Dashed Hopes in Waikiki

The report on three restaurants isn’t pretty, but the fourth is a standout.


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At Yardhouse, the fish entrees, like this seared ahi, come fairly plain.

Photo by Olivier Koning

I’ve heard from disappointed beer buffs that the Waikiki, Yard House has far fewer beers than the outlets in Southern California. I’ve also heard gratitude that Yard House has managed to get 30 or so beers imported to Hawaii that weren’t here before, at least not on tap.

I counted 104 beers on tap, which ought to quench almost anyone’s thirst. But for a place that tries to bring you the world of beer, Yard House has a curious attitude toward tasting. You can order a “six-pack,” that is, a half-dozen small glasses of beer. But you can’t pick which six beers you want to taste. The bar decides for you—and didn’t come up with a particularly inspired list that night.

You can also get 2-ounce “tasting” servings like the ones the Man About Town had ordered, at $1 or $2 apiece. You’d think at that kind of profit margin, the bar would let you taste all night. For some reason, you are allowed only three.

Of course, the Man About Town got six, three at the bar and another three when he joined me at our table. Not being particularly beer savvy, we mainly ordered beers with colorful names—Alley Cat Ale, Bare Knuckle Stout.

Our server, Cory from Michigan, said that the staff didn’t get to taste all the beers, though he added with a laugh that he was doing a pretty good job on his own. Nonetheless, he was of limited help in finding me a Belgian or Belgian-style golden ale.

So I was wandering in the beer wilderness until Jonathan Schwalbenitz, the ace bartender at Murphy’s, walked in with friends to have dinner. He ordered me an Affligem Blonde, a rich, luscious beer that had faint overtones of pear in the nose, served in a goblet the way Belgian beers should be.

The Man About Town settled on a pint of Moretti Pilsner, on the grounds that he liked Italy. I offered to buy him a half-yard glass, which stands 18 inches high and holds 32 ounces of beer. “Do I look self-destructive?” he asked.

The Yard House, despite its name, has abandoned its original yard-high glasses, which held twice as much beer and might be construed as fostering overindulgence. Half-a-yard is as high as you get.

For a place that tries to bring you the world of beer, Yard House has a curious attitude toward tasting.

Unfortunately, the food wasn’t as much fun as the beer. We didn’t start badly. The Man About Town ordered a moo shu eggroll that tasted surprisingly good, especially dipped in a gingery housemade apple sauce. “The sauce is hot,” said the Man About Town.

No, I said. American Chinese food is fond of slipping cream cheese inside these deep-fried pupu, to bind the flavors and create a better mouth feel. Yard House had gone one better and filled the cream cheese with red pepper.

The eggroll was the last good thing until dessert.

I had high hopes for the grilled artichoke. But all we got for $9.45 was a medium artichoke, split in half and smoky-flavored from the grill. Unfortunately, it arrived al dente—not a good trait in an artichoke. Unless you cook it thoroughly before you grill it, an artichoke stays pretty fibrous. The plate did contain some nice edible housemade potato chips.

Among the pasta dishes was one called (MAC+CHEESE)2. I’m a sucker for adult mac and cheese dishes. But this one looked gloppy, a bowl of castellane pasta (oversize oval shells), submerged in melted, but otherwise undistinguished cheddar. The dish was fortified with chicken, bacon and mushrooms. But one unpleasant flavor blotted out everything else —truffle oil.

Truffle oil ain’t truffles. It’s oil doctored with a chemical called bis(methyl-thio)methane, which smells like truffles. You can’t blame Yard House for using oil: If it used real truffles, the dish would cost $250. Still, you have to use good-quality truffle oil sparingly to give the illusion of truffles, which was not the case here.

There was also a rectangle of opah, cooked dry, accompanied by a trio of three sauces, all sweet, even the Thai basil sauce. Add a molded round of rice, a few overcooked bok choy, and you ended up with a totally uninspiring plate. “This is like a college bar,” said the Man About Town. “You don’t go for the food.”

For dessert, I insisted on ordering a beer float made with a Belgian raspberry beer, Lindemans Framboise.

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