Sauce - marvelous! My wife chose the Crab Cakes on Crisp Asian Slaw, Lemongrass Soy Beurre Blanc. Here the wheels fell off. The dish consisted of two crab cakes about 3" in diameter and maybe 3/4" thick. One was lighter in color, than the other. She passed me the lighter, smaller one, along with some of the slaw and Beurre Blanc. I then passed her some of the Nachos. When I tasted the Crab Cake, I was overwhelmed at the wonderful flavors and started to speak. Unfortunately, she was overwhelmed by her Crab Cake (the darker one), but for a far different reason. Before I could expound on the delights that I’d just tasted, she blurted out, “oh-h-h, it’s bad!” I paused, mid-sentence, and took a sniff of her cake, then a hesitant taste - “bad” was not the proper descriptor for what I experienced, but I can’t print my thoughts here. I summoned our server, whispered the problem and he whisked her remaining cake away. I told him that mine was perfect. He returned in a moment with an explanation, the cakes had come from two different trays and the remaining cakes from that tray had been disposed of. He quickly replaced her cake with two new ones, and removed the charge from the bill without being asked to do so. I was just happy to alert him to the problem, and then have the dish replaced. My wife’s luck was turning back to dark side. She did admit that the replacement cakes were the best that she’d ever tasted. It’s just too bad, that she had the experience with the first one served. A mistake from the kitchen, but one that was corrected very quickly and with authority.

                    At this point, I went for the Kahuku Corn Chowder with Smoked Bacon, Potatoes, and topped with Blue Crab and Sweet Corn Relish. Again, a knockout. The “smoke” from the bacon was just right and the corn about the same level as Olathe Sweet Corn from the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies.

                    For my main, Kiawe Smoked Beef Tenderloin, featuring Big Island Prime Beef, Honey and Garlic Glace, Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes and Grilled Vegetables. I was now on a mission to duplicate Dondero’s tenderloin! Well, it wasn’t at Ola. The beef was good, but not great. Hey, I’ve had tons of high-end, high-priced tenderloin, but none compare to that one at the Grand Hyatt on Kauai. My wife chose the Five-Spiced Braised Beef Short Ribs with Kahuku Corn Mashed Potatoes and Natural Jus. Man, that Kahuku corn is something! Her luck was starting to turn for the better now. These short ribs were perfect. They had been cooked with the tender-loving-care, that her Ossobuco should have been. These were eat-with-a-fork ONLY sort of short rib. They were wonderful - better than my tenderloin.

                    The wine list is just as ambitious as the menu, plus the glassware is several steps up from what we had become accustomed to on the North Shore. As many of their “premium” wines are offered B-T-G we started there with the ‘05 Whitehaven Marlborough NZ Sauvignon Blanc. Hey, this is more of what I like about Kiwi SB’s. Why Villa Maria sells so well, is beyond my imagination. This went great with the Crab Cakes (the good ones). Actually, we “started” with a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV Champagne (which I see as an “orange” label, but maybe that’s just me) in the cottage, before dinner. Next, we chose the ‘04 Glen Carlou Paarl SA Chardonnay and it was very good. I had not had this wine before, but have come to love their Grand Classique Bordeaux blend. At about $13/btl. it is the best “value” that I have ever found in a Bdx. blend. The Chard was more like a minerally Meursault, or a fruity Chablis - about in the middle between those FR Chards. It was much more of a food wine, than a sipper and went very well with the good Crab Cakes and the Corn Chowder. I ordered the ‘04 Merry Vale Napa Chardonnay for my wife, as she is a bigger fan of full-bodied Cal Chards, than I, with a few exceptions. Lastly, we ordered a bottle of ‘02 Duckhorn Napa Merlot. Dan Duckhorn produces one of the best domestic Merlots that I have found, and is one of only about a half-dozen, that I will purchase at a restaurant. This was decanted/caraffed early in the meal and was drinking perfectly when the mains arrived. It might have gone better with the tenderloin than with the Short Ribs. In retrospect, I think I’d have opted for either a Turley or a Biale Zinfandel with those ribs, but the only Zin was Michael David’s Seven Deadly, which is down on my Zin list. We chose a Chocolate Brownie with Raspberry Compote to pair with the last of the Duckhorn.

                    The view is superb, the service very friendly and efficient (the staff really love working with Chef DeAngelo, and it shows), but the decor is a bit disconcerting. Maybe by next time, I’ll get over it and accept the funky atmosphere of a beach-side surfboard shop. The tables are a bit small, especially with all of the wine glasses that we had, and they are a tad too close together, but they were filled, and the floor space is limited to the confines of the old surfer hut. Though they had one major mis-step, but corrected it quickly, I’ll be back. I only hope that the TBR restaurants take note of the wine glasses. The bill was $227.73, with the Crab Cakes omitted, but a tip on what would have been the total. A very good meal, and a good value.

