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Fine Dining In Honolulu
The sun is shining, the balmy breezes rustle through the coconut palms lining the beach at Waikiki, the breakers roll in from the Pacific as if in slow motion, carrying their usual complement of surfers who seemingly pit themselves against all laws of gravity and commonsense, and in the distance, Diamond Head looms up from the ocean in its classic, picture-postcard stance. Yet another perfect day in Paradise! And a few hundred meters back from the golden-sand beach, Kalakaua, Waikiki's main street, is as full of wall-to-wall tourists as it is the other 364 days of the year.
They come from every corner of the globe, but most are from Southeast Asia and mainland U.S.A. drawn by Hawaii's justified reputation for great weather, perfect facilities, and the good life. For that's what Hawaii is all about! And most visitors will holiday on the island of Oahu, primarily because this is home to Honolulu International Airport, the arrival point for international flights as well as most of those from the mainland.
Visitors are amazed at the variety of food available. Colonel Sanders, Ronald McDonald, Wendy and Jack in the Box rub shoulders with Sushi Bars, Korean Barbecues, Cantonese Yum Cha restaurants and eateries of every background and description. Most of these cater to the budget traveler on a package holiday and serve 'fast food' that is adequate, if not outstanding.
But discerning travelers to Hawaii are also royally catered-for, as long as they know where to look for outstanding restaurants.
LA MER AT THE HALEKULANI HOTEL
Arguably one of the very best of these in Honolulu is 'La Mer', rated as Number One by the team of Gault and Millau, the French super gurus of cuisine whose judgment can make or break a restaurant overnight. Their rating is not surprising - the restaurant is part of the Halekulani Hotel, winner of the prestigious 'AAA Five Diamonds Award for both Lodgings and Excellence in Dining'.
The cuisine at this atmospheric restaurant is unmistakably French - Riviera Style, not surprising when you know that the chef, Yves Garnier, prepared the cuisine for the world's rich and famous in Monaco. Here, at La Mer, he delighted us with dishes like Spiny Lobster 'Tristan' Au Gratin on a Bed of Mushrooms and Glazed Angel Hair Pasta with Bercy Sauce. He adds a touch of Asia to others like Crispy Moano on Tomato Confit and a Tart of Anchovies and Shallots.
Unfortunately we had no room for desserts, but the ones listed on the menu looked superb and included Peach Melba 'La Mer' Style and Pear and Raspberry 'Clafoutis' with Bird of Paradise Tuile.
ORCHIDS AT THE HALEKULANI HOTEL
If you want a top seafood meal, no need to leave the Halekulani. Just try Orchids Restaurant - open air, less formal, and with a superb range of seafood dishes. Here Chef Marharibatcha will tickle your taste buds with appetizers like Pacific Crab Salad and fresh Mango, Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes or Nuoc-Man Spring Rolls that are wrapped in crispy fried rice paper and served with Nuoc-Man dipping sauce. The menu is multi-faceted and ranges from Paella Barcelona, the classic Spanish rice pilaff, to Speared and Seared Australian Lemongrass Prawns, Broiled Atlantic Salmon Steak, or our Hawaiian favorite, Sautéed Mahimahi served with Yellow Tomatoes and a salsa of Shrimp and Basil. Though this is a seafood restaurant, carnivores won't be disappointed with choices like Filet Minion, Roasted Colorado Lamb Chops or Peking Spiced Duckling.
George Mavrothalassitis, known as Mavro to his friends, has impeccable credentials. Born and growing up in Marseilles, France, he attended culinary school in that city and was then apprenticed at a trio of 3-Michelin Star establishments, restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, Restaurant L'Archestrate in Paris and Restaurant Mavro in Marseille. Subsequently he relocated to the United States to become Executive Chef at the Chateau Pyrenees in Denver and then moved to Hawaii and the Halekulani.
As a signature dish Mavro has selected Kumu - Hawaiian Goatfish - which he prepares en papillote (in the envelope) and which, when opened at the table reveals the strong Asian/Hawaiian influence. As well as being sprinkled with the traditional basil, Mavro prepares this dish with sliced shiitake mushrooms and fresh ogo, the seaweed that is so beloved by the Japanese for its hint of iodine and minerals that it brings to the dishes that it flavors.
Another favorite of Chef Mavro is Hawaiian Onaga Red Snapper baked in a rosemary-salt crust and served with a sauce of fine herbs and, once again, ogo.
CRUISE (FINE DINING DINNER CRUISE)
If you've been put off by dinner cruises that combine hoopla, noise and heavy doses of reasonable floor shows with dreadful food, the Star of Honolulu Dinner Cruise will open up a whole new concept of excellence in food and entertainment. Sure, the hoopla is still there, but it combines with a fabulous 7-course French-style dinner, and the options of dancing to live jazz favorites while Honolulu's lights sparkle in the distance or watching one of the island's better Hula-laden revues. We preferred to skip the floorshow and concentrate on the gourmet dinner conjured up by chef Eric Omick. A typical menu may consist of a Selection of Summer Canapés, Chilled Kamuela Tomato Soup, Seared Diver Scallop and Golden Caviar Salad or Roasted Live Maine Lobster. For dessert try Big Island Orange and Ruby Red Plum Cake, then dance the night away to work off the calories.
