Dining: East Side Story


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Nori-Wrapped Striped Marlin, from BluWater Grill.

Photo: kent s. hwang

There I was at the bar in Brew Moon, sipping a glass of Locomocha Stout and talking to a townie about how the new Blu-Water Grill had gotten off to a fast start in Hawaii Kai.

“It’s because there’s no place to eat out there,” he said. “Maybe Roy’s and the steak place next door, but where else?”

I let the “maybe Roy’s” remark pass, be-cause when there’s an internationally celebrated restaurant in your neck of the woods, you don’t have to belabor the point. Still, the whole “no place to eat” remark threw me back a couple of decades to when it was true. It’s not true anymore. East Honolulu ain’t town, but compared to West and Windward Oahu, it’s restaurant heaven.

I thought I’d spend the month exploring the East Side of the island. I started with the BluWater Grill. Then, just for fun, I found two more gems: a great hole in the wall and a great restaurant, period. So there.

 

BluWater Grill
Hawaii Kai Shopping Center, 377 Keahole St. 395-6224
Mon.-Sat. lunch 11-5 p.m., dinner 5-11 p.m, Fri.-Sat. until 12 midnight; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner 2:30-11 p.m.

It was about time for a boys’ night out anyway, so I called a number of gentlemen of my acquaintance and told them to meet at the new BluWater Grill in the Hawaii Kai Shopping Center. Two of them got lost.

For the East Honolulu-impaired, there are three shopping centers in Hawaii Kai. The one where you find BluWater Grill also contains Longs and Safeway, plus an excellent watch repair place.

“I didn’t even know this was here,” said one of the boys, finally stumbling upon the restaurant. “What was in this space before?” A restaurant called Portlock and, before that, a pet store. “Someone gave a pet store a waterfront location?”

Yes, though BluWater Grill has finally done something comfortable, almost cozy, with what is actually prime space. It’s got mustard walls, a pumpkin ceiling, rich wood trim, a display kitchen with a kiawe grill, and outdoor seating along the water.

I’ve heard BluWater called Ryan’s East, since it was put together by a group of Ryan’s alumni, including William Bruhl, Tanya Phillips and Deb Costello. Bruhl is chef-owner; the chef de cuisine is Harold Deltran, a veteran of Kincaid’s and Palomino.

I had no idea about the connection until we got our pupu sampler. The poke was almost an exact replica of Ryan’s—not a bad choice, since Ryan’s poke is among the best in town, full of onion and ogo, crunchy with salt.

Outside of the poke, BluWater didn’t remind me of Ryan’s at all. It’s more like Lucy’s in Kailua: casual, contemporary fine dining with a neighborhood feel. I was amazed BluWater was so jammed considering it was all of a minute or two away from Roy’s, but it’s more casual than Roy’s and less expensive—though there are some provisos here.

One of which is that the entrees are cheaper, but not the appetizers. Since the boys tend to start ordering drinks and appetizers on their way to the table, I ended up paying not only for the pupu sampler (poke, meat sticks, macadamia-crusted prawns), but also for the crab cakes (nice texture, full of crabmeat) and the inside-out California roll, which wasn’t. It was more like the “reconstructed” California roll developed by David Paul—a stack of rice, avocado, crab and ahi. Not a hit. The flavors were too muted, the sushi too heavy with some sort of wasabi cream. Nobody but me would eat this, and I wasn’t happy.

The menu promised the meat sticks on the pupu sampler would be teriyaki beef; they were chicken. I pointed out to the boys that the difference between red meat and fowl should be clear even to their martini-seared palates. However, they ordered a plate of beef skewers just to be sure. I have to admit, they were quite tasty, tender, much better than the chicken.

Among the entrees there was a rack of lamb, which was undistinguished except visually. It was stuck, bones up, in bright purple, mashed sweet potatoes. Better was the striped marlin (a fish sometimes called nairagi, other times au). This arrived Cajun-spiced, with a lively wasabi and ginger aioli. It was well-cooked, tender, meaty, good eating. However, the unexpected star of the menu was a double slab of pork ribs, chili-rubbed, with a sweet-spicy, mango-guava glaze. The ribs were such an instant classic, the portion so masculine-size, that had I known what I was doing, I would have ordered a plate for the table as I walked through the door.

 

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