                    1. House Without a Key, The Halekulani, 2199 Kalia Road, Waikiki, Honolulu http://www.halekulani.com/dining/hous.... We’ve dined at the Halekulani’s showpiece restaurant, La Mer, maybe ten times, but this is the first visit to HWAK. It is an interesting restaurant, as it is a covered area around the pool on the lower level. It also offers live entertainment on a small stage to the right of the pool. Between the dining area and the pool and stage are the lounge chairs for the pool, plus many low tables. I believe that only appetizers and drinks are offered in that area, but could be wrong. I also do not know if that area is officially considered to be part of HWAK. They do not really take reservations, but probably made an exception for me, as I was also booking La Mer and Sunday Brunch at another restaurant on the property, Orchids. We arrived at about 5:15 for our non-reservation and were immediately seated about as close to the stage, as any tables in the “dining area.” I knew that the menu was limited, compared to either Orchids or La Mer, but was ready to deal with this, because I had heard many great things about the place. We had dined above the stage at La Mer on most occasions, so I had seen the venue, just never dined there.

                      For starters, I ordered the Coconut Shrimp, “Crisp Fried Tiger Shrimp Crusted with Coconut Flakes and Mango Coulis,” and my wife decided on the Premium Grade Ahi Sashimi, “Freshly Caught Yellow Fin Tuna with Shredded Daikon and Pickled Ginger.” The shrimp were done right! Very nice preparation and presentation. The same for the ahi - true “sashimi-grade.” We could not have been more pleased. For our main courses, we chose the Mediterranean Style Seafood Pasta, “Sauteed Jumbo Shrimp and Scollop Penne Pasta with Roasted Garlic Cloves, Olive Oil, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Artichoke Hearts, Roasted Peppers and Spinach, Finished with a Marinara Sauce, with Fresh Basil and Parmeasano Reggiano,” and the Kiawe Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Sweet Chili Beurre Blanc, from their “Sunset Kiawe Grill” menu. All were delicious and presented well. Yes, my wife was back on track, with both her appetizers and her main courses! Other than the slightly strange atmosphere of the swimmers right next to the diners, and the folk at the small tables having a cocktail and enjoying the entertainment, it was very nice, though a bit less formal, than I had expected. I guess that my blazer was a bit out of place.

                      When restaurants do “special label” wines, it is often hit, or miss. The wine list at HWAK is a combination to both. We sampled all of their “designer” wines (their term, not mine) and some were OK, while others left us wondering “where’s the beef?” The Cuvee Lace Chardonnay is from winemaker Gary Burk from Costa de Oro Winery, Santa Maria, CA. It was a nice, light, though simple food-friendly Chardonnay. We also had the Cuvee Joy Riesling from Dr F Weins-Prum, Mosel, GR, Graacher Domprobst Kabinett. First, I am a lover of QmP Rieslings and love the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region’s wines. This one, however, was very “thin in the shoulders,” and really didn’t hold up to the spices and seasonings in the food, as most Rieslings do. I was less than impressed, and it would come back to haunt me later. Finally, we did the Cuvee Silk Meritage-Red from winemaker Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat Winery, Santa Maria, CA. I’ve been a fan of Clendenen’s ABC wines of all varietals for some time, but this was Cab Franc and Merlot and seemed to have a body more closely resembling his general Pinot Noir, not a Cab Franc or even a well-made Merlot (see Duckhorn comments from Ola). I was still not impressed. My guess is that these wines were designed to not offend anyone, and in so doing, didn’t have much character. More miss, than hit. We also did the Charton La Fleur, SB from Bordeaux, which was a nice little wine for the starters and the Falesco Vitiano, a Super-Tuscan, Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, Sangiovese from Italy. Again, in no way offensive, but neither did much for either of us. These last two were not in the HWAK “designer” wine list.

                      In all, the food out shown the wine, but that happens. The ambiance, while “different,” was nice, just a tad more casual, than I had expected. The service was excellent, as one should expect from any restaurant in the Halekulani. My wife is a bit indifferent about returning, as we missed some old fav’s, like 3660 on the Rise and Indigo.

                      1. Bali by the Sea, Hilton Hawaiian Village, 2005 Kaila Road, Honolulu, http://www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com/.... Bali is the “up-scale” restaurant of about 15 possible dining locations in the sprawling Hilton Hawaiian Village complex. Everything from dim sum to elegant linen and fine china dining is covered by one of these. Back in the early 80's, I had a very bad experience at Bali. It was not with the food, but with the service. We were made to feel that American tourists (from the Mainland) were just not welcome there. Times, management, and economies have changed, as has the attitude at Bali. After many years of keeping them off of our list of restaurants, my wife talked me into trying them “one more time.” As I said, times had, in fact, changed, and for the better. The food was still good, if not great, probably better than in the 80's. The ambiance was still there, overlooking the Pacific from the second-level of the building, and now the service and hospitality were there. Basically the “Aloha Spirit,” was firmly in place.

