Oahu Report 05/12
Thanks to all the chows for contributions both new and old! It sure was great being so armed with information!!
5 Night Oahu Report:
Lunch at ***Helena's***. Went straight from rental car agency to here. The only hitch was there was a massive wait. We were starving and wanted to check into our hotel and see the beach, but we wasted over an hour just waiting for a table and longer to order and get food. My foodie-by-association boyfriend was losing patience with my food itinerary on the first meal!
The food itself was good, my favorite was the waitress-recommended Laulau which was pork and rice in taro leaf. The Taro leaf was in the flavor family of collard greens, really lending to the "soul food" comparison of hawaiian fare. The fried butterfish collar and short ribs were also tasty and satisfying. (Though the ribs were did not quite live up the hype they enjoy on Yelp.) What I did not care for was the lomi salmon which was mostly tomato, and tasted like a salmon-flavored pico de gallo. And also the long rice chicken was just slimy-yuck- and not at all like I expected from what I had read about it being near a vermicelli vietnamese dish. Kalua Pig good.
FRI DINNER- Drinks at ****House Without A Key****. After the delay of lunch and our race for the 5:30 sunset show at HWAK, we skipped pupus and just had three cocktails each. These were by far the best cocktails of the trip, and sadly I took them for granted as hadn't yet a basis for comparison. The setting was quite lovely, though I think from the reviews I had read I was expecting something a little more…it's really just a lovely hotel patio bar on the beach. It's the service and drinks that really set it apart. They were strong and delicious, and I wished every other mai tai on my trip could have been the same. I also had the frozen Lilikoi Daquiri, which was intensely flavored with passion fruit, a winner. The clientele was a little, um, old. I really wish I had ordered the coconut cake that I saw two ladies eating. They each had their OWN ginormous slice and it looked soooo good. The music, dancing, and free basket of kettle potato chips all paired perfectly with the tropical cocktails.
On the walk home we needed a snack and stumbled into a random sushi joint close to our hotel on the main drag Kalakua. I was not expecting much, since this wasn't a vetted choice, but it ended up being totally decent and hit the spot. ***Furusato Sushi***
***Mastumoto Shave Ice***- Fun atmosphere, enjoyed the ice cream at the bottom, but doubt this ice is too different from any other Shaved Ice. The ice wasn't as finely shaved as I would have liked and there wasn't quite enough syrup on mine.
***Giovanni's Shrimp Truck***- After reading a lot of threads, I eventually decided on this over Romy's. I had a traumatic experience this winter with live shrimp - I'd rather not pull off legs, and I read that G's had a better sauce. It was a super fun experience, from the picnic table atmosphere to the garlicky sauce all over the rice. I highly recommend getting the Baha style corn to go with the meal from the vendor near the bathroom. This was one of our favorite meals, though we were burping garlic for the rest of the day.
***Roy's*** Sadly, the Mai Tai I tasted at the bar was undrinkably sweet, syrupy, and weak. I traded my bf for his slightly better special margarita and then switched to wine at the table. We had a poke that came on a sizzling fajita plate & pork belly buns for appetizers. Both were finger lickers. Then we shared the curry broth snapper with some heavenly green risotto and the signature miso butterfish. Both were ridiculously delicious. The waitress nagged us about putting in our dessert order when we had just started eating, ostensibly because it takes 30 minutes to bake it. The real downside to Roy's is that you feel rushed along. Despite being maybe the largest restaurant I have EVER seen, they apparently are so popular they need to turn those tables over quickly. I loved the food, but did not appreciate feeling rushed along when I am spending over 100 a person on dinner. I would definitely go back for the food, though. I wanted to order everything on the menu.
BRUNCH- ***Boots & Kimos*** in Kailua. Came for the legendary Banana Pancakes with Macadamia Nut special sauce. This place had an hour wait, so we got take out and ate it at a nearby fountain. We also got a fried rice omelette with added bacon, which was a total comfort food. Can we put fried rice in everything? I'm down. The pancakes were surely delicious, but I missed maple syrup. The fluffy white mac nut sauce is a creamy based sauce, there is no syrupyness going on. I have a need for maple syrup on pancakes like I do ketchup on french fries. I usually bring my own 100% maple syrup bottle to bfast spots with me, and if I had done that here I think this meal could have been a slam dunk.
