Tour de Eats: Food Crawl around Honolulu
Take in the city, three (or four) restaurants at a time.
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After all that meat, fire and smoke, only one dessert can complete the night: shave ice at City Café. This isn’t a syrup-drenched affair, but rather, Taiwanese-style shave ice, which is all about the toppings. The custard, creamy and smooth, is a must. From there, you can choose from more than a dozen toppings. Some are familiar—tapioca pearls, mochi and red bean, some more exotic—sweetened, stewed taro and peanuts and grass jelly, which have an herbal, Chinese medicinelike quality (eating it makes me feel healthy). For Taiwanese-style shave ice, City Café ladles brown sugar syrup on the ice, which provides the perfect backdrop to the goodies.
This cute, bright snack shop is open until 9 p.m., which means your crawl may start and end early.
Total for two: Sushi ii: $48.17 + Yakiniku Don Day: $53.45 + City Cafe: $5.50 = $107.12
>> Sushi ii, in Samsung Plaza, 655 Keeaumoku St., Suite 109, 942-5350.
>> Yakiniku Don-Day, 905A Keeaumoku St., 951-1004.
>> City Cafe, 1518-F Makaloa St., 398-7598.
Tour No. 3: Waikiki Walk
Waikiki is where I go to pretend I’m in a big city. Maybe more of a Times Square in New York City type of experience than East Village, but still, a city. It’s more spread out than Keeaumoku, but the ocean and wide sidewalks make for pleasant ambling when restaurant hopping.
Waikiki is where restaurateurs pour money into their restaurants, and for a relatively small admission fee, I get to enjoy the spectacle. It’s where I can dine and not feel like I’m in an office building with a bunch of tables in it, which is often what it feels like, or literally is, to dine in Honolulu. I love Formica and dingy holes-in-the-wall, but sometimes, I want something grander.
There’s hardly a better place to seek luxe treatment than at Halekulani, and our crawl here starts at L’Aperitif, a new bar concept inside La Mer. (And what better place to get an aperitif, a pre-dinner cocktail, than at a place called L’Aperitif?)
The first thing you notice at L’Aperitif are the menus. They are tabloid-newspaper size, the cocktails listed on thick, yellowed paper, as if the menus have been around since the turn of the century. L’Aperitif draws on the past—France’s Belle Époque. The Halekulani brought on Colin Field, the head bartender of the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel Paris, to come up with the cocktail menu. Cocktail descriptions are whimsically baroque. Take the Hemingway Old Fashioned:
“Imagine making a true thick sauce of sugar and bitters of Trinidad, mixed with the juice of half a lemon and orange, then adding plenty of beautiful ice and marry Maker’s Mark bourbon. Stir for 12 seconds and you say… ‘oh my God!’”
I start a Waikiki progressive dinner at L’Aperitif partly for the quality of the drinks and because it takes the place of theater before dinner: Everything’s a bit showy, from the careful mixing of the drinks to the oversize rose perched on my Esprit Chanel to the ice itself. Order the cognac over ice, and the bartender will bring out the $1,000 spherical ice-making contraption, which shapes a cylinder of ice into a perfect sphere right before your eyes. It’s a marvel.
The Esprit Chanel combines Lillet, a French aperitif wine, and Citadelle gin for a surprisingly light cocktail with just a touch of sweet. The main drawback at L’Aperitif, though, is the price: $20 a cocktail. What makes it a little more palatable: Each drink comes with a one-bite pairing. For the Esprit Chanel, a foie gras with rose petal marmalade on a brioche chip, for the Hemingway Old Fashioned, an olive and blue cheese croquette.
One thing to note: L’Aperitif requires a long-sleeved, collared shirt for men.