                        The room is of moderate size, with fair views of the ocean from most tables. The view from those ringing the periphery of the space is outstanding. This is an Island-elegant dining spot. Though it is slightly down-scale from La Mer, one still wants to speak softly, when dining here. The decor is Polynesian-Contemporary. The tables are well spaced and sized to allow for your wine glasses and all of your courses. The service is top-notch and the food has gotten even better. This night we were dining well past sunset, but the lighting on this area of Waikiki Beach was still very romantic. We had chosen to watch the “King’s Jubilee” and fireworks show from our lanai, overlooking the Hawaiian Village’s pool area. We also finished off a bottle of ‘02 Olivier Leflaive Meursault, in glasses borrowed from Bali.

                        I started with the Sugar Cane Crusted Scallops, “Pan seared and served with Corn Chow Chow, Nalo Micro Greens and Fire Roasted Red Pepper Coulis.” Outstanding. I do not know how the loss of most of the sugarcane fields in Hawaii might impact this dish in years to come, but right now it is wonderful. My wife chose the Duck Confit and Wild Mushroom Risotto, “Duck Confit, Asparagus, Teardrop Tomatoes, Hamakua Mushrooms and Parmesan Reggiano.” This slow-cooked duck was fork-tender and “melt-in-your-mouth” good. The Risotto was perfect.

                        Next, I chose the Kahuku Sweet Corn & Maui Onion Soup, “Harmony of slow-cooked Maui Onions with a touch of Curry, Ginger and finished with Coconut Milk and Sweet Kahuku Corn.” OK, so I just could not get enough of the Kahuku Sweet Corn - I am a pushover for a dish like this, and it did not disappoint. Here my wife chose the Spinach, Baby Arugula and Pear Salad*, “Served with Spiced Pecans, Gorgonzola, Hawaiian Vanilla Bean Poached Pears and Champagne Dressing.” Next to her personal version of this mix, I’d say that this was next best.

                        For main courses, I chose the Sauteed Opakapaka, which is listed as “Signature entree Crusted with Macadamia Nuts and Cilantro, complemented with Molokai Sweet Potato, Fresh Island Vegetables and Kaffir Lime Sauce.” It was very good - the second best Opakapaka on this trip. The wife went with the Scallion Crusted Ahi Tempura, “Ahi, cooked medium rare, with a crisp Tempura Scallion Crust, Local Vegetables, Pea Shoots, Molokai Purple Sweet Potato and Ponzu Beurre Blanc.” She had now had Ahi about six different ways and rated this one up with the best. At last her fortune with the main courses had changed!

                        Though not ordered, a Chocolate Tower, “Milk Chocolate Mousse Tower served with Caramelized Banana, Raspberry Coulis, Warm Chocolate Tart and Vanilla Ice Cream,” arrived with a large chocolate medallion, emblazoned with “Happy Anniversary.” A very nice and thoughtful gesture to go along with the roses on the table, when we arrived.

                        Though we had started with the Meursault in the room, we started the dinner with glasses of Bollinger Special Cuvee NV Champagne. For the mixed first courses, we did a ‘99 Domaine Jean Boillot Volnay Nuits St-Georges Les Cailles (full-bottle Pinot Noir) and an ‘01 Long-Depaquit Chablis (a negociant with whom I was not familiar). The Volnay was perfect with the Duck and Mushroom Risotto. Normally for Duck Confit, I would have chosen a Syrah-based wine, probably from the Northern Rhône, but they did not have one in half-bottle. The Chablis was good with the Scallop, the Sugarcane and Ponzu Beurre Blanc were just a bit much for it to handle. Maybe if I had been able to do a 1er Cru with some years on it, but even with the vast cellar at Bali, the half-bottles were a bit limited. We kept the Volnay going for my wife’s Ahi, and I added a bottle of ‘96 Domaine Guy Amoit Et Fils Chassagne-Montrachet Clos St-Jean. This was finished off and the Volnay was re-corked to take back to the room. The sommelier inquired, as this was his last bottle and we discussed it for a bit. Unfortunately, I must have had a bit too much wine, as my manners were sorely lacking. I should have offered to share a glass with him, but alas, we were the last diners in the restaurant and the staff had long ago begun preparations for the next evening. I will make this up to him next time.

                        All-in-all, a perfect evening (except for my social gaffe), with everything done properly and graciously. The service was impeccable and the stemware was very nice. This was the second “perfect” meal that I have had at Bali, basically two years in a row. I am so glad that my wife talked me into trying them just “one more time.” Total was $502.37.

                        * The spinach was from the Big Island

                        1. La Mer, The Halekulani, 2199 Kalia Road, Waikiki, http://www.halekulani.com/dining/la_mer/. Where to start? This is the flagship of the restaurants at the Halekulani, and has been a favorite of ours for a couple of decades. We always book a table here, whenever we are on Oahu - no questions asked. La Mer has become one of our favorite restaurants - anywhere. It is a bit of an anachronism in its old-world charm and elegance. One seems naturally inclined to speak in hushed tones, when dining there. Executive Chef, Yves Garnier has created a wonderful fusion of classic French and Island-fusion cuisine. The sauces are definitely of French origin, but many of the ingredients are definitely and exclusively related to Polynesia. For many years, it has been a wonderful blend of great food, excellent service and unmatched ambiance in this exquisite inn on Waikiki Beach. With our reservations secured and confirmed, we headed out for the pinnacle of high-end dining in the Hawaiian Islands. All arrangements had been made, roses on the table, which was to be overlooking the Pacific at sunset. The real celebration of our anniversary was about to begin. On arrival, Stephen Oyadomari, the General Manager ushered us to an intimate table at the railing overlooking a narrow stretch of Waikiki Beach, the Pacific stretching before our eyes. The sun was about to set. Complementary Champagne was served, and the roses arrived. It doesn’t get better than this.

