Save Room for Dessert!
No matter what you have for dinner, you’ll want to try these 13 places for dessert.
Desserts can excite or they can soothe. Most sweets in Honolulu tend toward the latter; as with breakfast foods, cooks and diners alike seem to take less risks when it comes to the last course and prefer the familiar, the comforting. Indeed, sometimes there’s no better finish to a meal than a perfect crème brûlée, an oozing, molten chocolate cake, a panna cotta that melts on the tongue. Still, a few pastry chefs around town don’t leave the tinkering to the savory plates. Here, we showcase desserts from the homespun to unexpected, and all sublime.
Shakes, cupcakes, brownies, chocolate- chip cookies—the options at Otto Cake have expanded to include all our favorite, familiar comfort sweets and then some (hello, cheesecake sandwiches). But call us purists or old-fashioned, the Amazing Plain cheesecake ($5 a slice) is still The One. It’s dense, smooth and creamy simplicity poured into a graham-cracker crust. 1160 Smith St., 834-6886, ottocake.com, Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
You wouldn’t go wrong with some of the richer options on BLT Steak’s dessert menu (all desserts $10 each), like the sticky pudding cake with pecan ice cream. But for a lighter finish to a steak dinner, try the crêpe soufflé. It’s everything that’s best about crêpes and soufflés rolled into one, literally. The caramelized crêpe has the crack and crispness of a crème brûlée sugar crust while encasing a pillowy soufflé. A passionfruit sauce brightens the whole plate. 223 Saratoga Road, 683-7440, bltsteak.com, Sunday through Thursday, 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 5:30 to 11 p.m.
For the ultimate dessert fantasy—and a sugar rush that will keep you up all night—ask Nobu’s pastry chef Rachel Murai for a dessert omakase, a down-the-rabbit-hole experience of flavors and textures. If the wallet and palate can handle only one dessert, you’ll have to make a decision between the liliko‘i mascarpone with almond olive oil crumble and honey caviar ($11), or affogato, a pistachio gelato doused in espresso, accompanied by praline cremoso (a silky pudding) and almond and matcha financier crisps ($8, available in the lounge only). 2233 Helumoa Road, 237-6999, noburestaurants.com. Open nightly; the lounge is open from 5 to 10 p.m. and the dining area is open from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
It seems a bit silly to rave about what amounts to bread, honey and vanilla ice cream, but the honey toast ($7.45) at Shokudo is a testament to the sum being greater than its parts. The sheer size of the dessert is pretty impressive, too: about a third of a loaf of Japanese white bread makes up this toast tower. The bread is griddled with butter, cubed and reassembled within the crust, and drizzled with honey that seizes to a taffylike consistency on top of the cold ice cream. This isn’t a dessert to be picked at leisurely; rather, it’s a race to the finish so that the ice cream doesn’t melt all over the hot bread and your dining partner doesn’t get more than his share. 1585 Kapiolani Blvd., 941-3701, shokudojapanese.com, Sunday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Where Shokudo’s honey toast is spare, Max’s of Manila’s halo halo ($5.50) is not. If you ordered every topping on a shave- ice menu, you’d be about halfway to this Filipino icy dessert. Gelatin cubes of every color (and maybe flavor, too, it’s hard to tell) line the bottom of a sundae bowl, filled with shave ice soaked in evaporated milk, and then topped with custard, purple-yam ice cream, sweetened red beans and cornflakes. Yes, cornflakes, which make this crazy, color-saturated bowl reminiscent of a breakfast cereal of childhood dreams. 801 Dillingham Blvd. and 94-300 Farrington Highway, Waipahu, 951-6297, maxschicken.com, Waipahu location: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Dillingham location: daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Desserts at Stage are often riffs on the familiar with accompaniments that seem conjured up from a game of free association, and yet, they all come together. An evening here is dining as theater, and dessert is the showy finale. Take the chocolate cake ($9) with a supporting cast of brown-butter-popcorn ice cream, caramelized bananas and Nutella powder that melts to a creamy consistency in the mouth, all of which elevate what could have been a one-note (albeit very satisfyingly rich) chocolate dessert. The Asian sundae ($9) takes ice cream out of its bowl, flavors it with green tea and molds it into columns dressed with coconut tapioca, kinako walnut caramel and a mixed-berry-yuzu compote. Be forewarned, however, that dessert portions at Stage are generous; the phrase “save room for dessert” is practically a warning here, rather than a mere suggestion. 1250 Kapiolani Blvd., 237-5429, stagerestauranthawaii.com, Monday through Saturday, 6 to 8 p.m.
