This month is a riot of ribeyes, a sizzling collection of six steakhouses.
Photo by Monte Costa
A brass-and-copper cauldron contains kiawe wood and is surrounded by a glass gazebo—all part of the scene at Hy’s Steak House.
Red meat is back! Go eat steak! Those were my marching orders for March. I doubt that red meat was ever really gone, but it’s true that steakhouses are back, bigger, better and more expensive than ever. In 2006, Wolfgang Puck’s Beverly Hills steakhouse, Cut, won both Esquire Magazine’s “Restaurant of the Year” award and a design award from the American Institute of Architects.
Puck is slated to bring a steakhouse, probably less stunning, to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center—right next to the new Beachwalk Ruth’s Chris, as if Waikiki steakhouses were in short supply.
MOANA SURFRIDER // 2365 KALAKAUA AVE. // 921-4600 // DINNER NIGHTLY 5:30 to 10 P.M. // VALET PARKING (TIP ONLY, MAJOR CREDIT CARDS)
Too many steakhouses made me wonder whether Beachhouse was a good idea. After a deal with New York’s greatest restaurateur, Jean-George Vongerichten, fell through, a group of Mainland consultants convinced the new Moana that Beachhouse, its signature restaurant, ought to focus on steak and seafood. (They got paid for coming up with that clichéd of an idea?)
The problem here: When you tell anyone local the Moana has a new steak-and-seafood eatery, they yawn profusely. It sounds like nothing special—a shame, because it is.
First, the Moana hired chef Rodney Uyehara, of the late, lamented Bistro at Century Center. Although Uyehara has a gift for updating classic Continental dishes (osso buco, steak Diane), he doesn’t get to do that at Beachhouse. Still, his presence means Beachhouse’s million-dollar glassed-in display kitchen is in competent hands.
Second, the dining room is calm, beautiful, comfortable, one of the best in the entire state. So beautiful is the Moana’s turn-of-the-century interior—its columns, high-ceilings, mullioned windows—that the key was to leave it alone.
Photo by Monte Costa
The Beachhouse’s stellar interior design.
Tourists want to sit outside, on the veranda. Ask for an inside table with the small upholstered couches.
Steakhouses always have showy, high-end seafood, both as surf-and-turf and appetizers. We began with a seafood tower—lobster tail, king crab legs, U5 king prawns (in other words, shrimp so big you can’t call them shrimp), oysters, ahi sashimi. Those you might expect anywhere. But also on the icy platter, decorated with ogo and sea asparagus, were sliced baby abalone and some first-rate hamachi.
This was the seafood tower for two. There was plenty for the three of us, so much, in fact, that caution suggested we order only two steaks. Not exactly small steaks: a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye of Pennsylvania Amish-raised Angus beef and a 16-ounce American Wagyu ribeye.
The idea was to compare the two. Angus are the classic American beef cattle, originally bred in Scotland; Wagyu cows made Kobe beef famous, for flavor, tenderness and marbling.
American-raised Wagyu is sometimes called American Kobe or, inaccurately, Kobe beef. However, all American Wagyu cows are crossed with Angus, to help them withstand winter. It’s not the same cow as a Kobe steak, nor raised the same way.
The kitchen, figuring out three people intended to eat two steaks pupu- style, sliced them beautifully. They were evenly medium rare, nicely browned around all the edges, seasoned only with sea salt.
The Angus was reasonably tender, had the rich classic steak flavor, with the full range of amino acids and minerals. It was, without being tough, a little al dente, chewier.
The Wagyu was not as flavorful upfront, but you would encounter pockets of beef so deeply marbled—so soft, so seductive—they made you swoon with pleasure.
This sort of experience seldom comes cheap. The Wagyu steak cost $75 and for that you got … the steak.
People complain about how pricey high-end restaurants like Alan Wong’s and Stage are, but whoa, only a steakhouse can get away with charging you a fortune for the protein and an extra $8 for each of the sides.
You want sides. The grammar of the meal dictates at least a gesture toward vegetables—asparagus in hollandaise, creamed Kula spinach (a little too rough cut for my taste), some sautéed Hamakua mushrooms.
Of course, you also want a starch; perhaps a little iron skillet of sliced potatoes, Gruyère and sliced Maui onion.
The bill for three, with tip, was $350. That included only two entrées, remember, and only two of us were drinking (a cocktail, a glass of white with the sea-food, a glass each of Etude pinot noir with the steaks).
It did include desserts—some chocolatey “spring rolls,” with orange dipping sauce; a crème brûlée flavored with dark rum, which made you wonder why all crème brûlée aren’t flavored with rum; and a mango float made with ginger beer that totally rocked.
ALA MOANA CENTER // 1450 ALA MOANA BLVD. // 949-1300 // DINNER MONDAY THROUGH SATURDAY 5:30 to 11 P.M., SUNDAY UNTIL 10 P.M. // FREE AND VALET PARKING, MAJOR CREDIT CARDS
I’ve never been a big fan of the atmosphere at Morton’s—too dark, too self-consciously masculine and steakhouse-y. I don’t like having to order from the “cart o’ meat” the waiter wheels up to the table. I can read a menu.