                          We have done ala carte a few times in the past, but their “Menu Degustation,” is our personal choice here. That night it read like a menu from a Michelin Three-star restaurant in the French countryside: Sauteed Foie Gras with Yukon Potato Gnocchi au Jus, Charlotte of Smoked Salmon and Salmon Tartare with Fresh Vegetables, Asparagus Tips and French Cocktail Sauce, Vegetable Strudel with Haricots Verts and a Shallot Vinaigrette, Sauteed Scallop on a Mango-Ginger Confit complemented with a “Manjari” Chocolate Accented Lobster Sauce (my wife cannot do bi-valves, so the scallop was substituted with a very large, tender prawn), Roasted Chilean Sea Bass on “Alsatian Choucroute” with a Light Mustard and Juniper Berry Sauce, Pineapple-Rosemary Sorbet, Roasted “Kurobuta” Pork with Brussel Sprouts and a Dijon Mustard Jus, Selection of French Cheeses and a Dessert Variation “La Mer.” I had read some recent negative comments regarding the Foie Gras at La Mer, so I held my breath. I love goose liver, especially sauteed, and this one did not disappoint. Nothing on the extensive tasting menu did. It was all magnificent and presented as I had expected it would be.

                          However, there was a problem. I did not want to work with the voluminous wine list, so I requested that sommelier, Randy Ching, just pair B-T-G, or half-bottle wines with every course. I gave him no price limit and stated that I would not be surprised if he did maybe six half-bottles. Over the years, I’ve had great fun, and excellent wines, paired expertly with the cuisine at La Mer. Mr Ching has proved to be very knowledgeable with regards to his cellar and the preparations from the kitchen. Well, something got very lost in translation. I had been very open with my request for wine pairings and had basically given carte blanche for the match-ups, and for every course. The Foie Gras arrived, but no wine. The Champagne flutes were empty, and no wine. I am not accustomed to having empty wines glasses on the table at La Mer, and the wines have always been poured/delivered, before their appropriate course has been served. I finally flagged down one of our servers and asked about the first wine. He hurried off. I expected to have a lessor Chateau Sauternes, or a Barsac, or maybe a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, or even a TBA Riesling (I just had a wonderful Canadian Late Harvest Apple Cider at the Green House in London, Mayfair that paired beautifully with an apple-influenced foie gras). All have worked for me and I anticipated Mr Ching’s selection. After a rather awkward pause, two glasses of wine arrived. It was the Cuvee Joy Riesling from HWAK! Bad choice. This was such a light wine, that the foie gras overpowered it completely. It seems that Mr Ching was too busy to provide any direction, as to wine selection, and the staff was just winging it. Note to self, do not dine at La Mer and expect the sommelier to pay any attention, if someone is staying in the Vera Wang Suite. Had I known that he would be unavailable, I would have done the work from their extensive half-bottle selection. As they say, “my bad.” It did get better with an ‘05 Duckhorn Napa Sauvignon Blanc, an ‘02 Dauvissat, Vaillons, 1er Cru Chablis an ‘03 Ancien Carneros Pinot Noir, an ‘85 Fonseca Vintage Port* and a ‘68 D’Olivera Bual Madeira*, but the mood had been shattered and the wine service always lagged far behind the dining courses. It was as though a timing belt had slipped a cog and was now out of sync. This could have been easily overlooked in most of the other restaurants in our list, but not at La Mer. Maybe I had too many expectations, or maybe I presumed far too much. It could be that I had become accustomed to the great service in all departments, but I found it difficult to overlook. The meal was $638.25. Normally, I give Mr Ching an additional gratuitity to reflect his efforts and service, but not this evening. I only wish that I had been informed that he was too busy to provide me with his services.

                          Yes, I will return, and on my next trip to Oahu, but I will probably dispense with any requests from the sommelier, and just plan on doing the “heavy-lifting” myself. This will teach me not to take the night off!

