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Dining: Trumped

We try three—oops, make that two-and-a-half—new hotspots at the Trump International.


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The raw bar makes the bar area of the new BLT Steak an appealing place to nosh.

Photo: Olivier Koning

The Trump International Hotel, the first luxury property to open in Waikiki for decades, was made possible because Outrigger eliminated so many rooms during its Beach Walk project, it was allowed to apportion them to the Trump lot.

The 38-story tower is a big rectangular grid, sort of a spreadsheet on steroids. I managed a preopening tour, a sampling of the 462 studios and suites. All the units had luxury touches—vast marble bathrooms, at least minimal cooking facilities. The studios were small. Definitely a hotel room, not apartment.

The suites, however, were breathtaking. We saw a three-bedroom duplex in a corner of the 35th and 36th floors. It had all the amenities of a luxury home—kitchen, laundry, entertaining space—and it boasted two-story, wall-to-ceiling windows with a view from Waikiki all the way across the south shore of Oahu to the Waianae Mountains.

I regretted not being buddies with the owner. Like most people, I will henceforth be confined to the public areas of the hotel. Fortunately, these include three restaurants—oops, as it turns out, two-and-a-half at the moment.

Of these, the one getting the most media attention is the privately owned restaurant, BLT Steak, on the hotel’s Saratoga and Kalia corner.


BLT Steak
223 Saratoga Road  // 683-7440  // Dinner nightly, Sunday through Thursday 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday through Saturday until 11 p.m.  //
Major credit cards, four-hour validated valet parking  //

The king of Hong Kong burgers sits at a table in the new BLT Steak, annotating the menu and shaking his head to clear the jet lag. “I never know what time zone I’m in,” he says in his French-inflected English. “Home is New York, I think. I don’t know where is home any more.”

Laurent Tourondel is a French chef turned American restaurateur: “I’m in America. Why would I try to cook French?”

Photo: Olivier Koning

Laurent Tourondel is an unlikely Hong Kong burger king. For that matter, he’s the unlikely owner of a new steakhouse in the Trump Waikiki. He grew up and trained in France, cooked around the world as French chefs tend to do, and rose to prominence as the chef of a high-end New York restaurant named Cello, famed for its exquisite fish dishes.

Unfortunately, the money guy behind Cello got caught up in the 2002 WorldCom bankruptcy. No more Cello. Tourondel spent some time traveling, eating new things and deciding he was bored with being a high-end French chef. He reinvented himself as an American restaurateur.

As he explained: “I’m in America. Why would I try to cook French? Why would I not cook American and try to please people with what they want to eat in their country? It’s part of me being in United States, because of my liking the United States a lot.”

Famous for his fish, he started instead an American steakhouse. He now has 11 BLT Steaks, counting the new one in Waikiki . (“That many?” he said. “I don’t know.”) The BLT stands not for the sandwich, but for Bistro Laurent Tourondel.

There aren’t only 11 BLT Steaks. There’s also BLT Fish (a sort of upscale East Coast fish shack) and BLT Burger, which was a success in New York, a massive hit in Las Vegas and now, to Tourondel’s great pleasure, the No. 1 burger restaurant in Hong Kong. (“People stand in line, 600 covers a day! The people in Hong Kong study abroad, eat American food.”)

The philosophy behind all his restaurants is to give Americans what Americans like, but his way. “Have you tried it?” he asked, gesturing at the thoroughly expensive, yet casual expanse of the new BLT Steak, all warm orangeish tones and display kitchen.

Yes; as a matter of fact, I had dropped by several nights before. Outside of a few tourist couples and my friend and me, the place was filled with tables of all men. “Oh, I didn’t want to do a macho steakhouse,” he said. “Something lighter.”


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Honolulu Magazine September 2018
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