Dining: Looking for the Magic
Can any of these four new restaurants pull a rabbit out of the hat?
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Royal Hawaiian Center, 2201 Kalakaua Ave. // 922-3600 // Lunch daily 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., dinner nightly 3:30 to 11 p.m., brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. // Validated parking, major credit cards // www.wolfgangsteakhouse.com
“You’re taking me to Wolfgang Puck’s?!” said my wife. Not quite. The Wolfgang behind the new Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Waikīkī is not Puck. He’s a dapper German gentleman named Wolfgang Zweiner, who for 40 years was headwaiter at the legendary Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn, N.Y. When he retired, Zweiner opened steakhouses of his own—first in Manhattan, then in Beverly Hills.
If Honolulu is slightly fuzzy about its Wolfgangs, you can imagine the problem in Beverly Hills—where Wolfgang’s Steakhouse [in very small letters] by Wolfgang Zweiner is only half a mile from Wolfgang Puck’s steakhouse, called Cut, and even closer to Spago. Puck sued, Zweiner won. Wolfgang’s it is.
Apparently four decades in the business taught Mr. Zweiner a thing or two. The third floor space in the Royal Hawaiian Center has been done intelligently. There are just enough touches—ceiling tiles, wood accents, leather chairs, waiters in bowties and aprons—to give a flavor of old New York, and just enough openness and friendliness to feel like Honolulu.
“Plus,” said my wife, perusing the menu, “you have to love a restaurant that thinks onion rings are a vegetable.”
The specialty at Wolfgang’s, as at Peter Luger’s before him, is a porterhouse steak, for two, for three, for four—“and we’ll do even more,” said the waitress. Two will do.
Fearful of the quantity of meat we’d just ordered for $94.95, we ordered to start only one salad to split. And one slice of Canadian bacon. I’ve never been in a restaurant that sold slices of bacon, but Stephanie the waitress waxed so lyrical about its thickness, its juiciness, its deliciousness, we decided to try just one.
Next time, I’m going to have a stack. She wasn’t kidding. The long, curved slice was a perhaps 3/8-inch thick, not greasy, but, richly marbled, the edges slightly burned and crispy. It was soft to the bite, salty, smoky, and as rich as someone who shorted Lehman Brothers last August.
The salad turned out to be fun as well. In a lettuce cup was a mix of chopped tomatoes, green beans, roasted peppers, scallops, shrimp and a few touches of that fabulous bacon, all in a deft and peppery vinaigrette. “I love salads with stuff in them,” said my wife.
Finally, the steak. It arrived sliced pūpū-style, complete with the T-shaped bone just in case you felt like gnawing, on a large platter messy with melted butter, the platter hot enough to warm your hands over.
A porterhouse is two steaks in one, separated by a bone. On one side, it’s essentially a sirloin strip. On the other, it’s pure tenderloin—in other words, filet mignon.
Cooked perfectly medium rare, the edges all caramelized, this was a serious steak. The tenderloin was, of course, the most delicate in texture, near velvet on the tongue. The strip side was chewier, but beefier. We ate about two-thirds of it, which struck me as a gargantuan accomplishment.
But we stopped. Dessert beckoned. Real New York cheesecake, the kind that when you stick a fork into it, the fork stays upright. And apfel strudel—allow me the German spelling here, because I wish my grandmother was still with us, so I could order her a slice. Flaky folds of pastry, with chunks of apples still with texture, raisins, cinnamon, not too sweet, so perfect that you, too, would want to learn German, if only to hear my grandmother explain your faults in her mother tongue.
Here’s the real New York touch. Each dessert came with a massive mound of schlag, slammed on the plate with thoughts only of giving you enough, not aesthetics. Schlag is whipped cream: thick in texture, with just a slight sourness, almost dry on the tongue, melting away into total pleasure. Magic.
Dinner for two was $245 with tip. “I don’t know how they did it. It’s a perfect restaurant,” said my wife, who admittedly thinks onion rings are vegetables. We ordered them, by the way, thoroughly covered in a herb batter, but not too heavily battered, very nice indeed. The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the “German” potatoes, which were sautéed with some burned-tasting onion and otherwise bland.
“Can I get some rice?” said my wife to the waitress. Of course, immediately, because sometimes doing all the details right adds up to magic.