I took a friend who feels much the same way. He wondered out loud how anyone could roll around a cart filled not only with raw steaks, but also a live lobster out of water.
That said, we finished the evening agreeing: What Morton’s did, it did fine.
We began with plump, sweet Pacific oysters from Washington State, shucked perfectly so you didn’t have to dig them out of their shells.
The by-the-glass list had a perfect wine for oysters, though we disagreed which it was. My friend opted for the Maso Canali pinot grigio (which, if you have to have pinot grigio, is an quality choice, an esteemed old house). I thought the nice citrusy Kim Crawford Marlborough sauvignon blanc worked much better.
I was trying to eat the same thing each time, a bone-in ribeye, of which Morton’s had a massive 20-ounce version of Midwestern Prime—done up Chicago-style, which meant the outside edge was thoroughly charred and delicious, even the rim of fat on the meat.
My friend, who had the Porterhouse, said something interesting: “There’s no hiding in this steak, no butter, no seasoning, just salt. This is a steak with nerve.”
We drank a meritage from Duck-horn’s second label, Decoy, $20 a glass and worth it. It ought to be required to drink a fine Bordeaux blend with red meat of this quality.
You couldn’t sell us dessert. Instead, we had a final cocktail from the first-rate bar: a muddled bourbon old-fashioned for me, a lemon drop made with limoncello and thyme for my friend. “Ahh,” he said, as he tasted it.
The bill for two, including tip, was $308.
RESTAURANT ROW // 500 ALA MOANA BLVD. //599-3860 // DINNER NIGHTLY 5 P.M. TO 10 P.M. // VALIDATED PARKING, MAJOR CREDIT CARDS
Photo by Monte Costa
Ruth’s Chris steak is seared at 1800 degrees.
We intended to visit the new Ruth’s Chris on Waikiki’s Beachwalk, but realized, just in the nick of time, that a parade was shutting down Kalakaua Avenue, making Waikiki an even worse traffic choice than usual.
We diverted to Restaurant Row. “I haven’t been here in years,” said my wife. I said I was there all the time. “Yes, but with the boys.”
However, I have one of the few wives who can be amused by watching sports on television. She walked in, was caught immediately by a game on the widescreen TV. “Let’s watch the
end,” she said. “Oh, no, it’s tied. If it goes to overtime, I’ll get too hungry.”
The bartender gestured at a stool directly in front of the screen. “You can have anything on the menu right here,” he said. Happiness and overtime prevailed.
We had not planned it, but we’d arrived early enough for the Prime Time Special, which happens not in prime time, but from 5 to 6 p.m. In that hour, you can have a three-course meal—salad, steaks, sides and dessert—for $39.95.
That’s one of the best prix fixe meal deals in Honolulu. The salads, sides and desserts are smaller than normal portions, which only means they are sanely sized. The ribeyes, though not bone-in, are the usual 16-ounce, heavily marbled monsters, topped in the Ruth’s Chris fashion with sizzling butter. Your taste buds, if not your cardiologist, will approve.
A word on portions: Steakhouses practice wretched excess. No one has ever accused me of being a light eater, but I never finished one of the steaks.
“What, steak again?” said my oldest daughter one night, as I came home toting take-out containers. She’s spoiled.
I didn’t find the Ruth’s Chris steak perfect, cooked a tad past medium-rare around the edges, but the salads and creamed spinach were among the best, as was the bread pudding in whiskey sauce for dessert.
The game over, my wife turned her attention to the menu. She took home her bread pudding, and ordered instead a banana tart, a huge round of chocolate banana custard topped with caramelized bananas. That ran up the tab to $100, but it seemed to make her happy indeed.
WAIKIKI PARK HEIGHTS HOTEL // 2440 KUHIO AVE. // 922-5555 // DINNER MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY 6 to 10 P.M., SATURDAY AND SUNDAY 5:30 TO 10 P.M. // VALET PARKING (TIP ONLY), MAJOR CREDIT CARDS
Did time stop? I walked into Hy’s for the first time in a couple of decades, and it was exactly the same, the ornate carved wood, the old-style library, the dead-on competent bartender and, finally, our waiter, Ernie Juliusburger, who’d been there 30 years. There’s something relaxing about dealing with a dignified, veteran, totally professional waiter.
The seafood appetizer cost only $3 less than the one at Beachhouse, but it was smaller, lacking things like abalone and hamachi, the lobster and shrimp a little less vivid, the best thing a solid portion of ahi sashimi. The presentation, however, was perfect, glass fish plates for each of us, with a lemon wedge tied up in cheesecloth.
The steaks were good, though perhaps not quite up to the standard I’d been eating. There’s no bone-in ribeye, so I ordered the Delmonico steak, which seemed a slightly thicker version of the same cut.
Quick vocabulary note: Delmonico’s, founded in New York in 1827, was the first real restaurant in America. It’s somehow remained a byword for upscale quality. There was, in fact, a Delmonico steak at the original Delmonico’s, but no one can figure out just what cut of beef it was. Probably not a ribeye, though, since ribeye only became the premier steak cut when modern cattle-raising brought about its luxurious marbling.
