Biting Commentary Revisits Le Cacao Bistro

The opakapaka from Le Cacao Bistro.

Photos: Lesa Griffith

Editor’s note: John Heckathorn visited Le Cacao Bistro last month, but didn’t get a chance to eat anything. (Read about his experience here.) Today, Biting Commentary returns to the Bistro, to finally try the food.

Opakapaka for $12.95, seafood ravioli for $12.95—what are these fantasy prices? The industrious JJ Luangkhot, chef-owner of JJ’s Bistro & French Pastry, took over the nearby bad-luck space on the corner of Waialae and 9th Avenue (Blue Ginger didn’t last long) last year to open J2 Asian Fusion. With tables languishing, he did a name and menu change, and now the place is humming as Le Cacao Bistro, billed as a “New York style dining experience.”

Well, it isn’t that (throwing buffalo wings and New York steak on the menu doesn’t equal “Manhattan”), but fans of JJ’s Bistro will be happy to know it’s pretty much an extension of that original operation, with some of the same quasi-Continental dishes, and the same economical prices.

The DIY room features artwork that my dining companion called “Ross art,” as well as Asian knick knacks, and on a Wednesday night, the place was full. Good sign. The menu is eclectic, but reads well for a casual dining experience—smoked salmon carpaccio, South Beach blue crab Rangoon (ooh!), baked duck à la Cacao. And for the most part, the dishes are crowd pleasers. The carpaccio is a light, smoky start to dinner, the crab Rangoon is a fun reworking of that pupu-party favorite, crab-stuffed wonton (the wrapper is fried as a cup and filled with a creamy crustacean filling). Mini pizzas are gooey with mozzarella. The (thin) grilled pork rack swims in a decent mustard-herb cream sauce (and comes with a melon-ball-size scoop of mashed potatoes).

So how does JJ manage to maintain practically Zippy’s prices? The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Le Cacao Bistro is the anti-Town, which is across the street. There is a reason that tombo is $22 over there—the firm, meaty fish is ocean fresh and is served with sides that were most likely grown here. The baked opakapaka I had at Cacao last night had almost the consistency of Jell-O. That’s a pretty clear sign it was fresh out of the freezer, right? The potent, sweet chili sauce smothering it can’t hide that fact. And the whole thing sits on an unlikely bed of fettuccine. It reminded me what a difference cooking with fresh local ingredients makes. I won’t take a fresh catch, locally raised beef or island-grown veggies for granted again.

Still, rant aside, for those looking for a cheap date (and who aren’t taking the Kanu Eat Local Challenge), Le Cacao Bistro fills the bill. You can get a four-course prix-fixe that includes a seafood dish for $24.70. Choose a meat dish and it’s $28.95. I say go with the meat. And, of course, there’s a glass case at the front highlighting JJ’s rightly famed tarts and cakes. Make a pit stop at Tamura’s up the road (it’s BYOB), and everything will seem better.

Le Cacao Bistro, 3441 Waialae Ave, 626-5368,