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Lewers and Kalakaua

Unfortunately, this hot corner has not cornered the market on great cuisine.

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Even worse were the mushrooms and asparagus robatayaki—less than first-rate ingredients, inexplicably cooked in tinfoil wrappers with ponzu, a method that totally defeated the notion of robatayaki.

For less money—and an even trendier atmosphere—you could go to Tsukuneya, at the corner of Dole and University. Which brings me to my point. Doraku is an izakaya, a place for sake, sushi, snacks. Honolulu has a half-dozen that are better and cheaper. Find the one in your neighborhood and patronize that.


RumFire
Sheraton Waikiki// 2255 Kalakaua Ave. // 922-4422 // Lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday 4 to 12 p.m., Friday through Saturday until 2 a.m., food service until 10:45 p.m.

Three of us set out for Waikiki.

“You really want to go to Señor Frog’s?” asked one friend. “How bad could it be?” I asked. And it’s right on the corner of Lewers and Kalakaua.

Our third friend wanted to go because she’d heard Señor Frog’s had a bar where the seats were swings, hung from the ceiling, and the thought of her sipping a chocolate martini while swinging from the rafters was compelling.

Recently Reviewed

Here are some things John Heckathorn had to say in past months. Go to our Dining page to read more reviews!

 

Duo

Ala Moana Center,
Four Seasons Resort Maui,
3900 Wailea Alanui
WaiLea,
874-8000
Heckathorn is fond of Duo for its “sheer extravagance.” The casual atmosphere belies a sophisticated menu of seafood and world-class beef, including Kobe: “Not American Wagyu, but the real deal from  Tajima-ushi.” A four-ounce portion is $104. “You only live once,” he says.


Reviewed in our
March 2008 issue.

PHOTO: Monte costa



Merriman's Restaurant

Opelo Plaza,
65-1227 Opelo Rd,
Kamuela
885-6822
“If you haven’t eaten at Merriman’s lately, you owe yourself another visit,” Heckathorn says. New chef  Neil Murphy has refreshed the 20-year-old, farm-to-table restaurant to “extraordinary” results. “Your best strategy is to order the nightly chef’s menu, and let Murphy do his thing,” with the freshest of ingredients.


Reviewed in our february 2008 issue.

Photo: Olivier koning


How stupid could I be? As we arrived, Señor Frog’s special elevator to the third floor of the Royal Hawaiian Center shut down, inexplicably. OK, up the escalators.

On the third floor, Señor Frog’s had instituted a “fake wait.” Even though the restaurant had plenty of open tables, the hostess told people they needed to wait 20 minutes. That produced a little crowd outside, creating a fake buzz.

The wait was really about five minutes, but unfortunately for Señor Frog’s, in the interim we’d wandered inside. It was dark and smelled like the morning after at a frat party—quite a trick for a restaurant that’s only been open a couple of months.

A waitress gave us some shiny plastic beads, with a medallion that read: “If our food and service aren’t up to your standards, please lower your standards.”

To top it all off, the bar with the swings was closed. “Why?” I asked an employee.

“It just is,” he said.

The recorded music was loud and obnoxious—and a band was coming onto the stage. The guitarist hit a chord so loud and unmusical that we declined the table the hostess had just given us.

“Gee, we didn’t even stay long enough to get a balloon hat,” said the friend who tried to talk us out of going in the first place.

What to do next? we asked him. “RumFire,” he said.

Right he was. RumFire is what happened to the Sheraton Waikiki’s old Esprit Lounge.  It’s been blown open, and one realizes the old, dark, closed-in Esprit was a waste of beach frontage.

RumFire’s an expensive-looking, glassed-in lounge, with two lanai and, on each side, a beach area filled with big upholstered ottomans and firepots. Yes, cozy, gas-fed, little basins of fire. Plus a menu with some 101 rums, hence RumFire.

RumFire’s cocktail menu, like the one at Pearl, was designed by Francesco Lafranconi. A great cocktail is a balance between sweet and sour, strong, weak and bitter. LaFranconi is a celebrated mixologist, but his cocktails are all horribly sweet. At RumFire, even a standard drink like a caipirinha is likely to have so much sugar as to be spit-out-able.

One of our party—the young lady who wished to sit on Señor Frog’s swings—was perhaps LaFranconi’s target audience. She ordered a strawberry daiquiri. To Franconi’s credit, this was not the usual milkshakey nonsense. It was made with 151 proof rum and real organic strawberries. But it was too sweet even for my friend—and that’s sweet.

If you are going to drink here, you should sip rum as if it were Scotch. We started us out gently, with Tommy Bahama rum. Soon, however, we abandoned trendiness. We were drinking things like Coyopa, made from spring water and the pick of the sugar cane harvest in Barbados, aged 10 years in an oak cask. Or Pampero Anniversario from Venezuela, which tastes somewhere between butterscotch and fuel oil, and will put hair on your chest, regardless of your gender.

We were also hungry. I have never been crazy about the food at the Sheraton, so the food at RumFire surprised me. It’s tasty, in small, expensive portions, but if you are going to eat right on Waikiki Beach, you have to expect that.

The minced garlic chicken came with lettuce wraps and kim chee salsa. The scallop salad wasn’t a salad—just some excellent grilled scallops atop some chopped hearts of palm.

One realizes the old, dark, closed-in Esprit was a waste of beach frontage.


The only thing wrong with the garlic fried rice was there was only a tiny bowl of it for $13. Similarly, the filet mignon was delicious, but minuscule. We scooped up its few slices with edamame purée, sea salt and pepper.

Absolutely the best dish on the menu was the inside-out musubi: balls of sushi rice, half topped with smoked ‘ahi, the other half with beef, cooked rare, and sprinkled with bubu arare, the small rice crackers often used in ochazuke.

We were having so much fun, we ordered two desserts. One we knew was unlikely to be good, but ordered it anyway. Why? Because it was called The Great Ball of Fire and arrived flaming. It was a porcupine-studded ball of stale meringue filled with too-frozen-to-eat sorbet.

Much better was the “Get Ready to Rumball”—three chocolate-covered, rum-drenched lollipops. They seemed a perfect conclusion. Dinner cost $203, but we’d spent an enjoyable evening drinking rum on the beach—and that, I believe, is a pleasure people spend thousands to experience.   

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.


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,May

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