                          *Which I chose

                          1. Orchids - Sunday Brunch, The Halekulani, 2199 Kalia Road, Waikiki, http://www.halekulani.com/dining/orch.... I had read so many glowing reports on the Sunday Brunch at Orchids, that I had to try it for myself. First, the setting lovely, looking out onto the lawn that separates the pool/stage and HWAK from the main building, or onto the Pacific. The room is elegant, and that best describes the Brunch. Ladies in lovely hats, gentlemen in jackets, though few ties, and a very attentive waitstaff. We were assigned to two gentlemen, who kept the meal flowing expertly. They never pushed for anything, understanding the flow of a leisurely Sunday Brunch, yet they were never out of the tempo of the meal (sometimes I thought that maybe the columns had secret compartments, where they could hide, then pop out of nowhere to fill a water glass, or remove a soiled spoon, because the only time that I saw them was when they silently arrived at the table at the exact moment they were needed.) and seemed to be performing an intricate ballet, timed perfectly to our pattern. The service was perfect. The food was, to put it bluntly, overwhelming. Every possible dish was done in at least two ways (basically classic American and Asian), with some Hawaiian, or French, variations thrown in. We tried to sample a touch of everything, but this was impossible. It would also not be possible to list all of the dishes here, even if I kept it to only one variation. Suffice it to say that it was one of the largest spreads that I have ever encountered. The one brunch that surpasses this one is the Sunday Brunch at the Marquessa at the Scottsdale Princess in AZ. Oh there might be some that are more elegant, say in the Hamptons, or Palm Beach, or Monaco, but I rather doubt it. This is a must do, if one enjoys a very relaxed pace and an elegant (I know I am using this word far too much, but it is so fitting) Sunday morning dining experience.

                            I have to apologize, as I cannot find the receipt, do not recall how much it cost the two of us, but will say that whatever the price, it was well worth it.

                            1. Orchids - Sunday Brunch, The Halekulani, 2199 Kalia Road, Waikiki, http://www.halekulani.com/dining/orch.... I had read so many glowing reports on the Sunday Brunch at Orchids, that I had to try it for myself. First, the setting lovely, looking out onto the lawn that separates the pool/stage and HWAK from the main building, or onto the Pacific. The room is elegant, and that best describes the Brunch. Ladies in lovely hats, gentlemen in jackets, though few ties, and a very attentive waitstaff. We were assigned to two gentlemen, who kept the meal flowing expertly. They never pushed for anything, understanding the flow of a leisurely Sunday Brunch, yet they were never out of the tempo of the meal (sometimes I thought that maybe the columns had secret compartments, where they could hide, then pop out of nowhere to fill a water glass, or remove a soiled spoon, because the only time that I saw them was when they silently arrived at the table at the exact moment they were needed.) and seemed to be performing an intricate ballet, timed perfectly to our pattern. The service was perfect. The food was, to put it bluntly, overwhelming. Every possible dish was done in at least two ways (basically classic American and Asian), with some Hawaiian, or French, variations thrown in. We tried to sample a touch of everything, but this was impossible. It would also not be possible to list all of the dishes here, even if I kept it to only one variation. Suffice it to say that it was one of the largest spreads that I have ever encountered. The one brunch that surpasses this one is the Sunday Brunch at the Marquessa at the Scottsdale Princess in AZ. Oh there might be some that are more elegant, say in the Hamptons, or Palm Beach, or Monaco, but I rather doubt it. This is a must do, if one enjoys a very relaxed pace and an elegant (I know I am using this word far too much, but it is so fitting) Sunday morning dining experience.

                              I have to apologize, as I cannot find the receipt, do not recall how much it cost the two of us, but will say that whatever the price, it was well worth it.

                              1. Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room, Macy’s Third Floor, Ala Moana Shopping Center, Honolulu, http://www.alanwongs.com/pineroom/pin.... A couple of years back, I had made reservations at what I thought was Alan Wong’s King St restaurant. When I called the morning of that reservation to refresh my memory about valet parking at King St, I was informed that I had actually made reservations at the Pineapple Room. Rather than try and change at that late date, we dined at the Pineapple Room, instead of King St that trip. It was good, but not King St. After that experience, I shared my confusion with one of the marketing people at Alan Wong’s Restaurants and also gave a critique of that experience. Out of that conversation a relationship with the Alan Wong restaurants developed, and from that came a most gracious invitation to an event at the Pineapple Room - Alan Wong’s New Wave Luau II, A Benefit for Hawaii’s Plantation Village. I did not know what to expect, but knew that we wanted to go.

                                First, the Pineapple Room is a very nice restaurant, set in Macy’s at the Ala Moana. It is nicely finished, though a bit down-scale from the King St restaurant. The menus have Chef Wong’s influence, but the fare at the PR is also a bit more down-scale than King St, just as the appointments of the two spaces differ - Good, but not the same. This was to be a dining experience, like no other, and reflects little on the normal experience that one is likely to encounter at the Pineapple Room. This is not really a review of the PR, but of Chef Wong’s event.

                                The New Wave Luau II was really a 33 course buffet, set up around the entire floor space of the PR. The dishes were all prepared by the chefs at four Alan Wong’s restaurants, or his friends, and gave each the opportunity to cut loose and experiment with “luau” food. I won’t list all of the dishes, but must comment on some of the standouts: the Ti Leaf Wrapped Carnitas Tamale with Poblano Luau Leaf Emulsion and Lomi Pico de Gallo, by Gary Matusmoto, Exec. Chef at the PR, was the standout! This was a dish that he had “dreamed up,” and begged Alan to let him make. What a hit. We probably did this one three times, even at the expense of missing something else it was so very good. (The next night, at King St, we reviewed this dish, and cannot promise it, but think that it might appear on the PR menu in the future.) Ulu Crab Cakes with Corn Relish and Ulu Vinaigrettes by Barbara Strange - wonderful. Kalua Pig & Foie Gras “En Terrine” with Liquid Sweet Potato, Lomi Lomi, Opae Coconut Froth & Thai Chili Oil, by Jon Matsuara of the Honolulu Design Center - outstanding. Ti Leaf Wrapped Opakapaka by Yukio Kobayshi, Exec. Chef Alan Wong’s Japan - best Opakapaka of the trip.