Happy Hour at the ***Hula Grill**** in the Outrigger (7 days a week)- We had $5 crab and mac nut wontons (fine) & $5 Scallop and lobster potstickers (bland and only 3 to an order). The mai tai's were overly sweet/syrupy and not doing it for me. At this point, I was sadly pining for the HWAK mai tais. We switched to barely decent chardonnay after one round. The calamari app that I had read about was out of existence. Over all, I would skip this happy hour unless it is the only one available.
***Tiki's*** was our next stop, and the atmosphere was nice with beach view patio seating and live music. The drink menu was fun and extensive, I had a potent 1944 Mai Tai that felt like 2 or 3 drinks. (Still prefer the HWAK) Dinner of pupus: Ahi poke was lacking freshness. Prime rib poke was pretty tasty, more of a beef salad since it was cooked meat and dressed greens. Fried Calamari steak- decent. Coconut Shrimp what you'd expect. Overall, this meal was a bit of a disappointment. I wish I had done another sushi night.
Loco Moco breakfast crepe near hotel. Made me want the real thing. snorkeled right thru lunch.
DINNER- ***Sushi Izakaya Gaku*** Yes, yes, yes, and more yes. Sat at bar, very friendly & patient service. Wide, comfortable sushi bar with great views of chefs. Cozy and unpretentious atmosphere. Everything was utterly delicious. The Spicy Hamachi Tartare is to die for. Brought to table with roe and a raw quail egg on top- you mix it with a paddle, then use sheets of nor for DIY hand rolls. Must order.
Extremely fresh and plump fried calamari. Gorgeous Ahi Poke. Nigri of: Scallop, Halibut, Unagi, Salmon, Oh Toro (wow so good). King Salmon and avocado roll. Tuna Roll. Two large Asahis. At $117+ tip, one of the best values of the entire trip. I think I was literally skipping when we left.
After dinner drink at local tiki-dive bar Arnold's. Read about a fun, unpretentious atmosphere, but the night we came it felt seedy. The locals were chain smoking and smack talking. The bar tender was unfriendly. The mai tai was STRONG and only five dollars, but tasted like cheap liquor. Hightailed it out of there!
LUNCH- Dim Sum at Legend's in Chinatown. Got there early and thus no wait. I still get a little anxious at Dim Sum about trying to figure out what to order and not getting random plates pushed on me. I did find a little card in english of what should be available and I successfully requested a few items. The best: Pork dumplings, pain fried dumplings, pork buns, shrimp dumplings, eggplant. The worst: Mochi rice in taro, "spare ribs" that were more like fatty rib tips.
APERTIF- ***Top of Waikiki***. We just missed happy hour, darnit!! The mai tai was strong and viable. $4-7 drinks during happy hour as well as pup deals, fun view, nice staff. There is a late night happy hour as well 9-11 that I wish we had taken advantage of. Would be my happy hour of choice. (HWAK is not technically a happy hour as there are no discounts)
DINNER- ***Azure***. Expensive seafood restaurant with beach front dining in the Royal Hawaiian. Beautiful atmosphere, very romantic and relaxing which is what I wanted for the last meal. Even though we had a late reservation, there was enough lighting on the beach area to illuminate it and still see/feel the beach. Cocktails were good.
Unfortunately, the hit and miss food didn't meet expectations. My boyfriend had the crab chowder and $65 stuffed lobster special. I had the tasting menu which looked good on paper. The sashimi starter was just ok, the ahi not as fresh as expected. The "cappuccino" seafood bouillabaisse was good. The lobster risotto was a terrible dish- both overly salty and with a foul deep sea flavor. The small sous vide filet was tasty, though heavily sauced with creamy truffle sauce. My boyfriend seemed to enjoy his lobster, but he wasn't gushing over it either. His crab chowder, which I had ordered for him because it sounded so yummy, was just okay.
