Arancino at The Kahala and The Signature
Fine dining is back in Honolulu. For the past few years, it’s been about pop-ups and picnic tables; now, is the dining pendulum swinging back toward formal dining rooms and white tablecloths?
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For steakhouse regulars, a steakhouse is as much about the ambiance as it is the meat on the plate, maybe even more so. After all, steakhouses, like no other restaurants, signify luxury and excess. That was the case in the days of 1950s American prosperity, and it’s still the case now: Why pay $50 for a steak you can get at Costco for a fraction of the price? (Yes, Costco does sell prime-grade beef.) What really sets a steakhouse apart? What makes it worth the $100 a person tab?
In The Signature’s case, it’s the view. From the 36th floor of Ala Moana Hotel, it offers a panorama from Diamond Head to Pearl Harbor. During the waning daylight hours the place is bright and festive with happy-hour revelers, half facing the windows, the other half the bar. Live music—“Phantom of the Opera” when we walk in—is played on the white grand piano. As the sun sets, happy hour ends, and the room quiets and darkens, it draws an older crowd that looks happy to be enjoying unfussy food where the draw is the view, not the kitchen’s creativity. In essence, it begins to feel more like a steakhouse—though maybe as envisioned by Prince, with the chandeliers fashioned from crystal butterflies, silver tufted banquettes backed up against purple and silver squiggly wall art.
The menu reads like a tribute to old-fashioned steakhouses: shrimp cocktail, steak tartare, chopped salad, steak, chops and seafood, but, like the atmosphere, lacks the soul of those 1950s institutions. The servers may be formally suited, but there’s no tableside salad-making and flambes.
Perhaps the biggest throwback is the unabashed nakedness of the plates: big hunks of meat and chopped parsley everywhere.
The steaks are perfectly executed: a great sear and cooked to temp, though the servers, insecure with their kitchen, ask you to cut your steak down the middle as they watch to verify that your medium rare is, in fact, a medium rare.
The Signature calls itself a steak and seafood restaurant, but you’re not here to eat fish, so don’t. The seafood tower is more memorable for the spectacle—served in a brushed metal bowl two feet tall—than for anything else. The fish—monchong one night—is not cooked as well as the steaks.
Entrees come with truffled mashed potatoes, but other sides such as lobster mac ’n’ cheese are ordered separately. They’re perfectly fine. You might do well to remember that the restaurant group behind The Signature previously focused on fast-casual food-court places such as Yummy’s Korean B-B-Q, Lahaina Chicken Co., and Steak and Fish Co. This, its first fine-dining concept, serves the same sort of straightforward fare, but with better ingredients, better technique and better decor. It turns out, though, that old-school class is hard to achieve; while all the elements are there, The Signature lacks the intangibles that complete the experience, that elevate it to fine dining. But, damn, the view.
The Signature at Ala Moana Hotel, 36th floor, 410 Atkinson Dr., 949-3636, signatureprimesteak.com