                                Yes, it was crowded, but the kitchen(s) did not miss a beat. There was food aplenty and if the station that you were at was working to get a fresh batch out, a server would probably be standing next to you with a “passed” dish for you to sample, while you waited.

                                All of Alan’s distributors presented wines at the event, and there were almost as many of these, as there were dishes - far too many to list. The stemware was definitely restaurant-grade tasting style glasses, but then this was a crowded luau/buffet. The cost for the event was $170.00.

                                I’ll definitely go back to the PR, especially if the Tamales do make it to the menu, though not at the expense of missing King St. In this case, we knew that we had King St the next night, so I could sleep well.

                                1. Alan Wong’s, 1857 King St, Honolulu, http://www.alanwongs.com/kingstreet/k.... We have been dining at AW’s King St., since it opened, and have made it a must-dine stop on all but one trip to Oahu (see Pineapple Room review). My wife saw Chef Wong on the old PBS series, “The Great Chefs of Hawaii,” and was very impressed by his recipes and style. On our next trip to the Islands, we noticed that he had opened a restaurant and we went - the rest, as they say, “is history.” Some might question our doing two nights (in a row) of Alan Wong’s food, when there are still so many really good restaurants in, and around, Honolulu. My answer would be two part: they were totally different experiences, and that one can never get enough of AW’s cooking - period!

                                  First problem that I have with this review is how to describe the King St. restaurant. It is contemporary, but cozy, elegant, but laid back, busy, but not distracting. The view, from the third floor of the unassuming boxy building, is of King St - no Waikiki Beach, no sunset, no Diamondhead, just King St. However, there is enough of a “view” right on your table, as the food is presented. You will encounter folk in all sorts of dress, from dark business suits, to shorts and aloha shirts. The pace in the kitchen is frenetic but that doesn’t carry over to the dining room experience. The noise level is a bit higher than I really like, but not so bad as to cancel out conversation. If I were looking for a restaurant in which to propose marriage, I probably wouldn’t choose AW’s King St. However, if I wanted to dine out the next night to celebrate that proposal, it would definitely be AW’s King St.

                                  There are two dining options here - actually four, if you multiply the two variations: basically, you can do ala carte or the tasting menu, and you can dine at a table, or with enough advance planning, the “Chef’s Counter.” I’ve done various “Chef’s Tables,” at other restaurants. Some in the “Wine Cellar” room, some in the midst of the kitchen, some tucked away in little alcoves, some in a separate building from the main structure. I have not done a “Chef’s Counter,” and had never done the one at AW’s King St. Heck, I didn’t even know that it existed, until I read about it on ChowHound! I just thought that that little counter was for single diners, who didn’t want to wait for a table to open up. In all the years of dining there, I never asked.

                                  For this trip, we chose the Chef’s Counter and what a delight it was. We did the seven-course tasting menu (which expands to eleven courses with the little extras that come out of the kitchen) with paired wines by Alan’s sommelier. Here, I must warn you, if you do the Chef’s Counter, and even if you do the full, seven-course tasting menu - you will see items being prepared and delivered to the servers over the counter that you are sitting at, that are not on the 11+/- courses spread that you will have. You WILL want those too! I’d almost recommend doing it in maybe three sittings over a week. There is just too much great food and the sight of it is horribly alluring, no, intoxicating! You cannot eat it all, not in one sitting - ever!

                                  For us, it was like a reunion, as we had just spent the previous evening with most of these folk. All of the line-cooks, the sous-chef, the servers, were from the night before at the Pineapple Room and the New Wave Luau. After the hugs and greetings, we plied up to the counter and the food began to arrive. As there is little room for the food, much less a place to write, I do not have a list of our courses and wine pairings. Besides, there is so much to see over the counter and so many questions to ask, “hey, what’s THAT dish being served?” We also had the opportunity to talk with many of the folk from the night before, so there was just not time to do anything else, except eat. I can say that you can get an idea of what you will encounter by going to, http://www.alanwongs.com/kingstreet/k..., counting out seven courses from that menu and then adding a few extras that might be there, or maybe just whims of the Chef de Cuisine that night. I can also state that everything was wonderful, the food, the presentations, the sights, the smells - everything. The only possible negative comment would be that there is a lot of activity around the counter, because the kitchen is immediately across from you and the space is a bit limited. I would also like to have had ceiling mounted mirrors to see everything that the line-cooks and prep-cooks were doing, as the back of the counter extends just a few inches too high. My wife wanted a booster-chair to see over the counter’s back. If you want a more relaxed atmosphere, choose a table, but the counter is a very “happening” place.

