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First Look: TBD… Pop-Up Restaurant Near Diamond Head

Award-winning chef Vikram Garg leads a team of culinary veterans with a mix of elegant and playful food.


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Abalone

Kona abalone
Photos: Robbie Dingeman

 

Think of it as an elegant pop-up at the Diamond Head edge of Waikīkī. While far too many restaurants open with great fanfare and shut soon after, the folks behind this latest venture say it’s actually designed to close in 18 months. 

 

And that’s part of the story of the playful name TBD… complete with the three-dot punctuation. We got a first taste of the new restaurant at its mid-June grand opening preview last week. The concept mixes luxurious items with more casual fare in a dining room that peeks through ironwood trees into Kapi‘olani Park.

 

The menu offers a mix of light, smaller bites that can also be ordered in the lounge: Kona abalone arrives in the shell with a miso-pepper crust, resting on briny ogo and sea asparagus ($19). Get the ‘ulu fries, golden wedges crispy on the outside, tender inside, with tangy tamarind ketchup ($9).

 

Dining room

 

Back in the dining room, an appetizer is billed as popcorn soup with burnt butter ($12), a golden corn chowder poured over a small bowl of popcorn at the table for added flourish. Another standout entrée was a stone hotpot of seafood, lobster, fish and shrimp slow-cooked in a lime- and herb-scented bisque ($59).

 

With 26 years of luxury hotel/restaurant experience, chef Vikram Garg is best known in Hawai‘i for his eight years as executive chef of the Halekūlani hotel, overseeing the award-winning kitchens of Orchids, La Mer and House Without A Key. Since he left the Hakekūlani in 2016, Garg has been part of the MacNaughton Group, which purchased the Lotus Honolulu Hotel at the end of 2018 for a reported $30 million.

 

Tandoori chicken

The Tandoori Fried Chicken

 

Originally from Andaman and the Nicobar Islands of India, Garg included a tandoor oven in the kitchen of the new restaurant. And two of the entrées we tried at the preview take full advantage of the high heat. The Tandoori Fried Chicken ($29) comes tender, boneless and lightly breaded, resting on yogurt and topped with a bright raw mango chutney. The steak arrived perfectly pink all the way through, simply served with cipollini onions and butter (added as it’s sent out of the kitchen, $69).

 

There are plans to add a mac-and-cheese cart. Starting at a $15 base, diners can ask to add bacon ($7) or exponentially increase the decadence and cost: with truffle ($30), lobster ($40) and caviar ($100).

 

VG Connection cocktail

VG Connection cocktail

 

We’re more likely to head back to try more inventive cocktails or enjoy the off-the-beaten-track wines paired by sommelier Drew Niles. We couldn’t get over a light grenache from McCay Cellars, a small family vineyard in Lodi, California. A VG Connection cocktail combines coconut vodka, turmeric, green mango chutney and cardamom bitters for a savory drink with a refreshing kick. And a tall citrusy Pandan Express also tasted great on a humid evening.

 

Desserts delivered some fresh takes: a mango pop with a summer firecracker feel; and a cool berry pudding, mixing custard and coconut sherbet with fresh berries.

 

Mango pop

Photo: Courtesy of TBD...

 

The contemporary décor feels airy. At the park end of Waikīkī, the location has a history of popularity with locals and tourists. Earlier iterations included: Wisp, Diamond Head Grill and Bobby McGee’s restaurant and club from the ’70s until 1993. What will go there in 18 months? That’s TBD too.

 

2885 Kalākaua Ave., second floor, (808) 791-5164, tbdhawaii.com

 

READ MORE STORIES BY ROBBIE DINGEMAN

 

 

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