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Nov 28, 2006 04:12 AM

Big Island Dining - Not so hot

Just back from a week and was not at all impressed with the food there.

Breakfast Buffet at the Marriott included with the room was o.k. We stuck to fruit (could have been riper) yogurt, cereal and miso soup. Omelet station was good, but pancakes, waffles were kept warm under a heat lamp, YUCK!
2 buffet dinners at various Hilton restaurants. Edible, but barely. Dinner at Roy's inebible...had to send ribeye/rice dish back as it was so salty. They then bring out a filet (more expensive I believe) as a replacment that was flavorless. The restaurant also has bad acoustics...serious LOUDNESS. Merriman's cafe was decent, though not extraordinary. Saturday night "Clambake", all you can eat Lobster, crab, clams, mussels, etc. at the Mauna Kea was good, but for $80/pp it did not have the selection that you'd find at a Four Seasons Buffet for the same price.

Pupus/Cocktails at the Four Seasons Beach Bar were outstanding as was the service from Barman Tom. Lunch at Don The Beachcomber in Kona was a somewhat greasy burger & fries and a quesadilla. Nothing great there.

We stopped not far from AKAKA Falls at the "lunch stop" at the restaurant in the Blue Lotus Gallery in Honokaa. We had the daily special..a fish curry and a chicken curry served with rice & salad. My husband had a tropical smoothie. Everything was delicious. By far the best meal of the trip and cheap too, under $10 bucks.

If it had been up to me, I would have avoided the hotels (except 4Seasons)like the plague. Seek out the hole in the walls where the locals eat.

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  1. better yet, as I've said on these boards several times, get a condo and cook some of the great local ingredients. It isn't so much that the food isn't good on the Big Island, rather that restaurant quality isn't that high. (generally, obviously there are exceptions). Case in point: See elmomonster's great post on poke at the Supermarket, below.

    Although there are definitely better places for a burger than Don the Beachcomber. I like the restaurant at the Honokau Harbor for a burger (or fish sandwich) and a beer.

    1. Honestly, if you have the majority of your meals at hotels or touristy places you're more then often going to be disappointed.

      On the Kona side there's Teshima, Manago Hotel and Sandy's Drive-In. Teshima has truly exceptional (beyond excellent) tempura and the 90+ y.o. grandma still ran the place last time I was there last year. Sandy's Drive-In rightfully would scare most people except the local fish is fresh and cheap...nothing like a $20+ piece of fresh fish served on cardboard for $6 bucks. Manago - homey but excellent pork chops.

      1. Just back from my honeymoon on the Big Island. We stayed at the Mauna Lani (originally booked the Mauna Kea) and loved it.

        Dined at Merrimans, Daniel Thiebault, CanoeHouse, Tommy Bahama, and Roys.

        Roys was the only dissapointment. Beware, the Roys "Bar and Grille" is a different concept than the familiar Roy's restaurants. Extreme noise, below average food. Avoid.

        Merrimans was excellent but sadly the noise level was so high we gave up on trying to talk to each other. Our waitress had to kneel beside our table and speak loudly, otherwise we could not hear her at all. The food was hard to enjoy under such circumstances. Insist upon a table at the opposite end from the kitchen if you want to talk to your dining companion(s).

        The food and setting at Daniel T is unpretentious and charming. Gracious wait staff. Good wine selection, also by the glass. Do try it.

        Tommy Bahamas: this is a new one on us. Located at the Shops at Mauna Lani, upstairs from the TB boutique. We shared an excellent pork chop and salad. Flame away if you like, the food was very good and the place is a lot of fun.

        We dined at Canoehouse despite some negative reporting on Chowhound. It was fantastic. After eating fish for 4 or 5 days I opted for pasta and loved it. My husband had fish but that is all I can tell you because I was too involved in my own dinner. You cant beat the setting. My only complaint was the music - cheesy 90's pop. Canoehouse needs to pay attention to the music played in the gift shop.

        Had excellent sushi at the Hoku bar at Mauna Lani.

        Everything was expensive but we expected that. Thanks for reading.

        3 Replies
        1. re: sdnativa

          Interesting observations. Thank you. We had done that Roy's some years back, and it was THEN our favorite. The exec. chef was a young lady (wish I could recall her name, and even the staff, who were all of 16, did not know her) with a background in SouthWest cooking. Her take on Roy Yamaguchi's dishes was the best of ALL of the Roy's in Hawai`i and on the mainland, that we have tried, and we've tried nearly every one. The noise was a bit of a problem then, and 18 mos. ago, we dined there again and it was a problem. Food was OK, but the noise was over-the-top by at least 20db. People were screaming like a homecoming football game - very unpleasent! Based on that experience, we did not do the Roy's in Poipu this year.

