First Look: Café Lani Hawai‘i
New Japanese café in Ala Moana offers giant parfaits and endless bread.
The grilled chicken, left, was packed with flavor and the chocolate parfait was perfect for two.
Photos: Maria Kanai
In Japan, there’s a slew of restaurants fondly called famiresu, short for family restaurants. The food is consistently affordable, kid-friendly and comforting, targeting folks who want to have a meal as a family.
The newly opened Café Lani Hawai‘i at Ala Moana Center has a menu reminiscent of this famiresu concept, with a Japanese take on American and Italian dishes—just taken up several notches with classier, fancier décor and higher food quality and prices. This makes sense, as the restaurant is the newest endeavor from Japanese restaurant company Pierthirty, which also owns Gokoku Sushi at Koko Marina Center.
When we swung by Café Lani, service was scrambling. The restaurant had been open just a week, and there was already a long line of expectant patrons outside the restaurant. (Could be, in part, because Café Lani’s social media game is really strong.)
Inside the new café in Ala Moana’s new ‘Ewa Wing.
Photo: Diane Lee
The elaborate fruit parfait display at Café Lani Hawai‘i.
Photo: Diane Lee
The all-you-can-eat-bread concept is novel here in Honolulu. There are up to 15 kinds of bread made at Café Lani’s in-house bakery, and each day has a different rotation. During our visit, rows of tiny, freshly baked croissants arrived at our table, buttery hot and nestled against walnut rolls and cranberry rolls. You pay an extra $4 if you order á la carte, so we recommend going for the sets, which comes with the breads, a trio appetizer, soup and an entreé.
What’s nifty: The bread comes with a plate of butter, chocolate sauce, cream cheese and fresh berries meant to be mashed with the syrup to turn into jam. Try them all. Make your own chocolate croissants.
The grilled chicken ($25) may sound underwhelming, but executive chef Katsuhisa Inoue and his culinary staff know their stuff. Chicken can tend to be dry and bland, but the flavorful demi-glacé and cream sauce elevate the otherwise regular dish, and the chicken thigh pieces are cooked perfectly. The accompanying potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, onions and broccoli are roasted to natural sweetness.
Café Lani’s “wow” moment, though, arrives at the end of the meal. The Super Hawai‘i Jumbo Parfait ($30) is a monster—big enough for four to five people. We settled for the chocolate parfait ($9), a safer bet, but still Insta-worthy: chocolate and vanilla ice cream, topped with whipped cream, Cocoa Krispies, two bananas, two mini Hershey bars and two Oreos. These are definitely meant to be shared. Get to the second layer and find Frosted Flakes, more ice cream and a rousing finale of chocolate fudge.
Ala Moana Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, 955-5599
READ MORE STORIES BY MARIA KANAI