                                  I am also at a loss to list all of the wines that we had that night. The wine list at AW’s is not all that deep, but each one has a definite place with regards to the menu. It is a well thought out list and pairs well with the cuisine. We had a bit of overlap with the first array of morsels from the kitchen, and kept our welcome Champagne around for many. I also tried to keep some of each wine for comparisons with the sommelier’s selection for the next course, just to see how each paired. Sometimes we had four, or five, wines on the counter, which had limited space already. There were no gaps in the wines selected - each went very well, with their accompanying dish. When dining at the Chef’s Counter, especially with the seven-course tasting menu, I’d just let the sommelier do it and not worry. It will be perfect. Also, the stemware is very good. The bill was $406.26 and included additional wine.

                                  I’m glad that I do not do this for a living, as I would have had to spend too much time making notes and writing down impressions of everything. Instead, I got to talk with the cooks, the servers, and just enjoy it all. I don’t know how food/wine critics do it, as conversation is such a part of my dining experiences.

                                  I will close this one by saying, AW’s King St. is a must-do, when in Honolulu. I’ve even gotten a cab at the airport, when we’ve had layovers and did not actually stay on Oahu, just to quickly run out to King St and grab dinner. Reservations are a must, as the capacity of the space is limited, and is always full. If I could only do one restaurant in Hawaii, this would be it.

                                  1. Chef Mavro’s, 1969 South King St, Honolulu, http://www.chefmavro.com/index.shtml. This was a new spot for us. I had read many reviews over the years and knew that Chef George Mavrothalassitis had done several stints as Exec. Chef (La Mer, for one) in Hawaii. We had the pleasure of dining there, when he was at the helm, but then just lost track of his location. He was also part of the group of chefs in Hawaii, Alan Wong, Sue Gannon, and others, who had created what I would call Hawaiian-Nouvelle Cuisine and espoused the use of local products from the Islands. Why we had never dined with him (except at La Mer years ago) was beyond me. This time we rectified that - boy, did we ever rectify that!

                                    Like AW’s King St, Chef Mavro’s doesn’t show much from the street. The building is unpretentious and could easily be passed by, though it sits on the SW corner of King and McCulley. The interior is nothing like the outside. The decor is very contemporary, but with a very warm, elegant feel. the tables are well spaced and the light level is about perfect. We arrived early, having moved an 8:30 reservation to 5:30, as it was our last night in Hawaii and we still had to pack. The valet wasn’t even set up yet in the parking lot. We were shown to our table, though we had arrived 15 minutes before they officially “opened.” The sommelier, approached, introduced himself and began helping us navigate the menus. The only problem that I had was that I “needed” someone to help me navigate the menus. The choices are virtually endless. Ideally, I would have just ordered the eleven-course “Chef’s Table” menu, but my wife said that it was impossible, especially as we had just done that sort of thing at AW’s the night before and had been gluttons at the New Wave Luau the night before that. Now, looking back at my menu with lines from one pre fixe menu to the next, and comments in the margins, it is hard to recall exactly what I got, and what my wife ordered, but I’ll try.

                                    I went with the “Chef’s Tasting Menu,” which is six courses, but made substitutions from the “Four Course Pre Fixe Menu.” I’ll list all of my courses first, then my wife’s and maybe keep it straight. While we pondered all of the possible variations, I took advantage of the ‘01 Michel Colin-Deleger Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Vergers (Chardonnay) in a B-T-G selection. How often do you see a 1er Cru Chassagne-Montrachet B-T-G? Little did we know that we’d see this one again.

