First Look: TBD… Pop-Up Restaurant at the Diamond Head Edge of Waikīkī

Vikram Garg, formerly of the Halekūlani, returns to the public with a restaurant whose name is TBD… literally.
seafood hot pot
The stone hot pot of seafood accompanied by the Pandan Express cocktail, with vodka, pandan syrup, lime and coconut water.
Photo: Leah Friel

 

Think of it as an elegant pop-up at the Diamond Head edge of Waikīkī. While far too many restaurants open with great fanfare and shut soon after, the folks behind this latest venture, which opened mid-June, say it’s actually designed to close after 18 months.

 

And that’s part of the story of the playful name TBD… complete with the three-dot punctuation. The concept mixes luxurious items with more casual fare in a comfortably modern dining room with windows opening to the ironwood trees into Kapi‘olani Park.

 

There’s a delicateness to the food. Small, perfect bites like Kona abalone arrive in the shell with a miso-pepper crust, resting on briny ogo and sea asparagus ($19). An appetizer billed as popcorn soup with burnt butter ($12) features a golden corn chowder poured tableside over a small bowl of popcorn. A tangy tomato tartare ($19) is tempered with creamy burrata. Get the ‘ulu fries—golden wedges crispy on the outside, tender inside, with tangy tamarind ketchup ($9)—which might be one of the best things on the menu.

 

Abalone
KONA ABALONE
PHOTOS: ROBBIE DINGEMAN

 

With 26 years of luxury hotel/restaurant experience, chef Vikram Garg is best known in Hawai‘i for his eight years as executive chef of the Halekūlani hotel, overseeing the award-winning kitchens of Orchids, La Mer and House Without A Key. Since he left the Hakekūlani in 2016, Garg has been part of the MacNaughton Group, which purchased the Lotus Honolulu Hotel at the end of 2018 for a reported $30 million.

 

Originally from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India, Garg included a tandoor oven in the kitchen of the new restaurant. One of the unique features of a tandoor is its ability to get blistering hot—upward of 800 degrees. At TBD…, we’re not sure that it’s being used to its full potential: the tandoori fried chicken ($29) under-delivers in both its promises, lacking the signature tandoori char and the fried crispness when breading meets hot oil. Also cooked in the tandoor is a tomahawk steak ($169), a thick bone-in rib-eye—the bone is almost as long as your forearm—but it arrives with an anemic sear (though it’s perfectly cooked through the center) and is overshadowed by the seven sauces that accompany it. The sauces, ranging from a salsa verde to a green mango chutney are really fantastic, but it’s saying something when a $169 steak is upstaged by the sauces.

 

Dining room

 

The light flavors are better suited to the stone hot pot of seafood ($46)—lobster, fish and shrimp in a lime leaf-scented bisque—or the TBD bento ($26), a bento box of hummus, falafel and baba ganoush served with fresh-baked flatbread.

 

Desserts delivered some fresh takes: a mango pop ($14) with a summer firecracker feel; and a cool pudding ($14), mixing custard and coconut sherbet with fresh berries.

 

Mango pop
PHOTO: COURTESY OF TBD…

 

We’re more likely to head back to try more inventive cocktails ($15–$16) or enjoy the off-the-beaten-track wines paired by sommelier Drew Niles. We couldn’t get over a light grenache from McCay Cellars, a small family vineyard in Lodi, California. A VG Connection cocktail combines coconut vodka, turmeric, green mango chutney and cardamom bitters for a savory drink with a refreshing kick. And a tall citrusy Pandan Express tasted great on a humid evening.

 

The contemporary décor feels airy. At the park end of Waikīkī, the location has a history of popularity with locals and tourists. Earlier iterations included Wisp, Diamond Head Grill and Bobby McGee’s restaurant and club from the ’70s until 1993. What will go there at the end of 18 months? That’s TBD too.

 

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m., 2885 Kalākaua Ave., second floor, (808) 791-5164, tbdhawaii.com

 

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