My included dessert was a joke. Bland "fior de latte" cream with an unpleasant balsamic reduction and two slices of strawberry. I take offense with this type of fake, no substance dessert on a tasting menu. We ordered a pineapple crisp which saved the day as it was pretty tasty and large.
As you can tell, I didn't think the food met the hype of this restaurant. I really don't mind spending $250 on a 2 person dinner, as long as it is delicious and I leave happy. I wish I could take the atmosphere of Azure and combine with the food of Roy's- that would be a *perfect* last night restaurant.
In Summary: Highly rec Roy's, Gaku, drinks at HWAK, and Happy Hour at Tiop of Waikiki. Would advice against Azure.
Dear, dear sarabeths,
We did go to Gaku and LOVED it, so I thank you again.
The new chef and menu at La Mer in the Halekulani, though expensive, look very interesting and probably would be a safer choice for an upscale meal, particularly if you reserve a table near the ocean. Just a thought...
We go to Azure 1-2 times a month and have a very good experience most of the time.
My wife hates it because we've been so many times and they haven't changed their TM for years.
I'm sorry to see the negative experiences from some CH's lately but that isn't the norm.
It's not fair to compare a La Mer Chef's Tasting menu for $150+- to Azure's Tasting Menu for $75-.
I'm also a big fan of Michel's for the overall experience and they just changed their menu recently.
Of course A/W is serving great stuff and Mavro. My favorite is still Le Bistro 7 miles from Waikiki but it's off the radar for most.
Hasr's Bistro is opening in a couple of weeks downtown and will be putting out some yummy Country French food with the Ex Chef of Beachhouse (Moana Surfrider).
Thanks for the marvelously detailed report. Slams of bad places are just as important as praise for good ones, but did we hounds really recommend Azure? I know I didn't.
Rosita just expressed a desire for Japanese, so we'll go to Gaku in the near future, based on your clearly erudite advice. Thanks again.
I missed this review when it was first posted or I would have responded sooner. Poor comments about Azure are throwing my plans out of whack for our trip next month. We only have two nights on Oahu and want to do up-scale dining on one of those nights. We have a reservation at Azure but now I'm getting worried. We considered Hau Tree Lanai but the menu seems kinda old-school and less creative/contemporary. We also considered Roy's Kahala for the setting/view but we go to Roy's here in AZ all the time, and it doesn't sound as exciting to us because its so familiar (even knowing that people say its really different at a Roy's in Hawaii). Also thought of Michel's at the Colony for its setting and location. I know it gets mixed reviews and its reputation varies over the years. The lack of view/location of Alan Wong's, Mavro's and Roy's Waikiki make them less attractive to us, but I'm having a hard time. We want a nice view, preferably near the ocean, and high quality tropical/Pacific Rim seafood cuisine. I'm just not sure where we should go. Would certain dishes be better at Azure than others? What if we stayed with the catch of the day in one of their two basic preparations? Russkar, I know you are a fan of Azure, any suggestions on what to order there or what you have enjoyed?
PS thanks sarabeths for the comments on the cocktails, that is very helpful info and I can tell you pay attention to the details in that dept. We will probably go to Tiki's for happy hour one night and HWAK on the other night. Good to have those places confirmed as good Mai Tais. Thanks!
I have not done Azure, but it has gotten good recs. on this board.
As for HWAK, for me, the setting and the music are the draws. I have never been impressed by the food, or by their limited wine list. I would much rather dine at La Mer, and have one of the tables overlooking that patio/pool area, but that is just me.
re: Bill Hunt
I agree with you. The cost might be an issue for some, but for that entertainment, it is a "deal" for me.
Wish that the regular food, and wines, were better, but such is life. Fortunately, we are usually only doing a drink, before La Mer, so I will never complain.
At La Mer, I still feel that a table, overlooking HWAK is better, than the vast, and lovely Pacific.