MORTON'S THE STEAKHOUSE
Whenever I'm in USA I cannot resist a touch of gluttony at one of my two favorite steakhouse chains - Lawry's and Morton's. They combine the finest beef imaginable, cooked to perfection, with outstanding (if sometimes a little overwhelming) service and décor to match. If one of the world's finest steaks is something that you crave for also, then Morton's The Steakhouse Honolulu will send your taste buds into ecstasy. Arrive with an empty stomach and a full wallet. This will be a meal to remember!
We head for their Jumbo Lump Crabmeat Cocktail with Mustard Mayonnaise Sauce, their Morton's Salad, their Filet Diane with Sautéed Mushrooms in Demi Glace Mustard Sauce and always order mashed potatoes and creamed spinach on the side. Delicious !
No trip to San Francisco or Los Angeles is complete for me without having lunch at Neiman Marcus there. And now that Neiman Marcus has the Mariposa Restaurant operating at the Ala Moana Center, this is a place I also would not miss. The food is delicious, the dishes light and classically Hawaiian, and the prices amazingly reasonable for what you get. If you are not ravenous, try their Caesar Salad with grilled Shrimp, Chicken, or blackened Ahi. Perhaps Sautéed Opakapaka with Seasoned Vegetables, Yukon Gold Potatoes and Lively three-pepper Vinaigrette will catch your fancy.
If you want something more serious, executive chef Douglas Lum offers a Pan-roasted Veal Chop with black truffle butter, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, haricots vert and white wine bordelaise. This is one of our favorites here. If you have room you might finish with, Warm Lilikoi Pudding Cake with tropical fruit and whipped cream. We hear that the moment you cut into this, it loses all its calories!
HOKU'S (THE KAHALA HOTEL & RESORT'S
Hoku's is located in a hotel that is a Honolulu icon. Trained dolphins and tropical fish swim in its pools, the rooms and service are exquisite, and the hotel is located in the most up market section of the Honolulu waterfront. So it's no wonder that Hoku's is a favorite watering hole for Hawaii's Rich and Famous. The cuisine, prepared here by chef Wayne Hirabayashi is, as in many Hawaiian restaurants, rich with cross-cultural tastes that reflect the flavors of the Pacific. The signature dish is a tower of seafood served with seven dipping sauces - ask for it, as it is not on the standard menu. The regular menu offers delicacies like Symphony of Ahi, Lobster, Sweet Kahuku Corn Chowder with Fresh Island Seaweed and Parsley and Mahi-mahi baked in Pandan Leaf. The restaurant also has a tasting menu which we found particularly interesting, and a wine list that brings you vintages from all over the world.
If you want to get out of Honolulu and still enjoy a splendid taste-experience, you will find this at Azul, the signature restaurant for the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort and Spa. Try and get here in time to watch the sunset from the elegant, yet laid-back dining room where chef Randal Ishizu again combines the best tastes of Asia, Europe and America. A la Carte dishes like Mango Crabcake, Roasted Lobster and Ahi Tournedos are excellent, but don't pass the 'Chef's Prix Fixe Menu' lightly. For that you might get Azul Antipasti followed by Grilled Beef Tenderloin and Jumbo Tiger Prawns and Scallops Brochette with Truffle Demi Glace and Crispy Risotto and a choice of the chef's special desserts.
RESTAURANT & SUSHI BAR
How could you visit Honolulu without trying Japanese-style seafood and sushi prepared in the best Hawaiian tradition? If you like this food style and want the very best, the Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar is an ideal venue. The dishes are bold, tasty, and beautifully presented, with a Hawaiian overlay to the Japanese simplicity. Flavors are stronger, and additional ingredients have been added to the rather uncomplicated Japanese versions which makes them more multi-flavored in many cases. Try their signature dishes - Asian Rock Shrimp Cake, Panko-Crusted Ahi Sashimi and Macadamia Nut-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Miso Demi-Glaze, and you will see why locals rave about this interesting restaurant.
Honolulu offers visitors a wonderful holiday, and if you try these restaurants you will have a range of delicious culinary experiences that will add to the happy memories of your visit.
La Mer & Orchids
Halekulani Hotel, 2199 Kalina Rd. (Lewers St) Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Tel: + 1 808 923 2311.
1969 S.King St (McCully St.), Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Tel: + 1 808 944 4714.
Star of Honolulu, Paradise Cruise
Departs from Aloha Tower Marketplace, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Tel: + 1 808 983 7827.
Morton's The Steakhouse Honolulu
1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Tel: + 1 808 949 1300.
Neiman Marcus, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., 3rd floor, Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA.
Tel: + 1 808 951 3420.
The Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave, Honolulu Oahu, Hawaii, USA
Tel: + 1 808 739 8779
JW Marriott Ihlani Resort and Spa, Ko Olinda Resort, 92-1001 Olani St, Kapolei, Hawaii, USA (25 minutes from Honolulu International Airport)
Tel: + 1 808 679 0079
SEAFOOD RESTAURANT & SUSHI BAR
Restaurant Row at Waterfront Plaza, 500 Ala Moana Boulevard - Unit 6-D1, Honolulu, Hawaii, USA.
Tel: + 1 808 536 6286.
Walter & Cherie Glaser are an international travel-writing team based down under in Melbourne, Australia.