          The Canoehouse, eh? Glad that it has gotten better. We did it about 5 years back, after a ton of recs. Service was sorely lacking. Food was average at best, in quality, not in cost and the wine list was ludicrous. I was so very disappointed. The setting was great, but the sommelier and the waitstaff hadn't a clue, plus the kitchen must have phoned out for the order and it arrived by rickshaw - I would never have gone back, based on my experience. I may have been one of those negative comments.

          I've always meant to try Merriman's, especially as he was part of the Alan Wong, Chef Mavro, Sue Gannon, Sam Choy group of chefs, who helped rework contemporary Hawaiian cuisne. Too bad that the noise level was so bad - I hate that with a passion.

          Daniel Thibault's was a great experience for us. We had made reservations for dinner and happened to be up in that area at lunch the day of the reservations, so we stopped in. Both meals were great with good food, reasonable, though limited wine, and great service. I had gotten some info, that indicated that they might have closed. Glad that they did not - worth the drive from Kona.

          We've got some TB's around AZ, but I have not dined there. Hey, if the food's good, and the service and wine are passable, then there is no problem. The ones here look a tad Disneyesque, but it's all about the food.

          Next trip, look into the AW's (Hualalai Grille) and Pahuia at the Four Seasons. We had spectacular meals at both. Recently, an SF hound (I think) had a bad night at Hualalai Grille, but I'm really not sure what all of the problems were. It seemed that there were issues with the hostess being courted by another patron and maybe he was a bit miffed at that - who knows? In our case, both meals were A to A+, and that doesn't happen all that often.

          It would be nice if some of the restranteurs would read your comments, re: noise. So many actually structure their restaurants TO create, or amplify the noise. Jean Marie Josselin wanted the French Bistro feel, along with the sounds, when he designed A Pacific Cafe, Kapaa, Kauai. We arrived and I almost fainted, when we walked in. Every person in the dining room had at least two cell phones and all were shouting into them - "Buy! Sell! Hold!" It was unbelievable. The hostess, who looked all of about 15 took one look at me and stated, "I'll bet that you and your wife would like the quiet room." How preceptive for such a young lady. Josselin had constructed a room, off of the main dining area, that still had views of the open kitchen, but was acoustically dead - curtains, thick carpet, soft surfaces everywhere. We took it, in a second, and the evening was excellent. Every time we dined there, we requested the "quiet room," and got it every instance. More restauranteurs should do similar.


          1. re: Bill Hunt

            Too bad you opted out of the Roy's in Poipu. We had an excellent dinner there last Spring. Noise was not unreasonable, although they were fully booked.

            1. re: Ms Verde

              For that trip, we just ran out of nights. Only "low" spot was the Plantation Garden, and even that was good - just not great. Because we were on Kaua`i immediately after Iniki, and Roy's was about to open - but we missed it - we planned on doing Poipu. I still like Roy's, here in Scottsdale, and enjoy his take of the food of the Pacific Rim. Since I have dined at nearly every location on US soil, I hated to miss this one. Glad to hear that the noise level was tolerable. Last trip to Big Island, it had increased by 10db! I understand folk having fun, but shouting and screaming is just not called for in a restaurant, whether it's at your table-mates, or into a cell phone.

              Next trip, I will do myself a favor, and dine there. Then, it's off to Tokoyo to try that one.


        2. Living on the BIg Island as I do, I am well aware of the frustrating lack of good dining choices. But the very good restaurants here are indeed very good.

          I'm limiting most of my comments to the West Side, since that's where most tourists go and Hilo dining is rather forgettable anyway, IMO.

          Without a doubt, the Four Seasons Hualalai offers the best dining options on the island. Alan Wong's Hualalai Grille on the golf course is very, very good. Pahu'ia on the ocean is everyone's special occasion restaurant. It went through some ups and downs in recent years with service and menu but is now back to world-class status, IMO. And then there's the beach bar, which has the best burger and french onion soup on the island, hands down.

          In Kailua-Kona, the best restaurant by far is O's Bistro. Off the beaten path in a strip mall next to Safeway, this is fabulous food, especially the nightly specials, which on any given night may be osso buco, cioppino, a paella, seafood curry, lamb, etc. Incredible consistency and creativity and very good service. Small restaurant, reservations needed for dinner, but not if you go early.

          La Bourgogne is a very good french restaurant, also off the beaten path in town.Small restaurant, reservations needed, dinner only.

          Forget about eating at any hotel in Kona. They're all lousy. Also forget about Don the BeachComber, Drysdales, Huggo's, Jameson's, Edward's. Also all lousy.

