HOME > Chowhound > Hawaii >

Discussion

Is Alan Wong tiring?

It was Rosita's birthday, so we went to AW, telling the staff of the occasion. After saying we didn't want to sit 'outside', we were given a corner table 'inside', so Rosita, by far the best-dressed woman in the room, could survey the passing scene. And what a scene it is! The democratization of the place makes it thoroughly entertaining.

Anyway, Rosita was asked if she wanted a before-dinner drink. "A sherry" she said. (Good idea, I thought. Could I hope they would have chilled Dry Sack, her favorite?) The waiter, slightly confused, started poking the iDrinkPad, could find none, and excused himself to see what he could do. After some time, he returned apologetically, to announce that there did not appear to be any sherry in the restaurant, as far as he could ascertain. Well, OK I guess. (Only later did I think to suggest that he dash over to Mavro to see if he could borrow a cup.)

We started looking at the menu. I requested the crab-cake appetizer. Sorry, they were out of it: at 7:30 P.M., half-way through the evening?! OK, settle for the ahi tartare. Well, how about the fish? Sorry sir. They're out of it: at 7:31?! How about the second piece of fish, the ginger onaga? They still had some of that fortunately. Rosita ordered the tasting menu with wine. As I was driving, I ordered a glass of very interesting, if somewhat schizophrenic i.e. very floral bouquet, very dry, austere taste, German wine from Paul Furst. (Could have subbed for the sherry.) Rosita's wines were good, but (though the ginger crust was very nice) my fish was a little dry, not nearly as succulent as the fish I had at Mama's the month before. Rosita's food was as good as usual, the Parmesan cracker, the small crab cake (though she thought it was too salty, something about which we disagreed. Hummm, wondered the this reviewer who was denied crab cake 20 minutes before. Fortunately, we had a far superior crab bake at Sushi Izakaya Gaku a week later.), the boneless beef ribs, the Coconut, the signed scroll, etc. Unfortunately, the overly-attentive bussboy kept trying to remove our plates when they still had mounds of food on them. Were we taking too long to eat? Well, EXCUSE ME! $250, all in all, plus money for the parking attendant who, when I gave him three dollars, told me he had to give $3 to the restaurant, so he wanted more. On the up-side, the manager came over and offered another dish on the house to compensate for the salty crab, which we declined.

Overall, the evening was hit and miss, including, unfortunately, a series of small disappointments. Am I beyond the pale to expect that a restaurant with AW's reputation should try to stay at the top of its game and, maybe, worry a little less about shoveling 5-course menus across the counter?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. E kala mai iaʻu, Joebob, maybe they had a bad night? Perfection being what it is, and people being what they are...

    Ho'omaika'i 'oe for AW in the first place, hiki no?

    Aloha,
    Kaleo

    10 Replies
      1. re: Joebob

        Hi, Joebob: "Whateva..."

        With respect, you're in HAWAI'I, aikane, eating and drinking multiple courses at what's always been an exceedingly fine restaurant, with your Ipo, on a special occasion, with the money to do so regularly, hopefully also in good health.

        Do you know how many people--in and out of Hawai'i nei--would give their left ___ to be able to be in your disappointed and "tiring" position? With all aloha, as the mo'olelo goes: Ask permission and give thanks.

        I am sorry if AW disappointed you, or you lament its "democratization".

        Aloha,
        Kaleo

        1. re: kaleokahu

          There is a difference between eating at AW and LL Drive-In. When you go to super schmency fine restaurant, your expectations are high, so does the return of service. When I go to a regular, not expensive restaurant, I will not expect the fine and first class treatment. This is true in any and every field of life.

          1. re: roro808

            Hi, roro:

            Yes, of course. "Super schmency fine" places garner high prices, and so expectations. Even as negative as the OP was about AW, I'm sure he wasn't drawing a comparison with L&L.

            What prompted me to respond is that things like this can and do happen sometimes at all restaurants, and that we should be thankful for all the other times (pick your percentage--is 95% fair?) they meet or exceed expectations.

            But you raise an excellent question: Is a bad day at L&L better than a good day at some super schmency fine place somewhere like Chicago? Reasonable minds can differ, I suppose, but I'll take L&L.