Most steakhouse steaks are done these days in superhot gas broilers, 1,200 degrees or more. Hy’s are kiawe-grilled, which gave my ribeye a lovely charbroiled crunch to all the edges.
I was with two gentlemen, both of whom, against my sage advice, ordered their steaks adulterated, one a filet slathered in garlic-wine sauce, the other a steak Hy’s calls “The Only,” a New York strip with what the menu calls “unique steakhouse sauce,” which tasted strongly of Worchestershire, to my palate.
Hy’s doesn’t soak you for sides, giving you vegetables and that wonderful steakhouse staple: a baked potato with butter, sour cream, chives and bacon bits.
Then we got to dessert, Ernie doing his thing with cherries jubilee, melting the sugar and butter, adding the cherries, letting the lit brandy spin its fiery way down a spiral orange peel.
My father, who loved restaurants, used to say, “Restaurants flame desserts because it sells desserts.” No sooner did we order one than Ernie was making cherries jubilee all round the room. You can’t resist.
The check was, by steakhouse standards, a reasonable $267, with a round of cocktails and a glass of wine apiece. But we had such a good time, I learned something: There is more to a steak dinner than a steak.
WAIKIKI BEACH MARRIOTT // 2552 KALAKAUA AVE. // 931-6280 // DINNER NIGHTLY 5:30 TO 10 P.M. // $12 VALET PARKING, $6 SELF-PARKING, MAJOR CREDIT CARDS
The Waikiki Beach Marriott seems intent on killing its two fine independent, locally owned restaurants, Sansei and d.k.’s Steak House. There’s no signage anywhere, so you have to already know the restaurants are on the third floor. And the hotel has jacked up its parking to $12 with validation, which may be an attempt to kiss off local business altogether.
I’ve eaten at d.k.’s with pleasure in the past. Having eaten at the chains, I made a special attempt to get there. I wish I’d skipped it, because it was a sad experience from the outset: a poorly mixed, weak cocktail, a waitstaff young enough to mount High School Musical, and a tiny portion of sashimi served on a beat-up wooden sushi tray.
The sides were sad. The creamed spinach seemed barely creamed, and the french fries had the perfectly uniform look and nonexistent texture that seemed to scream frozen.
There were two pleasant things: the steaks and the wine.
We ordered two steaks for three of us. I picked up the bone of the dry-aged bone-in ribeye, and greedily stripped it of meat with my teeth. The American Kobe filet had a nice, easy slide across your palate, but to my newly critical view, hardly up to its $79 price tag.
As you might expect from wine director Chuck Furuya, there was a remarkable wine list. We drank flights of reds—Domaine La Garrigue Cotes du Rhone, Trumpeter Malbec from Argentina, Wishing Tree shiraz from Australia—rich, rustic wines that added to each bite of steak. it was also the only reasonably priced wine I’d drunk all month, $11.95 for a two-ounce pour of each.
We liked the wine so well, that’s what we had for dessert. And ended up with bill for $327 with tip, with only two steaks split among three people.
FOUR SEASONS RESORT MAUI // 3900 WAILEA ALANUI, WAILEA// 808-874-8000 // DINNER NIGHTLY 5:30 to 9 P.M. // VALET PARKING (TIP ONLY), MAJOR CREDIT CARDS
You are perhaps unlikely to travel to Maui for a steak, but with interisland airfares still maintaining a relatively low altitude, who knows.
For sheer extravagance—which seems to be a steakhouse staple—I am fond of Duo. An outdoor terrace above the Four Seasons pool, everything is casual here, except the food, wine and prices.
Photo by Monte Costa
Another decadent option at Duo: The filet mignon
There’s a seafood tower that actually towers, an elaborate presentation of oysters, clams, shrimp and a remarkable quantity of lobster tail.
You can get perfectly fine Prime steak here, even an organic Prime, but I can never pass up the opportunity to eat Kobe beef. Not American Wagyu, but the real deal from Tajima-ushi—so prized that it costs $28 an ounce, so tender you hardly need a knife to cut it, so heavily marbled it does not even feel like red meat on the palate. The only way you new it was beef was that it really, really tasted like beef.
The first time I ate at Duo, I had to order a New York strip of Kobe, a minimum of eight ounces. In a world of 16- and 20-ounce ribeyes, eight ounces doesnt sound like much. But, if there’s such a thing as too much heaven, that was it. Especially for $200.
Sanity—or some upscale steakhouse version of it—has prevailed. You can now order a 4-ounce portion, $104. Go ahead, you only live once. Order an expensive Burgundy to go with it.
Of course, side dishes are extra. While you are indulging yourself, get an order of the Kula sweet corn, served cut off the cob, because who’d expect you to eat with your fingers here. Don’t miss the truffled cheese “Spuddies,” which are sort of upscale Tater Tots.
At least, there’s no need to order dessert: A vast billow of cotton candy, sometimes green, sometimes red, arrives at the end of the meal.
John Heckathorn has been writing restaurant reviews for HONOLULU Magazine since 1984. In 2007, he won a bronze medal from the City and Regional Magazine Association for his food writing.