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Dining: Eat, Memory

Sometimes the newer the restaurants are, the more familiar they seem.


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Chicken-fried steak is a stick-to-your-ribs specialty of the south.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Yippee oh ki ay.

The new menu goes on for pages and pages, value-priced local favorites mainly: kalbi, huli-huli chicken, meatloaf. There it was, just like I remembered: prime rib, in  both the kane- and wahine- size portions.“I get the prime rib,” said my daughter, seeing some redeeming qualities to the expedition after all.

Hungry, we kicked off with a trio of sliders—pulled pork, beef and meatloaf with Hamakua mushroom gravy, all tasty, especially the pulled pork.

You can add either soup or salad to your entrée for $2.95—a move we regretted. The soup was flat-tasting, though far better than the canned soups at the old Ranch House. The salad was burdened with a distressingly sweet papaya-seed dressing.

Didn’t matter, because also gracing the table was a basket of hot, buttery, garlic rolls, the kind that made you grab for more. “Write down that these are some bad-ass garlic rolls,” instructed my daughter. “They’re better than the garlic-butter balls at Antonio’s Pizzeria.”
We resisted the offer of more because the entrées had arrived. My daughter was not inclined to share much of the prime rib, though what little I tasted was just like I remembered it after decades.

My wife, perhaps plunged into a country and western mood by the décor, ordered a chicken-fried steak. “Just like the time we were in Texas,” she said.

Chicken-fried steak is “local” food—in the South. You slather the beef in an eggy-flour batter, fry it golden and douse it with what’s called milk gravy.

Normally, you chicken-fry a steak so you can get away with cheaper cuts of beef, like cube steak. That’s why the Ranch House’s chicken-fried steak was off the hook—it was really a steak, pounded rib-eye, perhaps, tender and toothsome on its own. I regretted not having ordered it myself.

I did not, however, regret my own order, which was something the old Ranch House would never have served—a whole moi steamed Chinese-style, stuffed with tomatoes and lup cheong, piled with onions and cilantro. Later, our young waiter noticed my plate held only the fish skeleton. “Sir,” he said, “that moi didn’t stand a chance.”

Entrées at Ranch House 1.0 always came with rice and corn, canned. It shows how far we’ve come in a couple of decades. At Ranch House 2.0, the corn is fresh Kahuku corn and actually worth eating.

The Ranch House 2.0 is the old Ranch House, but better. I remember dinner being about $15 a head in, say, 1982, which, given inflation, works out to about $34 a head now, almost exactly our check.

“I’d come here with you guys, but not my friends,” said my 20-something daughter. “It’s for old people.” For her, that’s a category that includes anyone much over 25.

Old or not, the place was packed, humming. The dining room was enlivened by a gentleman named Kimo Todd, who by day teaches music at Holy Nativity. Todd played his guitar and sang his way through a mixed set of Hawaiian, hapa-haole and Elvis tunes. By the time we were leaving, he was at a large table, playing requests. Everyone at the table was singing along.

“I think they did a great job with this. The whole thing has a perfect, classic Hawaii feel,” said my wife. To my daughter, she said, “It may be old people. But it’s old people party time.”

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Honolulu Magazine July 2019
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