          Up the Kohala coast at the other hotels, there are some good options, although none nearly as good as Pahu'ia. The Mauna Lani has the Canoe House which is a lovely spot, but honestly, I think consistency here is a problem. I've never had a spectacular meal here and it's very pricey for the quality of food. The Fairmont Orchid has Brown's Beach House which is very good. Donatoni's at the Hilton is quality, authentic Italian. They also have a good Japanese place with a beautiful setting whose name I can't remember, and fairly good upscale Chinese restaurant, Kirin. Roy's at the King's Shops is indeed noisy as others have mentioned but I love the food and I think it's a congenial fun atmosphere. Just not a romantic spot, perhaps. I like to eat at the bar.

          I have not been particularly pleased with Ruth's Chris Steakhouse or TOmmy Bahama's out at the new Mauna Lani shops.

          In Waimea things get interesting. Probably the largest concentration of good restaurants on the island. My favorite is Daniel Thiebault's, but also very good is Edelweiss and Merriman's. Tante's opened recently at the Parker Ranch Center and is quite good. Taco Tako is fabulous for lunch. Charley's Thai is also a great lunch spot.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Shea

            I had my wedding dinner at Edward's, and it was actually very good. But that was six years ago, though I've been back since. I certainly wouldn't lump it in with Huggo's, Drysdales or BeachComber, about which I agree. That said, I think it was closed last time I was on the Island, two years ago: is it open again? How recently have you eaten there? I wouldn't mind trying it one more time, or at least having a drink there, out of sentiment if nothing else....

            1. re: susancinsf

              To answer my own question, there is a new restaurant in that location, no longer Edward's. It is called the Grill and Bar at Kanaloa. Didn't try it on our recent trip. The setting there is great, but I'd wait to hear positives about the food before going..

            2. re: Shea

              Thank you for your comments. Since we only get to the Big Island about every five years, some places come, and go. About eighteen months ago, I did a full trip report of the West-side of the Big Island, and agree completely with your accessment of AW's Haualalai Grille, Pahu`ia and Daniel Thibault's. We missed Merriman's, but all of his side-kicks (AW, Chef Mavro, Bev Gannon, etc.) said that we did miss a good one. Next time.

              One bad experience at the Canoe House was enough for me. A restaurant that misses on all counts is not worth a re-visit. Heck, I don't get paid to do the reviews!

              I made note of some, that were not on my last visit, and will include them next trip.

              Also, I can do Ruth's in a dozen mainland cities, and have found no chef-driven differences to any. At least with Roy's, the exec. chef has a great deal of latitude with Roy Yamaguchi's dishes.

              I thought, long and hard, about Donatoni's, but opted of AW's that night. As I was recently surprised at Dondero's, Grand Hyatt, Kaua`i, I should have added them to the mix - too many restaurants and too little time.

              Again, thanks for the new recs., and reaffirmation to some old favs.

            3. I have always enjoyed Merriman's in Waimea, I like the abiity to combine entrees on
              a dish for variety. Roy's in Waikoloa is noisy but every meal has been great there I've
              enjoyed lunch there as well.

              Going to Mauna Lani for a few days in a week and am looking forward to Canoe House,
              I've always enjoyed it there as well. Last time a year ago I had TMJ and the chef went
              out of his way to prepare a special selection of things for me as I couldn't chew much
              at all. They just got a new chef Dee Ann Tsurumaki who has a long list of places
              and are most impressive. She started in pantry at Roy's Hawaii Kai as part of the
              opening crew and has worked her way up around the world.

              1 Reply
              1. re: manomin

                We just got back from a week in a rented house on the Kohala coast. Our best meal, by far, was at Pahu i'a, on the beach at the Four Seasons. The setting is spectacular, the table was beautifully set, the service was attentive without being fawning, and the food was both unusual and delicious. We were a party of eight so I got to sample a lot of dishes, and liked them all. My favorites were the Ahi “three ways” appetizer and a macadamia nut encrusted dorado entree.

                At the other end of the spectrum was the new Tommy Bahama’s Café, located on the second floor of a strip mall called The Shops at Mauna Lani. First of all, the shops are not “at” Mauna Lani, but to be fair are closer to it than, say, Tokyo is. I would guess you are a mile from the ocean, maybe more. The cafe is over-the-top, insultingly expensive, even for Hawaii. $40+ for a piece of tuna that was overcooked (ate one bite), $38 for a dry rack of BBQ ribs, just ridiculous. The worst was the service. I had given up on my main course and was engaged in conversation while most everyone else was still eating, and the waiter tried to clear my plate. I HATE that-I mean, the restaurant was half-empty. What was the rush? There is a Ruth Chris’s in the same complex, and rumor has it that Longhi’s had signed a lease but then backed out. Too bad-they could have provided the overpriced, underwhelming food trifecta.

                In between experiences included a night at Roy’s (good food, slow service, no ambiance) an Italian restaurant at Kawaihae called Café Pesto (casual, great pizza), and a very nice lunch at Brown’s Beach House.