We try three—oops, make that two-and-a-half—new hotspots at the Trump International.
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223 Saratoga Road // 683-7401
“From the liquid kitchen,” reads the header on the cocktail menu at Trump’s new sixth-floor lobby bar. You have to applaud culinary ambition wherever you find it. I brought a cocktailian friend to the comfortable, living-roomlike setting of the bar, and said, “Bring it on.”
The “chef” of the cocktail menu, so to speak, is Trump’s F&B manager, Christina Maffei. She’s got an inventive palate. Her “Red Ohia,” with red salt round the rim, is a clever margarita adaptation—muddled pineapple and pineapple juice and jalapeño-infused tequila, fiery enough to be named for the flower of Pele.
But that’s nothing compared to her “Lokelani,” which is lamentably not rose colored, but still a stunningly improbable combination of muddled cucumber, dai gingo sake, vodka and a housemade syrup of two parts citrus juice to one part simple syrup. The drink comes in its own little glass decanter. We were grateful to have so much of it, the cool cucumber doing more wonders that you could expect from a martini-ish concoction.
“Nowhere in Hawaii,” boasts the menu, “will you find a better mai tai.” Not true; you can get a better one at both Lewers Lounge and the Royal Hawaiian’s Mai Tai Bar. Trump’s signature mai tai was topped by a pineapple-mango foam, which gave it a nice nose, but otherwise was not much of an addition to the drink.
We forgave the mai tai when we tasted yet another unlikely concoction, the “Mokihana.” This was a perfect, winding-down sort of drink—ice tea, lime sour, fresh mint and shochu.
Shochu is the Japanese distilled liquor that’s stronger than sake, weaker than whiskey, not particularly tasty, so people often drink it with that awful, sweet, canned green tea.
This was the same idea, except it was good. We demanded the recipe from the barman, then realized that he had days in advance infused his shochu with lemons and real vanilla beans—which explains why it was far more palatable than the normal stuff.
We’d come for one drink and stayed for two, so we thought it wise to order pūpū, not a particularly budget-conscious consideration. The poke was great, deep red, firm, fresh ahi. The three sate sticks held thin slices of beef, slathered with the subtlest peanut sauce I’ve ever tasted. Both were $15. In addition, we ordered a $12 bowl of hurricane popcorn, just to say we had. The popcorn wasn’t bad, light on the furikake, though my friend grumbled, “For $12, they could have put more kaki mochi.”
The bill for four cocktails and three pupu was $120, including tip, meaning Waiolu is likely to remain a rare pleasure. Still, you have to enjoy that the architects put the lobby on the sixth floor, which means from the sofas on the comfortable lanai you look out at treetop level over Fort DeRussy to the ocean beyond. It’s almost like not being in Waikiki. The bar’s staff, led by Stephanie Oong, was highly professional, polished and friendly. Nice place for a drink.
223 Saratoga Road // 683-7401
Having cocktailed at Waiolu, I decided later to try the hotel’s own restaurant, called In-Yo—only to end up back at Waiolu.
In-Yo’s there, on the Diamond Head side of the building. Trouble is, all the tables are outside, covered only by a lattice roof. Apparently, someone believed it never rained in Waikiki. The restaurant did open for New Year’s Eve, only to get drenched about 9 p.m. by a sudden shower. It’s closed until better weather or a new retractable roof is added, whichever comes first.
However, the kitchen’s alive. You can have In-Yo’s menu in Waiolu.
It’s the food that matters, right?
I was worried about the food, though. In-Yo is a hotel service restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, one that tries to be all things to all people. It offers Japanese and American food for breakfast and lunch. At dinner, Japanese and Italian. I took a couple of other people just so we might cover the distance from Tokyo to Rome in a single dinner.
Upon closer inspection, the Japanese menu seemed far more interesting than the Italian. The Italian appetizer menu made us yawn—bruschetta, calamari, minestrone.
From the Japanese menu, we ordered a bowl full of tasty little Manila clams, in a sake broth aromatic with ginger and lemongrass. This is lighter than the usual white wine, butter, garlic preparation, but just as delicious. We reduced the bowl to shells and sopped up the leftover broth with the (remarkable, warm, freshly baked) bread.
We also got a warm “dynamite” roll. Despite being stuffed with seafood and mushrooms in spicy mayo, topped with spoonfuls of tobiko and heaps of sprouts, this was decidedly undynamite. It cost $22, and you can do better for half the cost almost anywhere.
The star of the appetizers was the trio of donburi. Donburi, capable of almost infinite variety, is simply a bowl of rice with something on top. This set of three little rice bowls was remarkable mainly for the “on top” part.
One bowl held three perfect slices of raw, deep-red ahi, nestled on a shiso leaf. The second held some tender ika, squid, which had been simmered with vegetables in a deft mirin-shoyu-dashi concoction. The last sported two thick slices of prime hamachi.
I tried to get all these toppings before anyone else, but I was defeated when my guests realized how tasty they were. As I speared the last slice of ahi, a young lady bustled apologetically to our table.