Two at Turtle Bay
There’s more to eat on the North Shore than shave ice and shrimp-truck lunches.
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Here are some things John Heckathorn had to say in past months. Visit our Dining page to read more reviews!
• TangöHokua Building
1288 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 120
While many restaurants strive for casual, unpretentious fine
dining and fail, Tangö “succeeds from an unlikely combination of ingredients, one of which is Finland.” Finnish chef Göran Streng insists on a menu of “regular comfort food, nothing fancy,” with a Scandinavian twist. Sirloin cooked on a cedar plank, rich, cheesy risotto and warm berry-compote-filled crêpes are certainly comforting, but “if you’re looking for food your mother made, probably not,” Heckathorn says.
• Morton’s Steak HouseAla Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
Heckathorn isn’t “a big fan of the atmosphere at Morton’s—too dark, too self-consciously masculine and steak house-y.” But, he says, what it does, it does fine. Perfectly shucked oysters and a first-rate bar enhance the beef-eating experience. Said Heckathorn’s dining companion of his porterhouse: “There’s no hiding in this steak, no butter, no seasoning, just salt. This is a steak with nerve.”
Reviewed in our March 2008 issue.
The plate was sauced with a white wine-butter sauce in which Armstrong cooked a few clams for flavor. Each plate featured one perfect Manila clam. Perhaps the best thing on the plate—and that’s saying a lot, given that the opakapaka was delicious—was the green vegetable medley: asparagus, edamame and peas.
Freshly shucked peas are one of nature’s wonders, with a perfect firm-yet-yielding texture, a flavor so rife with growing things it tastes like spring itself. There’s no faking a fresh pea—anything else is an affront. These were perfect.
The wines for the courses were picked by the resort’s wine director, Michael Novak, who splits his time among all its restaurants. “Some people think my choices are eclectic,” says Novak. “But I feel when people go out to eat they are interested in things they’ve never tasted before.” The only predictable wine he chose for this dinner, he points out, was the ever reliable Cakebread chardonnay that accompanied the opakapaka.
The next course was one more fish, and with it, he chose not only a red wine, but an unexpected one, from a Santa Barbara winery named Palmina, which specializes in Italian grapes. This was a dolcetto, a grape you may not have heard of. It has none of the complexity of a sangiovese or nebbiolo, but has a wonderful “drink-me-now, my-tannins-are-silky” attitude. In other words, a perfect wine with chef Armstrong’s kampachi.
Most Hawaii chefs serve Big Island-cultured kampachi raw and seared. But Armstrong, noting that kampachi is rich in oil, likes to grill his browner even than the mahi. The grilling adds a whole degree of flavor, without compromising the fish’s texture.
We’d been fortunate enough to have four, count them, four seafood courses. It was time for a little red meat, a rosemary-crusted rack of Colorado lamb, crusty and salty on the outside, pink and soft on the inside. One of our party had his fingers crossed, not being a fan of “too lamby” lamb. He was delighted by the clean flavors—though certainly it tasted like lamb to me, served au jus, with wonderful roasted vegetables, including fingerling potatoes.
The wine was equally meaty—a syrah from remote, mountainous Peay Vineyards in northern Sonoma. It’s a cold-weather syrah, in other words, not the usual Australian fruit bomb. It’s a serious wine—as elegant as a French syrah. It might benefit from a couple of more years on age.
“We don’t have the facilities to lay down wine for years,” said Novak. “So instead I decanted this 40 minutes before we served it, so it softened out.”
Dinner concluded with a Hawaii restaurant staple—a trio of crème brûlée, this being a particularly rich base recipe, flavored with vanilla, Kona coffee or pistachio.
The multicourse menus run about $100 with wine—about right for a meal of this character, especially because the wines are so well-chosen. It would seem odd to drive to Turtle Bay for this dinner—no, really, what would seem odd is wanting to drive back to town afterwards.
But it does assure you that, were you lucky enough to take a few days on Oahu’s answer to a Neighbor Island, you wouldn’t have to subsist solely on shrimp-truck plate lunches and shave ice, as fond of those two items as you may happen to be.
I’d prefer knowing I could get a perfect fillet of fish with fresh peas in leek-white wine butter.
John Heckathorn has been writing restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984. In 2007, he won a bronze medal from the City and Regional Magazine Association for his food writing.