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Honolulu report: Mavro Letdown, Alan Wong Decent, Ono shines

Porthos Jun 2, 2010 05:03 PM

After much research I decided to do Chef Mavro, Alan Wong, and Roy's Waikiki during my visit over Memorial Day weekend. Chef Mavro was such a big let down and Alan Wong, while good, was not the experience that I was hoping for. We cancelled Roy's and went to Tamashiro's to buy some fresh seafood to cook at back at the hotel. The meal was much more enjoyable than either Chef Mavro or Alan Wong.

Ono was awesome though. The laulau was delicious.

Chef Mavro:

We got the 4 course tasting and added the Tamarind roasted sablefish from the 6 course menu because we liked the items on the 4 course menu better. We got the premium wine pairing. The wines were pretty unremarkable and didn't really accentuate any of the dishes. The only exception was the 2005 lignier pairing the the Kurobota pork loin which was actually very good.

-Amuse: gazpacho. very garlicy, lacked any other flavor

-Ecabeche of big island abalone: actually by favorite dish of the night. The abalone was tender and delicious. The manchego cheese croquette served with th abalone was superfluous an didn't really add to the dish.

-Day Boat Catch. I didn't catch the name of the fish, but the flsh was lean and a bit on the dry side. Not bad, not really good either.

-Tamarind roasted sablefish. Poorly prepared. The sablefish was a bit fishy.

-Kurobuta pork loin wrapped in betelnut leaves. As previously mentioned very good. The bugundy went well with the smokiness the betelnet leaves imparted to the pork

-Malasadas: very good. Pineapple ice cream was delicious

The bill totalled over $400. Definitely one of the worse tastings with wine pairings I've had at that price point, if not the worst.

Alan Wong:

Requested seating at the chef's counter. Declined the wine pairing since we were still traumatized by the pairings the night before. Decided to go with kubota manju sake to play it safe. Food here was at least very tasty. Nothing mindblowing or revelatory but at least tasty. We had the 5 course tasting.

-Appetizer duo of kalua pork mozzerella sandwich with tomato soup an fried ahi poke wontons The sandwhich and the fried ahi poke wontons were pretty tasty.

-"Da bag". We substituted with this dish comprised of steamed khalua pork and clams in a bag. It was a good dish, tasty.

-Butter Poached Kona lobster with shrimp Mochi rice cake. The lobster was decent. Certainly didn't compare to the butter poached lobster at Providence 2 nights prior or Per Se's version. The shrimp mochi rice cake was awesome though.

-Twice cooked beef short ribs with gingered shrimp. Tasty but very uremarkable. I feel like I could get better versions of both in SGV or K-town in LA.

-Dessert: so unremarkable we stopped after 1 bite.

Tamashiro Fish Market:

We cancelled Roy's and went to Tamashiro Fish Market. We picked up some live north shore prawns, white crab, a fish I've never seen before, started with a "M", some on choy, some pineapple, and some mangos.

The mangos and pineapple was simply amazing. The north shore prawns and white crab we steamed and dipped in fish sauce. The fish we panko crusted and pan fried. On choy I simply sauteed with garlic.

The seafood was very fresh here and staff very helpful. I'm not a great cook by any means but this was definitely the best meal of the trip tied with Ono.

In the future, I plan on avoiding high end dining in Honolulu.

-----
Alan Wong's Restaurant
1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

Chef Mavro restaurant
1969 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826

  1. c
    curiousgeo Jun 2, 2010 06:12 PM

    Thanks for the report. Actually, the food at Roy's (Hawaii Kai) is usually pretty good, and not as expensive at Alan Wong's and a lot less than Mavro's. The view can also be pretty nice.

    Totally agree with you about the laulau at Ono's, moist and tasty. Paired with salt meat watercress or their chicken long rice makes for a delicious meal. Next time you could always do a take out of the laulau from Ono's, get a selection of fresh poke from Tamashiro's with some cold beer. Now that would be an awesome hotel room meal.

    -----
    Alan Wong's Restaurant
    1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

    1. Bill Hunt Jun 3, 2010 09:46 PM

      Thank you for the reviews.

      After two excellent Chef Mavro's meals (think it was the 9-course and then 11-course, but the reviews should still be up here), that were excellent, along with a combo of the sommelier's regular and "reserve" pairings, the last visit lacked in many aspects. Now, it was the beginning of the Christmas Holidays, and there were two large parties, but still, things were not hitting on "all cylinders." We got two "corked" wines, and the assistant sommelier should have picked up on both. He had obviously already served a couple of glasses of each, and I did not observe him rushing to other tables to replace those with good pours. Bad form.

      Now, we have never had anything but great meals and wines at AW's, and that goes back to the first year that they opened. Still, you are not the first to comment recently.