            Aloha,
            Kaleo

            1. re: kaleokahu

              To maintain professionalism in any field, a bad day is not an excuse to clients. Not having sherry in a fine restaurant is not an excuse either...

              1. re: roro808

                That's funny. What resto can you recommend that has never made a mistake?

              2. re: kaleokahu

                Good point. Some years ago, we headed to our favorite Mexican restaurant. I took clients there almost every other Wednesday, and we dined there as a couple, maybe twice per quarter. It was nothing like AW, but was a restaurant, that we were very familiar with.

                Nothing was correct. The service was spotty. All of our favorite dishes were just off. The Margaritas were not done correctly, and they were out of nearly everything.

                A week, or two later, I was hosting clients, and asked - the couple, who own the restaurant were out of town, and the husbands cousin was in charge.When I found that out, I gave our server (one of the children) "the look," sort of a "semi-stink-eye," and she knew. I said nothing else, and just got over it.

                Hunt

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  I'm in total agreement with Kaleo on this. We're in NYC and we eat out regularly at places with price points like Helena's and others with Michelin stars costing more than AW. All have off nights and, although we have been depressed when we've spent good money and come up short, s-it happens and, unless there's a pattern or the place is downright rude, we don't conclude much of anything.

                  As for the specific question on this thread "Is AW Tiring?", my recent meal there says no. We spent May on Oahu and ate there for my wife's b-day. It wasn't our first time there, having been at least a half dozen times over the years. In my opinion, it was better than the past several times (the last being 3 years ago, when they were riding high in popularity). The food we had was great, the service stellar, the wine pairings better than I remembered (although we've had better, these were well thought out and matched the food nicely) & the overall ambience upbeat. Granted, we're not very picky or fussy eaters, but I recognize inadequate meals at high price points all too well. Our meal at AW would bring me back in a heartbeat. Just my 2 cents as an all too infrequent tourist.

                2. re: roro808

                  I agree. When one dining "upper-level," they should have a certain level of expectation, regarding the food, the service, the wine and the wine service. Though we have been dining there from almost day one, we certainly do.

                  When grading such a restaurant, I grade very tough, because of those expectations. Over the years, we have never been disappointed, though total perfection might not have been reached on a few dinners.

                  I will say that over a very long time, AW's has come closer to perfection, on every excursion, than anyone else, including Chef Mavro's and La Mer.

                  That is why JoeBob's report is so hard for me to read.

                  Hunt

                3. re: kaleokahu

                  Kaleo,

                  You got me wrong on one point brah. I loved the democratization. The crowd was much more interesting than previously.

                  Joebob

            2. Wow! It was not THAT long ago (was it Sept, Oct or Nov?), and they were hitting on nearly all cylinders. Most (all?) of us did the Tasting Menu, but for the first time in maybe 9 years, were sitting out in the dining room. One dish (would need to check my notes) was a tad weak, but all others were AW-class.

              As for the Sherry, I am surprised that they did not have a slightly-chilled Cosart-Gordon Fino. Do not have the wine list memorized, but thought that they DID have a couple of Sherries, working up in weight and body.

              Sorry to read this report. As it HAS been a half-year, maybe things HAVE changed. AW just opened a new restaurant, but that should not be an issue, as he has a great staff, and there should not be even a hiccup.

              We will be dining with Chef Wong in August, at a culinary event, and if the opportunity presents itself, I will ask if King St. is having any problems. We've been going there, from almost opening day, and have never been less that 90% pleased, and that covers every aspect. Usually, we are up near the 98 - 100%, hence the reason that we always return.

              We normally do the Chef's Counter (just not last time), and the service has always been great. We have NEVER encountered any overly-eager servers, or bussers. They all seemed to get our timing, and adhere to that.

              Sorry that it was not perfect, as it should have been. Something is just not right, but I have no idea, nor any excuse for what it might be.

              Hunt

              18 Replies
              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Hi Hunt,

                If it was difficult to read, it was really difficult to write. (I thought about calling the thread "Jobob Kicks The Hornet's Nest"). The problem for me was that, being an ardent foodie but an ex-academic, I have to count my pennies carefully so I can eat at AW. I haven't been off Oahu since Sept., 2007, so when I had to go to Maui, I was going to make damned sure that I ate at a good restaurant. And Mama's, frankly, was better than AW.

