Splurge-worthy meals on Oahu
Will be visiting Oahu and Kauai in late July and since the vacation is virtually free (Starwood points and frequent flyer miles), we'll be up for at least one or two blow-out, cost-be-damed meals (and some other good ones). We're very adventurous diners from Chicago and our standards are really high, but we enjoy good food no matter how grungy/cheap or elegant/expensive. I know Alan Wong's is very good; I've been there before and wouldn't hesitate to return, but am also considering La Mer, Hoku's, 3660 or Chef Mavro (or other suggestions). I have a number of friends that live on Oahu (but who don't do fine-dining), so I have a good handle on the cheap eats places.
I've been checking guidebooks, websites, etc., and--as usual--there are lots of dissenting reviews (especially regarding La Mer: "best meal ever," "horrible--never again"). Food and service are my top prioroties: a view or opulent surroundings are much less important. We also prefer multiple small courses and not one massive entree...a la carte or prix fixe.
Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
Definitely do Mavro's 7 Course wine-paired tasting menu! I really like 3660 & you should do it, but don't consider that a blow-out meal - still, definitely do not miss while you're there. I'm not as big of a fan of La Mer or Hoku's, but many are & the setting for each is much nicer than the previous two, so if it's atmosphere you're after...
Palomino recently closed and is supposed to be re-opened as another restaurant by Chef Mavro. Don't know if it will be open by the time you get here, but it might be worth checking.
Consider Bali by the Sea at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. The chef (Adam Hightower) is always delighted to have food lovers in the house and the service cannot be beat. If you go, let them know when you make reservations that you're interested in the chef's tasting menu. I'm in the anyplace-but-La-Mer-camp, but really love Chef Mavro. Hoku's is good as well though the outrageous pricing on the wine list keeps me from dining there. I learned from an employee that they deliberately quadrupled the wine prices after the renovation just because they thought they could get away with it given the tourist market. Bad form, imo.
i'm not sure if it's "splurge worthy" but i enjoy hy's and chai island bistro over at aloha tower marketplace. hy's is a steakhouse, and upon doing some quick searches here on CH, it appears that it is a canadian chain (which i was not aware of). it's on kuhio i think in the continental surf hotel or something like that... last time i got something like a filet mignon wrapped in crab and bacon.. it was really really ONO...
at chai's, i think i remember they had some small plates.... i only say this because i think i was overwhelmed by their pupus... we ordered something like prawns on a skewer that was spun with taro... and for my meal, i had the something like land sea air(? i dunno) combo.. it was a fish dish, i believe salmon, filet mignon, and chicken.. the portions were small (because you have all three), but it was QUITE GOOD because they focused on the pairing of the entree with the side.. and everything worked really well. for dessert i think we had some kind of caramelized banana dish with vanilla ice cream. GREAT food.. =) our bill was easily over $100, but we had a coupon (and was NOT embarrassed to use it.. after all, it brought us there!).. so our coupon was buy 1 get one free.... they also had a live hawaiian trio, i believe it's the same ones every night, although i have the inclination to say that henry kapono plays there sometimes, but i'm not too sure...
i haven't been to alan wong's.... but seeing all these recs, i think i'll add that to my list... all the times i'm in the islands, i've never really had the desire to go to la mer... just stay away from duke's.. unless you go for for drinks (LAVA FLOW) or duke's on sunday (for the crowd and NOT the food)! =)
oh and if u want to bring back something that not too typical (like macadamia nuts), then get the cookies from honolulu cookie company the pineapple shaped ones =) they are the BEST.. when i bring those cookies to potlucks on the islands, they are the first to go....
oh and one more tip... bring a COOLER =) so you can bring home frozen zippy's chili, ahi tuna poke, and other ono grindz =) hahahahah
Thanks for the input, everyone. I think I've ruled out La Mer just because at their price point I expect perfection (or very nearly so) ...something that is virtually a given at several of my favorite places on the mainland. So, now I'm leaning toward Chef Mavro's.
My "dining goddess" friend (an extremely discriminating and experienced diner) absolutely hated Mavro's when she dined there a few years ago, but I have a feeling that it must have been a rare off-night or something. Her vote is for La Mer (but she won't be joining us anyway.)
We're staying at the Royal Hawaiian...do I want to avoid eating there altogether?
As a local resident, I can't think of a restaurant that is actually in the Pink Palace itself... although Chesecake factory is one of the anchors of the shopping plaza that fronts the hotel. Mavro's is good food, if you can get over the staff's constant telling you how wonderful the food is as you eat it. Pretentious, and annoying, but good food.
Popular "high end" restaurants in town include
Alan Wongs (you mentioned already)
Morton's Steak House (Ala Moana Center)
Longhi's (Ala Moana Center)
Sam Choy's (Kapahulu) (not on my list, never had a good meal there)
3660 on The Rise (Waialae Ave in Kaimuki)
12th Avenue Grill (so-so, no reservations)
Hoku's at the Kahala (formerly the Kahala Mandarin formerly the Kahala Hilton)
Roy's in Hawaii Kai (noisy, far from Waikiki, Good food)
You might also consider Duc's Bistro downtown, not the best neighborhood but I thought the food was great. Also E&O trading Company in Ward Warehouse (fusion asian/polynesian - very tasty)
There is a ton of good and even very good food in Honolulu, but very little excellent food - or so I'm told by those who know more than me about such things.
If you want to go for the setting, you can't beat the Hao Tree Lanai, virtually sitting on the beach with all of waikiki spread out along the shore sitting under the Hao Trees. The food is really quite good, the service borders on atrocious, but I have never had a meal there I didn't enjoy - albeit largely because it is a place to go with good friends.