      We were planning on doing both in May, but had to cancel. We hope to get back in Nov/Dec, and I will definitely be dining at both with reports.

      Aloha,

      Hunt

      -----
      Chef Mavro restaurant
      1969 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826

      1. a
        annoy_ken Aug 5, 2010 10:05 PM

        Porthos,

        I am so glad you wrote this. I agree wholeheartedly, even though my experience at Mavro's was over 2 years ago, I haven't stopped thinking about it. Part of the reason is probably hearing people praise Mavro's without ever eating there, most just assume that it's a great fine dining restaurant because it was a part of the HRC shinanigan. The meal we had there was not un-remarkable, it was just no good. The fish we had was over-cooked, dry. There was a sea foam that seemed to be on the plate for no reason. The beef was good, but not $200 good, and the worst was the wine pairings. Horrid. There's great restaurants here in Oahu, but few fine dining and definitely not Mavro's.

        1. k
          kel Aug 6, 2010 12:29 PM

          By Ono'ss do you mean the one on Old Volcano, or the 747 Kapahulu?

          1. m
            Mag454 Aug 6, 2010 12:58 PM

            Was the m-starting fish moi? Menpachi? Mahi (jk..).

            Just curious!

            1 Reply
            1. re: Mag454
              Porthos Aug 9, 2010 08:37 AM

              Not sure. it was about 8-10 inches. Bright red. Looked like a cross between a mullet and parrotfish.

            2. Bill Hunt Aug 9, 2010 07:24 PM

              Not sure why the problems with Chef Mavro, but have noticed a bit of variance.

              Mahalo,

              Hunt

              -----
              Chef Mavro restaurant
              1969 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826

              1. u
                uberslop Feb 6, 2011 12:00 AM

                Couldn't agree more, Porthos. Just got back, and wow: massive disappointment. I wouldn't even call it a "letdown," as that suggests a shoulder-shrug. This was something just short of a travesty at the price point. I'll start with the one dish that was outstanding -- poached egg, with truffle-infused sauce, shaved truffles, pickled shallot, and serrano ham: hot damn was this good. That one set of flavors was enough to almost surely get him onto whatever 2011 list I come up with of favorite dishes -- but the other 7 out of 8 ranged from underwhelming to crappier than I'd ever serve in my own home <to myself.> The kubota pork was overcooked and dry, the Wagyu (& pinot reduction) was one of the least flavorful pieces of beef I've had in a long time, and the "catch of the day" was a gray snapper (which I've never had before) was a sullen lump of flavorless fish served in a jaundiced pool of hollandaisey indifference. 200 dollars a pop, including wines. The desserts were great; the Margaux (we paid up for sommelier pairings) was fantastic; the meal was just short of an unmitigated poopstorm.

                Unless you're a well-heeled Honoluluan who doesn't really care how your food tastes on any given night, avoid this place: it's trading on past reputation. I went to Morimoto's earlier this week and can recommend it unreservedly; they have some service kinks to work out yet, but every last bit of the food was alive and designed to delight and intrigue. A perfect opposite to the Mavro experience.

                8 Replies
                1. re: uberslop
                  Bill Hunt Feb 9, 2011 07:16 PM

                  Interesting. Obviously, consistency is not Chef Mavro's strong point.

                  We dined there a couple of years ago, and were blown away by almost every dish (now, there was a Wagyu that was not a real winner, but we'd done a lot of great Big Island beef, that were all winners, so maybe not fair - but there might be a pattern there). They were hitting on almost every possible cylinders.

                  Went back about 18 mos. later, and nothing was great, with some fairly major mis-steps. This was about the time that the Restaurant Row shop was closing down. I kind of chalked things up to distraction and maybe a bit of depression.

                  Back last November, and everything was excellent. Not one dish below very, very good, and we did the full compliment, plus mixed and matched between us, so had a ton of different dishes and wines. There was absolutely nothing to complain about on that trip. Wife thought it was the highlight of the trip, and I put it in a close tie with La Mer, where AW was just not up to my normal expectations. Nothing was bad, or even weak, just not as strong as I have come to expect. Good, but not AW "great."

                  Now, we have two recent trips for CH contributors, and each was poor. This is a shame, as though we did experience some unevenness, nothing was fodder to be sent back - just not up to par with other trips and other dishes.

                  Yes, there does appear to be a lack of consistency. Just glad that I hit them on two great nights, and even the weak night was OK, though not for the price-points, or in comparison to the other trips.

                  Mahalo for the report,

                  Hunt

                  -----
                  Chef Mavro restaurant
                  1969 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826

                  La Mer
                  2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815

                  Restaurant Row
                  , Honolulu, HI 96813

                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    russkar Feb 9, 2011 10:03 PM

                    @ Bill:
                    Mavro is still putting out amazing food. The Grand Degestation is the best way to go and it's $165- pp. add Truffles and your @ 250- pp overall plus wines.
                    We've been 4 times in the last 6 months and each time was excellent.

