Dining: Gathering Places
Three new additions to Honolulu's dining scene focus on cozy, neighborhood-friendly experiences.
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Always curious, I’d ordered a seaweed salad, to protests round the table. It turned out totally unchallenging—a fairly standard green salad topped with some marinated wakame. It held strips of mango as well as tomatoes, cucumber and so forth—all of which should have added up to something and sadly didn’t.
We’d ordered three main dishes: a thoroughly disappointing kun pao shrimp, I’ve had better in dozens of Chinese restaurants, and a Szechuan pepper beef, which was lacking in both pepper and inspiration.
Part of the problem was that, when the waitress asked me whether we wanted the dishes hot, I asked, Chinese hot? Or Thai hot?
“Thai hot,” she said. Knowing better than to challenge a Thai kitchen, I ordered medium. But, hey, the spice scale here is Chinese, not Thai; order spicy.
The third dish, however, made up for all the rest: a considerable quantity of whitefish fillets, lightly dusted (cornstarch?) to get crispy in the sauté pan, double sauced, with a red sweet-sour-chili concoction and a coconut-based Thai curry sauce. This doesn’t sound like it would work, but, boy, does it. It’s sort of a proof of concept for the restaurant, which I wish would push the envelope a little farther and come up with more of these things.
Also astoundingly good, the fried rice with egg, vegetables and green onion. I am at a loss to explain why it was so good—perhaps it made the journey from wok to table almost instantly. Suffice it to say we finished the first platter and ordered a second.
I asked the diminutive waitress to clear an empty platter, then realized she had in her other hand a heavy, full water pitcher. “Can you handle both?” I asked. “Of course, sir,” she said. “I’m a professional.”
The service was, in fact, professional. When the pepper beef was much delayed coming out of the kitchen, we didn’t complain. We were slowing down anyway, nibbling up whatever remained on the platters. But when I got the check, they’d knocked off 10 percent because they were so slow. Dinner for four was a remarkable $90 with tip, not counting the bottle of unoaked chardonnay I’d brought, no corkage.
That may explain why the place was humming on a Sunday night.
John Heckathorn has been writing award-winning restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984.