                I'm glad that others had good meals at AW. I thought I detected systematic problems and I felt obligated to report my observations. I hope that ours was the only night they were out of sherry, but I certainly didn't get the impression it was a one-off event.

                I'm a booster of all things Hawaiian. I just had the best chocolate (Waialua Estate) I've ever had in my life. I've lived around the world e.g. France, Sweden, Israel, but I've never lived in a better place, so I understand Kaleo's approach, but the problem I have with it is: When does "Cut them some slack." cross the line into a double standard?

                Just Wondering,

                Joebob

                1. re: Joebob

                  Really, you wrote what your experience was at AW. I am sure you also wrote good review when it calls ror. In some of your reviews, you wrote wonderfully about experience at other restraunts, e.g. Mavro, Hau Tree Lanai as well as places such as Diego's, Acapulco and the like. One needs to be objective and not get personal in writing a review. Case in point, reviewers in the newspapers or magazines don't necessarily write all the good stuff.

                  So, please do not stop writing review for the good of all of us.

                  1. re: Joebob

                    Joebob,

                    I understand completely, hence my pain. We have been faithful diners at King St., from their beginning, and have never had more than a tiny glitch. However, we only get there 1 -2 times per year, so cannot be considered regulars, though our experiences go back decades.

                    I am a "fan-boy" for AW King Street, but that is based on many years of patronage, and nothing else. Still, we feel a bit o`hana, so it does pain me, when others do not receive the best of the best. That is what I expect, and have always received.

                    I would NEVER suggest cutting anyone any slack. They have set themselves up as an ultimate dining experience. They made that bed. So far, and for us, they have always come through.

                    What you describe "seems" to go beyond just a "bad night," and even from your title, that was my thinking.

                    At a corporate level, some things have changed, since our last visit (cannot recall exactly, but would say, Sept - Nov last year?), and while things were very good to great then - things have changed at the upper level. New restaurant on Maui, IIRC, and maybe even an opening in Japan? Still, the AW King St. staff IS top-notch, and it should not take Chef on property, to see that things go smoothly, and wonderfully.

                    You may, or may not recall my complaint on La Mer's wine service, some years back. Though a big fan, then and now, they DID have a major letdown, that ruined an anniversary trip, and I made note of that.

                    At the rarified top of the heap, one expects GREAT. When they do not get that, they certainly have a reason to complain.

                    I am just so sorry that it was not an "ultimate dining experience," as I would have anticipated and expected.

                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      Hunt,

                      You get to AW more often than I do, and you bring a much bigger economic load to the table. Nevertheless, I agree completely with everything you say save for your praise of La Mer. A GREAT restaurant should have a bottle of good sherry available IMO. How high up the corporate chain that complaint should go, you know better than I do.

                      Joebob

                      1. re: Joebob

                        If a restaurant sets itself up a "great," there SHOULD be a Sherry (actually a couple, at several levels of body and sweetness) available.

                        OTOH, and even for some higher-level sommeliers, Sherries are too often overlooked. I often choose one for many lighter seafood opening dishes, for many soups, and then often for desserts, but that is just me. I personally feel that they are horribly under appreciated, and under represented, but that is just me.

                        On a side note, I have to drag many folk, kicking and screaming, to just try Sherry with ____ .

                        At AW's, that surprises me, since many of the opening dishes could benefit from a Fino, and many desserts could pair beautifully with a Palo Cortado, or even a PX.

                        Maybe it is just me (and possibly you)?

                        As for La Mer, with one, noted slip-up, we have enjoyed every meal greatly. All, but one, have continued to impress us. That one, mis-step, did with regard to food - but for us, wine is such a big part of any meal, past breakfast, that to have a big miss there, ruins the rest of the meal.

                        Sorry that it was not 100%, as it should have been.

                        Aloha,

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          I think Bill that when one is a 'regular' as you and I are at a couple places the service will consistently be fabulous and the food what we would expect. That's a given. It is unfortunate that often patrons not familiar to the eye of staff might not have the experience they expect. I cannot say why and do not appease this but it's true. It's also true that his GM from King St. has moved to run Amasia.

