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The Do-Overs: 53 by the Sea and Lucky Belly Replace Two Decades-Old Restaurants

In which two decades-old restaurants give way to new ones. One is an outright replacement of the old John Dominis, the other took over a long-time Chinese greasy spoon.


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But there are wedding parties to please, special-occasion audiences to cater to. The seafood is not bad—a seafood stew with meaty chunks of opah and chock full of mussels and clams in a creamy tomato sauce is comforting, and the special one day featured moi pan-fried until the skin was crispy and the meat still delicately moist. It arrived, though, on a heap of cabbage that Charlie Bucket and his family would recognize (pre-golden ticket to the chocolate factory). And this is the biggest reason it’s hard to recommend plates at 53 by the Sea. While every waiter recites that the vegetables are locally farmed, the little heaps of broccoli, cauliflower and carrot taste as if they were dumped out of a Costco vegetable medley freezer bag. The contrast can be jarring. Flavorless carrots are stuffed into a flavorless tomato next to a perfectly browned and juicy veal chop, draped in prosciutto.


Actually, the most innovative use of produce ends up being in dessert: the eggplant cioccolato—fried eggplant topped with chocolate, custard, walnuts and raisins—but the eggplant is soggy and bitter even with the chocolate. Our server tried to warn us away from this—you’d do better to heed the warning.





The most pleasurable way to take in the view at 53 by the Sea may be to adopt everyone’s favorite wedding strategy: hang out at the bar. Actually, I would go to 53 by the Sea’s bar even if it didn’t have the view—the drinks are knockouts. The Eastern Blend improves on a Manhattan with Yamazaki Suntory whisky as its base, and the Shiso Italiano is as refreshing as a spa day with cucumber vodka, Campari, shiso and ginger beer. A highlight from the Libations by Gin section of the menu is the Kaka‘ako Sling—gin fortified with brandy and Benedictine, lightened with fresh pineapple and lime juice. Tim Rita, formerly of Lewers Lounge, is behind the menu, and the wine list has over 100 bottles selected by master sommelier Roberto Viernes.


Drink here, enjoy the view, go home with a groomsman.


53 Ahui St., (808) 536-5353, 53bythesea.com; Appetizers: $8 (Green Papaya Salad) to $30 (Seafood Showcase); Entrées: $18 (Spaghetti Bolognese) to $42 (Maine Lobster Linguine).


Lucky Belly


Clockwise from top: spiced beef tartare, watercress and chicharrones, Belly Bowl, shrimp gyoza.

Lucky Belly

Elsewhere, in the old Mini Garden space, Lucky Belly continues the hipsterfication of Chinatown.


Where 53 by the Sea was built for $16 million, Lucky Belly worked with a budget of $150,000, with most of the labor contributed by partners and friends. They ripped out walls to expose the original brick, softened the lighting, tore out the linoleum floor and polished the concrete. Little details make it comfortable, like the frosted stripes in the window that run at eye level, offering diners privacy from the bar hoppers and crazies (sometimes one and the same) that roam Chinatown. It’s now one of Chinatown’s best looking dining rooms.


We have excellent ramen bars around town. Many a skeptic will walk into Lucky Belly and compare it to her favorites—Yotteko Ya, Ramen Nakamura, Goma Tei. And while I wouldn’t claim Lucky Belly's ramen to be the best in town, it’s a new favorite spot. Nowhere else can you get the combination of great ramen, terrific appetizers and access to a full bar that lists Buffalo Trace as its well bourbon.


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Honolulu Magazine April 2019
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