First Look: Rain Honolulu
With tasty shareable plates and an interesting drink menu, this swanky restaurant on not-so-swanky Fort Street Mall is an unexpected date-night spot.
Rain’s Brussels sprouts, left, are sautéed with macadamia nuts, a Hawaiian honey vinaigrette and shaved Pecorino cheese. Cocktails are standouts, including the Royal Meli with Old Overhold rye whiskey, a macadamia-nut liqueur and local honey.
Photos: James Charisma
When you think of spots for swanky fine dining and drinks, Fort Street Mall in Downtown Honolulu may not be the first place that comes to mind. But Rain, a new upscale restaurant and bar at the corner of South Pauahi and Fort streets (across from Subway and around the corner from Hawai‘i Pacific University) is quickly establishing itself as exactly that: a hip and elegant new destination.
It’s hard to tell what Rain is from the outside at first glance. Its darkened windows and simple umbrella logo sign give the impression of some sort of nightclub. And wasn’t this an arcade at some point fairly recently?
But step inside and everything changes. Right at the front doors, you’re standing before the perfect date-night dining room, full bar at the back and, on the second floor, a private event space overlooking the restaurant. All under the cool purple and pink glow of lamps and artificial ambient lighting.
The ambient lighting inside turns this spot into a date-worthy restaurant.
Rain is the latest venture by Chicago restaurateurs Robbie Baldwin, Joey Luna and Robb Savvy who, along with Hawai‘i’s own entertainer and entrepreneur Lanai Tabura, opened LGBT-friendly nightclub Scarlet Honolulu next door and the recently opened (and closed) Passport sandwich shop a few storefronts down along Fort Street Mall. The food here is intended as a shared-plate experience and the drinks are divided into house cocktails, martinis and wines. Created by chef Brooks Hart, known for stints at Chicago’s popular Bar Pastoral cheese and wine bar and on Food Network’s Cooks vs. Cons television show, menu items include chicken wings, scallops, lamb ribs, pot roast and what a waiter recommends as “the best Brussels sprouts on the island.” Sides and starters go for between $8 and $16 and bigger plates are in the $16 to $35 range.
Sitting down for dinner one night, the Brussels sprouts ($8) are as good as described, sautéed with macadamia nuts, a Hawaiian honey vinaigrette and shaved Pecorino cheese. The sweet vinaigrette combined with the salty cheese to elevate the flavor without trampling the taste of the rich sprouts, with the macadamia nuts doing the job of what might be pine nuts (if this was the Mainland).
The griddled gem wedge salad features squash and fennel with a buttermilk dressing.
The griddled gem wedge salad ($11) is also a winner, featuring a big slice of lettuce topped with squash and fennel, brown-butter croutons and buttermilk dressing. The buttermilk leaned more toward a savory olive oil consistency than ranch dressing, filling without feeling heavy. Squash and fennel add the right kind of complexity, too. The salad could’ve done with less of the dressing, but it’s hard to complain when it tastes this good.
A large plate, the glazed pork shoulder ($19) arrived as a mound of pulled pork atop golden polenta. You’re supposed to share these dishes, but I’m not sure how people will resist digging in with big spoonfuls. The pork is soft, rich and not at all fatty. The polenta makes a perfect match.
The only disappointment was the Ni‘ihau lamb ribs ($16), eight generous pieces on the bone, lollipop style. The ribs have a rich flavor, but they’re chewy and tough as a two-dollar steak. Worse, they’re sticky like a caramel apple, which leaves a mess as you fumble to tear them apart. I felt pride at supporting Hawai‘i-bred lamb, but I also felt a sore jaw afterward.
The glazed pork shoulder is rich, matching perfectly with the polenta.
I tried two house cocktails, both $12. First was the Lady ʻŌlena, with Stolichnaya vodka, Barrow’s Intense ginger liqueur, limoncello and fresh lemon. It’s served with a sprig of rosemary to brush across the lip of the glass. Rosemary works as an antihistamine, opening up nasal passages and offsetting the strong citrus flavors.
The Royal Meli came next, with Old Overholt rye whiskey, macadamia-nut liqueur, honey from the Big Island and lemon. This second drink wasn’t too sweet, and the whiskey wasn’t lost amid the liqueur and honey.
Quick disclaimer on the drinks: The martinis come with a “sidecar” refill served in a fishbowl containing ice. Which means that, for $12, you’re essentially getting two cocktails—one in your martini glass and one to reload with.
Rain’s happy hour runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m. nightly, with classic martinis for $8 and three different house wines for $5. And, for a limited time, there’s an additional bonus: a new late-night happy hour from 9 to 11 p.m. with the same martinis for $5. Hurray!
Despite the lamb, which should’ve been left on Ni‘ihau, I’m impressed by my experience at Rain. Not just by the menu and drinks and atmosphere but by the concept. Crowds looking to go to Scarlet can arrive early and enjoy dinner and pre-party drinks before heading next door. Rain closes at 11 p.m., right when the nightclub scene begins picking up and, the waiter says, on Friday nights, guests dining at Rain are allowed into Scarlet without having to pay the door cover.
Even without the adjacent nightclub, Rain’s food is a well priced for the quality and the ambiance. It’s close enough to be within walking distance of Chinatown while still tucked away enough to become everybody’s new “secret spot.”
Rain Honolulu, 1138 Fort Street Mall, 808-200-0910, rainhonolulu.com
READ MORE STORIES BY JAMES CHARISMA