                          1. re: manomin

                            I do agree, and that can factor into the mix. We see such, around the globe, and I often wonder, is it because we dine there often, or something else.

                            I had a similar conversation with K'Man, and on AW's.

                            That is one reason that I do not do a post, for every visit. Much would be exactly the same, and only comments on menu items would likely change.

                            Same for La Mer, Chef Mavros, and a few others, in Hawai`i, and then again for restaurants in New Orleans, London, San Francisco, and my home-town, Phoenix. No need to just post on menu changes.

                            Good point, but I do not have a real "answer" to it, other than to say that I feel for JoeBob, as he, and his SO should have had an ultimate experience. THAT is what a restaurant, such as AW's should offer.

                            We had similar, at a favorite Phoenix French restaurant, when a trusted CH had an obviously bad experience. How could I defend them? What could I do? I e-mailed the GM, and asked her to look into it. I do not know how that turned out, but she should have found a great way to make things right. Never saw the followup.

                            Hunt

                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Well correctly you emailed the GM rather than blab on the internet. I do feel for JoeBob that his special night with his hard earned money did not meet his expectations. Were it me I would write a letter (a real letter) to AW's addressing the issues that occurred. I know Alan would really take a personal letter to heart and handle the situation in some fashion. And in my reply I do have to say that once at a very favorite restaurant I had a very less than spectacular experience which I addressed to the GM and it was fixed and over fixed. It is all a matter of how one handles it by addressing the correct people.

                              1. re: manomin

                                Certainly, talking with the GM would have been the right thing to do, but I didn't want to make waves at a birthday celebration, and I think I was a bit gobsmacked by the whole experience and didn't know what to think initially. It took me a week and a half to understand my dissatisfaction and prepare the OP.

                                Your idea of writing a letter is good, and I probably will persue it. Thanks for the suggestion.

                                1. re: Joebob

                                  Your complaints have already been relayed to Chef Alan.

                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                    Wow! Thanks kaleo. Is it OK if I call them concerns, not complaints?

                                    1. re: Joebob

                                      Hi, Joebob:

                                      No worries. I did not use the word 'complaint', just alerted him that this thread was ongoing.

                                      Aloha,
                                      Kaleo

                                  2. re: Joebob

                                    JoeBob,

                                    Completely understood. Many of us have been in somewhat similar circumstances, but a call, or letter, would be appreciated by the AW organization - there will be pain, but they WILL appreciate the feedback.

                                    Still sorry that it happened, and on a special night.

                                    Hunt

                                  3. re: manomin

                                    I do agree. I know how seriously most in the organization take patrons' experiences. I would also write.

                                    Hunt

                                  4. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Hunt,

                                    FYI, there's an interesting article on sherry in today's NYTimes Dining and Wine section. As usual, you're ahead of the curve.

                                    Joebob

                                  5. re: manomin

                                    I think manomin has put his finger on a key ingredient.

                                      1. re: manomin

                                        That's good, as she normally puts her finger right in my eye... [Grin] Especially if I misbehave.

                                        Hunt

                        2. I would say it's half and half. The cooking for the most part has always been this standard. Perhaps people are getting bored of the menu. And as times change, restaurants usually have to evolve to stay relevant, which this one does not really do.

                          If you take things as they are, the restaurant is still enjoyable. Sometimes expectations are just too high. People seek new things, and are disappointed when not surprised. And for the most part, a restaurant never delivers as impressive a meal as the first one, the fresh experience.

                          3 Replies
                            1. re: Joebob

                              To all:

                              This forum is made for open discussion on dining experience. Granted, some times there are not so good times, sometimes you experienced the most wonderful dinner in your life. And, don't forget, taste is also in the ttongue of the beholder. Whatever it is, this open discussion will hopefully put our fav restaurants on alert so they can maintain their quality , especially the high end resto's.

                              1. re: roro808

                                I apologize, but I am not following you here.

                                Can you please restate things, so maybe I can put them into perspective?

                                Mahalo,

                                Hunt