                                    First Course: Sauteed Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Poha Berries, Spiced Kabocha Bread, Braised Leeks and Balsamic-foie gras Glaze. This was paired with an ‘03 Kerpen Spätlese Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Riesling. Oh what a combination this was! This was the type of wine pairing that I had expected at La Mer, but did not get. This Spätlese thought that it was an Auslese and accompanied the Foie Gras perfectly - maybe even better than some lesser Sauternes that I have had.
                                    Second Course: Onaga (red snapper) Fillet, marinated with Fennel, “Big Wave” Tomatoes, Vegetables á la Grecque and Sauce Raite, paired with an ‘04 Domaine Baron Sauvignon Tourine. Both excellent alone, but even better together.
                                    Third Course: Keahole Lobster A La Coque, Kahuku Corn Cake (here I am with the Kahuku Corn again) with Lobster Coral, Cucumber, Glazed with Essence of Mint and Pomegranate Yogurt Sauce. Let me see the sommelier pair a wine with this! Oops, he was up to the task and pulled out our starter wine, the Michel Colin-Deleger Chassagne-Montrachet - great, just great. I also learned that the Keahole Lobsters are actually Maine Lobsters that are moved to the Big Island and raised in the modern-day equivalent to the Hawaiian Fish Ponds of ancient times.
                                    )Fourth Course: Snake River Farm “Kobe-Style” Beef Bavette, with Red Beet-Shallot Fricassee with Horseradish Foam and Fried White Polenta. I threw down the gauntlet by mentioning my tenderloin from Dondero’s. The server promised that this would be better. I should have bet on this, but did not. Besides, the look on the faces of all of the staff when I told them that their tenderloin was maybe #4, or 5 down the list of “all-world beef “was painful enough. I’d have hated to also hit them up for a bottle of 1er Cru Burgundy, or something. Here, the sommelier deviated from his normal “Rare” pairing and pulled out an ‘02 Les Pagodes De Cos St-Estèphe (Cos d’Estournel’s second label), which went very nicely with the Beef. He had poured this at about the Second Course to allow it some time to “open up.” A bit of swirling got it going nicely. Hey, it wasn’t the best Beef of my life, but #4 isn’t bad, especially for a carnivore.
                                    Fifth Course: Big Island goat Cheese “Tatin” with Li Hing Mui Carmelized Apples and Upcountry Baby Greens. This was paired with an ‘05 La Spinetta Moscato D’ Asti from Biancospino, IT. The acidic tartness of the Goat Cheese was a wonderful counterpoint to the fruity sweetness of Moscato. I did not know this producer.
                                    Finally, the Sixth Course: Chocolat Aux Epices, featuring Spiced Chocolate Bavaroise wrapped in Mochi, Liorice Ice Cream and covered with a Black Currant Sauce. With this dessert, the pairing was a ‘98 Adriano Ramos Pinto LBV Port. Oh, my word, I still had to go and pack!

                                    My wife went with the “Four Course Pre Fixe Menu,” but also made substitutions.
                                    First Course: Maitake Mushroom Salad, Crispy Artichoke Chips, Candied Black Olives on Baby Arugula. (“Candied Black Olives,” who knew that they even existed, much less tasted so good?) The wine pairing was an ‘02 Domaine Bouchard Beaume Du Château 1er Cru, which did its job nicely.
                                    Second Course: Day-Boat Catch U`ku (grey striped snapper), Poached Fillet, Sago-Coconut Nage, Thai Herbs, Pousse-pied Seaweed and Lime Froth. Here she got the ‘04 Truchard Roussanne Carneros. I know Truchard, but did not know of this wine. It is the first US-produced Roussanne that I had tried and was quite good. The Southern Rhône varietals are really being explored by some California winemakers, and with very good results.
                                    Third Course: Here, she went for the Third Course from the “Chef’s Tasting Menu,” the Keahole Lobster A La Coque (see above). Once more the table was visited by the MichelColin-Deleger. I know that we finished the entire bottle of this wine that night.
                                    Fourth Course: From the “Three Course Pre Fixe Menu” came the Figs Poached in Burgundy Wine, with Candied Walnuts, Cinnamon Wine Reduction, Hawaiian Vanilla Vineyard Mascarpone Parfait, which was paired with the ‘04 Maculan Estate Dindarello from IT. Again, I do not know this producer.

                                    A few reviewers had not been as pleased, as we were, with the dinners at Chef Mavro’s. I cannot imagine why. Other than having to make a “flow-chart” on the menu, everything was over-the-top great! One thing that I greatly appreciated was the sommelier’s pairings. Besides the main pairing, he offered a “rare,” or reserve pairing for just a few $ more. Really nice touch, that more restaurants should look into. The glassware was about as functional and beautiful as you could have wished for. I shudder at the thought of having to hand-wash it all. We probably used a dozen stems that night for a party of two. All of the dishes were great, with lovely presentations. The portions were perfect and the flavors and textures of both the dishes and the wines paired with them were flawless. I cannot heap too many compliments on the kitchen the cellar and the staff that night. We will be back. Along with AW’s King St, this is a must do - just come hungry!

                                    Note that Chef Mavro’s has an extensive wine list, but other than light reading, before the first course, I cannot image going beyond the sommelier’s choices. Price for the meal was $453.93, plus an additional $40 for the sommelier.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      I meant to go back and ann the sommelier's name at the introduction point, but posted before I got to it. His name is Todd Ashline

                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        I just noticed that I incorrectly cited Bev Gannon, as "Sue" Gannon (Hali`imaile General Store). I know better, but just missed this, in the edits - sorry.


                                      2. Wish I'd been there with you at the PR event & AW's Chef's Counter the next night. How you did a tasting menu at Mavro's after these two evenings, I have no idea, but you have done me proud! Usually I can only handle one of these per trip! Your reviews should be required reading for all CH's before posting questions on Kauai or Oahu! Still trying to get back to check out the HanoHano Room...

                                        Thanks - reading was fun & felt like I was there if only for a little bit enjoying with you!

                                        1. Great report, Bill. FYI, Todd Ashline came to Chef Mavro from Tru. He's getting great reviews from diners with his recommendations and your report certainly proves his worth.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Yoshio

                                            Absolutely! The folk at AW's filled me in on the fun things that he was doing there, and they were right-on. Sorry that I didn't get the edit in, as I had intended.

                                            I never got to Tru, and opted for Charlie Trotter's instead. I think I should have done Tru, in retrospect.