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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A New Menu as the Top of Waikiki Nears Its 40-Year Mark

Left to right: Korean-style poke, scallops on corn and bacon, chorizo nachos

Eight years ago, when I first started working at The Pineapple Room, there was a pear salad I made almost every day: it had poached red wine pears and fresh Asian pears, greens, a raspberry vinaigrette and a cambazola lumpia. It was a great salad, created by the chef de cuisine, Lance Kosaka. I just didn't expect to see it, once again, almost a decade later, at the Top of Waikiki.

Kosaka recently became the Top of Waikiki's executive chef. Before that, he helmed Cafe Julia at the downtown YWCA for a year. I loved his food there—he had brought over some Pineapple Room favorites, such as the mac garlic chicken sandwich and seven-layer taro dip, and introduced some new items such as a granola yogurt panna cotta, smoked salmon bruschetta and pork chop adobo. 

At the Top of Waikiki, it seems Kosaka is playing it safe—too safe, in my mind—by returning to a tried-and-true mostly Pineapple Room menu from years ago. It seems inexplicable to me that such a talented and creative chef would do this— perhaps constraints placed on him by the venue, or perhaps the Waikiki location, clientele and price points dictate a certain menu style more than Cafe Julia did.

Top: duck two ways, yukari and bubu arare-crusted onaga

Whatever it is, I hope the menu starts to take more risks, because Kosaka and his crew can clearly cook. Seafood, like an appetizer of seared scallops on sautéed corn and bacon ($16) and the yukari and bubu arare-crusted onaga on risotto ($36), are expertly prepared, both moist and tender. For the duck two ways ($33), the duck confit may be the best I've had in a long while—the meat soft, the fat melted away, and the skin crispy, but the slices of duck breast with dots of sauce are exactly that: duck with dots of sauce.

The spicy, smoky sausage on the chorizo nachos ($10) plays well against sweet, crunchy, fresh corn and a sharp asiago cheese sauce, although replacing the bagged tortilla chips with fresh-fried ones would make the dish a thousand times better.

The interior of Top of Waikiki has that old-enough-to-be-vogue again vibe, and there's still the glee of being in a rotating restaurant high above the buildings that makes me feel like a kid again. There's potential in this restaurant, nearing it's 40 year mark. Maybe that's the age of risk aversion, but I hope it ain't so.

Top of Waikiki
2270 Kalakaua Ave.,923-3877,

Posted on Wednesday, February 5, 2014 in Permalink

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About This Column

From five-star restaurants to hidden holes-in-the-wall, Biting Commentary will let you know what’s hot and what’s not. Find out the latest restaurant news—who’s opening, who’s closing, which chef is moving on, where the great special dinners are. Discover the best menu items, fabulous wines, stunning cocktails, hand-crafted beers. Be the first to hear about upcoming food events and festivals.

Food editor Martha Cheng graduated from Wellesley College with degrees in Computer Science and English. She's a former line cook, food truck owner, Peace Corps volunteer and Google techie. Follow her on Twitter @marthacheng.


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