Looking for the Magic in Four New Honolulu Restaurants
Can any of these four new restaurants pull a rabbit out of the hat?
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Photo: Olivier Koning
I took a friend from Maui with me to Twist. “Wow, this is cool!” she said as we walked in. I thought Twist looked like the Sheraton’s Hanohano Room cleaned up and contemporized—which it is. It was helpful to see it through fresh eyes, especially as we slid into a banquette with a view of the sunset. I tried not to notice that all the other guests were Japanese visitors.
I liked Twist’s new menu concept. You can order three courses for $65, four for $80 or five for $105.
Four courses meant the two of us could order four different appetizers. Two of them worked. Two tried hard.
The lemon-roasted asparagus came tricked out with roasted beets, Marcona almonds, cherry tomatoes and a smear of fig balsamic syrup—all of which added up to less than a good plate of asparagus.
That was nothing compared to the Kona kampachi sashimi. The fish arrived submerged beneath a riot of color—green sea asparagus, purple sage, bright pink pickled radishes, golden pumpkin, white shaved fennel. The presentation looked like a teenage girl’s first overdone try with makeup, obscuring her natural charm.
This was no way to make magic. All these ingredients were good in isolation, but nothing worked together and you couldn’t taste the fish.
The other two appetizers were at least coherent. The single day-boat scallop was cooked perfectly, underscored by a cream sauce with morels and fava beans, topped with a tomato-fennel marmalade and chervil. The only mistake was the large scatter of lemon zest on top. I ate a bite with a strand of lemon zest and it tasted like—well, imagine a car alarm going off in the dead of night.
The last was the best—grilled-eggplant-wrapped, lemon-flavored goat cheese, more of the fig balsamic, which worked better this time, and more of that tomato-fennel marmalade, which I would have liked better if I hadn’t just eaten it on the scallop. Still, as a whole, this worked, exactly the right weight and flavor profile for a pre-entrée course.
The steak (all tenderloin) was a solid performance, topped with sliced mushrooms in jus, sitting atop butter-braised bok choy. Someone in the kitchen had read a book on putting color on the plate—hence, two bright red roasted cherry tomatoes and some vibrantly green Parmesan-chive mashed potatoes. I suppose the green could have been the chives, somehow liquefied and whipped in, but green potatoes? “I was worried it was broccoli,” said my friend.
You could sprinkle bites of the steak with the array of sea salts on the table. ‘Alae salt, pink salt (‘alae and sea salt mixed), black salt (which contained charcoal from coconut husks), a salt mix with Szechuan pepper, and if that wasn’t enough, smoked paprika and bell pepper pods (which did fabulous things in tiny quantities).
My entrée was the single most coherent dish we’d gotten all evening. My duck was Christmas on a plate—sliced duck breast, just slightly pink in the center, heavily spiced around the edge, topped with a ginger-cranberry sauce and sitting on a mound of honey pumpkin purée. With every bite, I felt all Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men.
What more could I want? Well, wine. We’d started with cocktails, so our ever-helpful waiter suggested he would only charge us for wine with three courses, a reasonable $20 apiece for three glasses of wine, not stunning wines, but drinkable, both from Mendocino, a creamy Paul Dolan chardonnay, an adequate cherry-berry pinot noir from Parducci. There was supposed to be wine with the dessert course, but since we both were skeptical about dessert wines, we just drank another glass of pinot while we waited.
The desserts were worth waiting for. A chocolate cream with a touch of red pepper, topped with Bing cherries cooked in something that tasted good. A spiced cabernet gelee with poached pears—not a perfect dessert, but the spicy wine jelly, an extension of the Christmas Day theme kicked off from the duck.
There wasn’t magic in the air—more the air of poor Japanese visitors uptight at having to knife and fork their way through Western food—unless you count the hint of Christmas. Plus, we got attentive, friendly service.
When my tall, blond friend headed to the ladies’ room, the waiter asked, “She’s on TV, right?” No. But whatever gets a waiter’s attention.
Sheraton Waikīkī, 2255 Kalakaua Ave., (808) 922-4422, Dinner nightly, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., valet and validated parking, major credit cards, sheraton-waikiki.com/de_hano.htm