                    A/W has slipped but we still like their Farmer's Dinners.

                    IL Lupino was pretty good the other night.

                    1. re: russkar
                      Bill Hunt Feb 10, 2011 06:52 PM

                      That is good news.

                      Now, we have observed some unevenness over the years, but nothing per the above reviews. Still, we have encountered a dish, or a service, that was not up to par, so things can certainly happen.

                      We'll do the regular dining at AW next time, as we've now done the Chef's counter a dozen times in a row, so maybe the charm has worn off a bit. Food was always very good to great, but last trip was crowded, and seemed to not be quite on point.

                      Still, for Chef Wong's food, I would stand in line for a day.

                      Mahalo,

                      Hunt

                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                        u
                        uberslop Feb 11, 2011 09:27 AM

                        Just so everyone's clear: the Degustation menu is simply a taste of every dish that's on the regular menu; it's not something different. We tried 8 out of the 16 (?) dishes that were offered (with one "normal" wine pairing and one's "Sommelier's Pairing"), and two desserts. I think that's giving a good restaurant a pretty good shot -- and they failed pretty impressively. I can imagine that on another night, and with another menu, they'd be great -- they wear their ambition on their sleeve, and when all pistons are firing, I bet this could be one of your best meals ever -- but that's like saying that when they're at their best, the Cleveland Cavaliers can beat the Lakers.

                        I think I hold 4-star/4-diamond/4-shamrock/4-whatever restaurants to a slightly higher standard -- they're just not *allowed* to be *that* off. They have to show up on the night *I* show up, and be pretty darn good. If a dish here and there goes awry, and goes awry due to ambition -- they went for something, and it didn't all come together -- I'm absolutely fine with that... but this was not that kind of situation.

                        Again: the wine pairings were great, the desserts were stellar, and the poached egg & truffles dish was a thing of ineffable delight. A lot of the other dishes -- the majority of the other dishes -- were out-and-out fails. If you're not in Honolulu a lot, I'd avoid making this one of your Destination Meals. Stick with Alan Wong's and Morimoto's for your splurges.

                        -----
                        Alan Wong's Restaurant
                        1857 S King St Fl 3, Honolulu, HI 96826

                        Chef Mavro restaurant
                        1969 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826

                        1. re: uberslop
                          Porthos Feb 11, 2011 09:41 AM

                          I agree with you that it was shockingly bad and I even thought the premium wine pairing was very unremarkable and just poorly done with a couple of the wines being served too warm or opened too long.

                          Since I know that russkar and BillH have dined extensively around the world and should have a very good measure of what stellar cuisine is, all I can conclude is that they are known at the restaurant and perhaps given tailored dishes and tailored wine pairings. Otherwise, it doesn't make any sense at all even if you chalk it up to inconsistency.

                          1. re: Porthos
                            Bill Hunt Feb 11, 2011 04:47 PM

                            In this case, I doubt that the staff knows me, and that I got anything special. We have dined there 4x over the last several years. On the trip, prior to out last, things were not nearly as good, as they had been previously. There was even a glass of corked wine in the "Reserve pairing," and the worst part was that about half of that bottle had been poured, and no one had caught it.

                            Judging from those, who have not had happy experiences, I would say that most of our dinners there, have just been luck.

                            For all but the last visit, I think that I have done a complete review of each dinner, though one might not have been on CH's site. I have just been too busy to put my notes into a review, from the last visit.

                            Hunt

                          2. re: uberslop
                            Bill Hunt Feb 11, 2011 04:50 PM

                            This is then, a departure. Chef Mavro had a couple of "Chef's Tasting Menus," and the courses were most often totally different. However, one could choose any of them, and then substitute dishes from any of the others. A real mix-and-match situation, and on my menus, I had lines going all over the place.

                            Sounds like Chef has changed things up a bit. I rather liked it the old way, though for one doing a review, they needed a flowchart, with lines and arrows.

                            Now, I am not trying to sell Chef Mavro's. We have had three great meals there, and then one that was marginal. I am only reporting on my experiences.

                            Hunt

                            -----
                            Chef Mavro restaurant
                            1969 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96826

                            1. re: Bill Hunt
                              russkar Feb 11, 2011 05:51 PM

                              @Bill: One of our Residences is in Waikiki so we dine in Honolulu 150 times a year or more and Mavro is the Best overall for High-end dining. When Mavro was @ La Mer if was the benchmark for fine dining.
                              We've been to everywhere mentioned on this board multi times.
                              We met A/W at Mauna Lani 20+ yrs ago and really enjoy his food.
                              Now with the addition of Morimoto & Il Lupino the dining scene is picking up.

                              -----
                              La Mer
                              2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815

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