Pastry chefs in Hawaii know the importance of textures—the irresistibility of crunchy and creamy in a single bite. Diamond Head Market’s lemon crunch cake showcases this euphoric juxtaposition. It’s a soft, white cake layered with custard, lemon cream and whipped cream and topped with toffee bits—addiction in its sweetest form. 3158 Monsarrat Ave., 732-0077, diamondheadmarket.com, daily 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
By the time you’re ready for dessert at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Kaua‘i Grill, most likely the sun will have set, and you’ll be able to focus on the final course, as lovely as Hanalei Bay beyond the restaurant windows. In particular, there’s the yuzu Pavlova ($10), a tart and citrus-y yuzu sorbet circled by a white chocolate mousse and garnished with shards of crisp meringue. Thai basil syrup is the final verdant, fresh touch. St. Regis Princeville, Kaua‘i, (808) 826-0600, stregisprinceville.com. Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.
In the world of shave ice, there’s more than just colored, flavored syrups. At City Café, which serves up Taiwanese-style shave ice, the syrup flavor (traditionally, a simple brown-sugar syrup) is merely a backdrop for the toppings. They include “pudding” (more like a flan); oatmeal; ai yu (a jelly made from a variety of fig) and grass jelly (smooth and refreshing, with herbal notes); sweetened taro and peanut, both cooked down to an almost creamy consistency; mung bean (like a vegetal azuki bean); in addition to the more familiar azuki beans, tapioca pearls and mochi balls. Oh, and the shave ice itself? A soft, fine snow. At $3.34 for a generous bowl with three toppings, it’s a sweet deal, too. 1518-F Makaloa St., 398-7598, Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m. 6 p.m.
Fendu Boulangerie offers sweets that can be eaten for breakfast (though who said chocolate cake and ice cream don’t make a good start to the day?). Of note is the lychee Danish ($2), lychee set like precious gems into almond paste and flaky, buttery pastry. Caramelized apple tea cakes and pear tea cakes ($3.75 each) are like mini pound cakes, dense and rich with the taste of fruit and spices. Tip: Let the cakes come to room temperature for maximum flavor and softness. 2752 Woodlawn Drive, 988-4310, Tuesday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dessert at Mariposa can be a whimsical affair. Take the butterfly tuile sprinkled with toasted coconut alight the liliko‘i pudding cake ($7.50). The texture is somewhere between pudding and soufflé and the ramekin in which it arrives is crammed full with fresh pineapple, mango and kiwi. There are also the mini cones (four for $5), which at the moment come with tiny scoops of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, dusted with chocolate sprinkles. They’re plain, but good, adorable and fun, which is sometimes all we need a dessert to be. Ala Moana Center, 951-3420, daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The general complaint or praise—depending on which side of the fork you’re on—of Japanese-style French desserts is that they’re lighter and less sweet than their American counterparts. The opera cake ($3.80) at Patisserie La Palme D’Or straddles the plate nicely, delivering deep flavors through rich coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache while chocolate sponge cake and a thin wafer of chocolate lighten the slice. Ala Moana Center, 941-6161, Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
There are few desserts as lovely as a perfect apple tarte tatin. Le Bistro’s is one of these—thin, caramelized apple slices fanned over a round of flaky puff pastry. Vanilla ice cream caps off this signature French dessert. 5730 Kalanianaole Hwy., Niu Valley Shopping Center, 373-7990. Open daily except Tuesdays, 5 to 9 p.m.
Martha Cheng wrote about Honolulu’s next wave of chefs in our June issue, "The Boys are Back in Town."