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Sep 15, 2008 10:34 PM

Honolulu Has-Beens (?)

I have a short list of older Honolulu restaurants that are 1) still in business, 2) were once worth a visit, and 3) are rarely mentioned anymore on the blogs and boards:

John Dominis
Nick's Fish Market
The Willows

Do you have an up-to-date review of any of these? Is any still worth a visit or is the lack of "buzz" a subtle clue to stay away?

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  1. There have been posts mine and a couple others regarding brunch at Michel's. It is a very civilized and fun thing to do. The bloody mary bar is a fun thing and cheap with Level One vodka ($5.00/drink). The menu is great and full of old and new favorites.
    I've not been for dinner but enjoy this as a way to spend a Sunday afternoon and they even have free valet parking.

    I haven't been to the WIllows in years for dinner/lunch that wasn't affiliated with some
    organization. The food was o.k. but I preferred it from long ago without the buffet.

    1. I used to go to John Dominis in the '80s and remembered it as a rather grand establishment with a knack for lobsters. About five years ago, I went back for brunch and it was pathetic. The dining room looked grungy...I don't think they had recarpeted since I used to go in the old days. The food was typical brunch food ranging from mediocre to just bad.

      1. I think the Willows would be fine for lunch. The property is nicely renovated and will bring back memories for you of the old days. The buffet is decent enough so a daytime visit would be ok, though I would save the evenings for someplace nicer with better food.

        A co-worker went to Nick's and liked it a lot, but I haven't been for years myself. If you do make it over, please be sure to let us know how it was.

        3 Replies
        1. re: curiousgeo

          I agree with you completely with your opinion of the Willows. It is more of a daytime thing in my opinion as well.

          1. re: curiousgeo

            Pretty much agree with geo and mano, but the Willows dinner isn't bad as far as buffets go. For a while they had a fine dining restaurant upstairs, but it never really took off as far as i know. Willows is a unique dining experience, sitting in the hale, surrounded by the pond and garden.

            1. re: curiousgeo

              I had the best service of my life at Nicks. A good meal - but not good enough to remember what I ate ( I do vaguely remember a well crafted demi). Its been 4 yrs so ....lots could have happened. My server was just so amazing - quick to tune into our food level. Truly materializing exactly when we wanted him ...disappearing when we didn't. Been in the industry for 22 yrs and this guy was such a pro. He caught a wrong drink order on the table just by walking by. I frequenly drink vodka gimlets and I like them on the rocks. Someone else dropped off my drink , neat....what the heck - it was going down easy... he walked by, glanced down ....minutes later he had the right drink and pulled my incorrect one - never had to say a thing..or be without a drink. I think he was working 5 tables.
              I hope Nicks is still great place but I have noticed it doesn't get mentioned anymore.

            2. Predicated solely on my experiences, I agree that some places are getting long in the tooth.

              I've been to John Dominis twice, over the decades, and it has been good and great. The finest opakapaka that I have ever had, came from there. Still, the US$20 Polaroid photograph, taken by a very nice Oriental lady is awfully "old school." I need to give them one more try, before passing judgment.

              Nick's Fish Market - OK, this spot came so very highly recommended by globe-trotting foodies, that we had to go. Took MIL and Godmother to Hawai`i, and both love lobster. We made reservations and entered. It looked "old," and that was many years ago. The food and service were long past their prime. Nothing was good, except the profit for the house.

              Michel's at the Colony Surf - again, a highly touted spot. We found ourselves with an open night, and with a dozen recs. plus the concierge from our hotel, we did Michel's. The full review is still around CH someplace, but I couldn't find it. The venue is very nice. I can see why many might like it. However, there was a wedding party in our general area, and they got 99.9% of the attention. Maybe the exec. chef was getting married, because he/she was not in the kitchen that night. The service was non-existant, with 12 servers fawning over this one group and ignoring all other diners. The food was horribly late arriving and seemed to have been sitting under a heat lamp for hours. Nothing was really good. The wine list had depth, but OMG, did it ever cost the diner. I dine at resorts around the globe on a too regular basis, so "sticker shock" is not something that I usually suffer. Here, I was blown away. I can dine at Michelin 2-Star restaurants in the UK (with the exchange factor included) and get wines for 30% less. Plus, I'll get food and service that Michel's cannot even imagine! Must have been good once. I cannot imagine that I could ever convince my wife to go back. There are just too many good places on O`ahu to dine.

              The others? Well, I cannot comment. I have only heard of Matteo's, but have never been. Willows - where is that? Sorry that I missed their better days.



              3 Replies
              1. re: Bill Hunt

                On Hausten St. right near Star Market the one on King St. in Moiliili.

                I've read your review of Michel's and related about it many times already.
                What a shame. I don't go at night just for brunch and it has always been
                really nice especially if you get a seat right by the window.

                1. re: manomin

                  I have never done brunch there. I have also seen several comments, after my review, that indicate that it's much better, than what we experienced. On only one visit, no matter how bad that one was, I hate to typify a restaurant, based on that. Still, other than the venue, I found nothing to enjoy on that ONE visit. I understand why professional reviewers do three, or more, visits, prior to their first review. Every place can have an off night, and maybe we hit them on THAT "bad night."

                  For burnches, I think that Orchid's Sunday Brunch, might be one of the best in the land, since the Marquesa, Scottsdale, AZ, is no more. Maybe, in light of the good reviews that it gets for that meal, we need to try it again. Unfortunately, we never seem to have enough time on the Islands. With so many great restaurants, I am really hesitant to miss a great one, just to give one, that has let me down greatly, another try. Too many restaurants, and too little time for this Mainlander.

                  I do appreciate your perspective on this issue. I will also admit that my views are based on ONE bad experience. Please keep me, and many others, posted on what they are doing, regardless of the time of the meal.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Michel's has never been great since Michel left nearly 30 years ago.

              2. Wow, the Willows... my first dinner, on my first visit to Honolulu. Such a ingenue then I can't remember the meal, only the setting...perfect setting and breezes. It was all great. Hope it holds the same enchantment and allure for future visitors...thanks for the memories!

                2 Replies
                1. re: Sarah


                  I feel for you. Some of my O`ahu "sacred cows" have been scewered in time. All I can say is, hold on to your memories. I know that I do, regardless of what comes up later.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Thanks for that, Bill! I've been back several times, and to other islands, but that first visit was really special.