Waaay back when, I started making a list of places I wanted to try when I got back "home".....as years went by, there just never seemed to be the opportunity to take a trip...and when, after nearly ten years we got back to Oahu it was on the way to and from China and there were family things as well. In fact, I just plain adding to the list since it had pretty much gotten outta control. Happily, the Missus and I managed to hit a couple of places on our last trip...here's a round-up of lunches.
The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong:
One of my favorite places to eat is the Chef's table at Alan Wong's. I'm not sure how I first heard of Alan Wong's restaurant in Macy's Ala Moana Center, perhaps it was Kathy or perhaps Reid. Either way, the Missus and Her cousins wanted to go to Ala Moana on Black Friday...yikes! I've never been there on Black Friday, I will usually sneak to Ala's the back way run in to grab my omiyagi stuff (Honolulu Cookie Company or whateva's) and get the heck out of the place ASAP. Since it was going to be a major pain, I decided to get something out of it and made reservations for the Pineapple Room. Man, it took us about 45 minutes just to get into the mall! Luckily, I found a free valet parking on Black Friday coupon online...otherwise I'd probably still be circling around looking for parking.....
Surprisingly, the Pineapple Room was just half full when we arrived. Folks were just too busy wrestling each other for deals I guess. Having been to several of those Nordstrom/Macy's/etc restaurants, I found the service here to be top notch, from the timing of the dishes to the knowledge of the servers, it was quite impressive.
On to the food......
The unanimous best dish of the day was the Pan Seared Monchong (Pomfret) on Sea Asparagus with Pesto:
The Missus loved the Sea Asparagus, it was fairly tender, with a ice clean oceany flavor. The monchong was cooked perfectly; it flaked, but was very moist, mild in flavor, the pesto added a nice bit of richness and a savory touch. By the look and flavor (it was light and lacked that strong "green" - pinenut backbone flavor) it seemed more of a coulis.
The Kalua Pig BLT was probably second; mainly because cousin Long Hui absolutely loved her first taste of kalua pork.
The onion roll was nothing special as was the Caesar Salad.
I was really looking forward to the Loco Moco.......
For me, the veal demi glace made this dish, as the fried rice was very "local style" and not very impressive. Loved the eggs which had nice flavor, but that all natural beef patty was tremendously dry and grainy, even though it was cooked medium-well. I've had more than my share of grass fed beef in my time, but this was exceptionally dry, without the flavor I'd been expecting.
Our least favorite dish was the Steamed Chinese-style Onaga:
Personally, I love onaga (long tailed red snapper), the "Fish of Kings". This one was starting to taste "sour", which to me means it's going south, its not spoiled, just not very fresh. It was also overcooked and a bit dry as well. The sweet soy with sesame oil tasted fine, but the fish did in the dish.
Again, the service was excellent and perhaps I expected too much since the place had Alan Wong's name attached to it. But for over a hundred bucks for lunch, I think the dishes could have been better.
The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong
Macy's Ala Moana
1450 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96814
Nico's Pier 38:
This was another place that folks raved about, so the Missus and I headed over on one of the days we had free. I love the location on pier 38...plus it's right next to a fish wholesaler, you can't get much closer to your purveyor than that.
This place is pretty busy for lunch and at it's heart, it is a plate lunch joint...though the offerings seem decidedly more upscale. It also works on the buzzer system...you know, after you pay for your order they give you one of those coaster looking thingamajigs that scares the daylights out of you when it goes off......
The Missus loves the rather recent "brown rice revolution" in Hawaii.....at meny places you can now get brown rice as an option along with mixed greens. I hadn't had Aku Belly ($9.80) in ages so I ordered that, and though I'm not a big fan of brown rice, I ordered it as well to keep the Missus happy.
Loved how the Aku Belly was fried, the texture was perfect, the oils from the belly gave a nice, almost luxurious texture to the belly. The salsa was on the bland side, it had a touch of heat, but not much else. For some reason the tomatoes didn't give the dish as much acid to cut the richness of the belly, which was seriously under-seasoned as well. Some S&P would have gone a long way here. The brown rice seemed like a mix of brown and white here and was too mushy for me.
We also ordered the Ahi Poke Salad ($8.15):
The greens were wonderfully fresh, but I didn't care for the plum dressing which wasn't that great. The Ahi was seared nicely, the fish still raw in the center, but much like the aku belly, there was some serious seasoning shortage here as well.
Prices are great, food was a bit under seasoned and lacking in flavor for us.
Nico's Pier 38
1133 N Nimitz Hwy
Honolulu, HI 96817
We ordered a trio (Furikaki Mahi Mahi, Coconut Shrimp, Seared Ahi) along with our poke:
This was pretty good overall, the ahi and mahi mahi were on the salty side, but the Missus loved both fish. She's not a fan of coconut shrimp so I had those, which were nice and hot, and not fried to death. The brown rice here was super hard, but the Missus wasn't complaining as She scarfed up all of the fish. On this visit, the cooked food was much better than the poke.
94 -050 Farrington Hwy, E4
Waipahu, HI 96797
The Alley Restaurant Bar & Grill:
This was one I really wanted to hit up ever since I read about it on Kat's blog a couple of years ago. Now a bowling alley doesn't seem like a great place for a stellar meal, but Oxtail soup has a long history in bowling alley's though Kapiolani Coffee Shop has moved to Waimalu since Kam Bowl closed down. This little restaurant is actually located in Aie'a Bowl, one of the few bowling alleys still left on Oahu. If you doubt that, you can just check out what's going on from your table.....
The folks waiting on us here were very friendly and efficient. There was so much on the menu that I wanted to try, but I had but one stomach to give for my lunch! The Missus made me a deal, She'd order a combination with the furikake ahi and tasty chicken (I wanted to find out how tasty that chicken was) if I shared my oxtail soup with Her. Of course She knew I really wanted the oxtail soup and that chicken ( remember no chicken and turkey for the Missus).
I gotta say, the brown rice here was made just (the only way) I like it..... Loved the portion control with the rice as it left room to attack the okazu. The Missus was less than pleased with the ahi which was more sesame seeds than furikake, for some reason the Missus is not particularly fond of dishes with too much sesame seeds or sesame oil. The quality of the fish was not quite as good as the other places we had visited as well. As for the chicken....well, I scarfed it without taking a breath. The batter was light, like an airy karaage, even though it was sauced after frying with a nice sweet and very mildly spicy sauce it held texture quite well. I thought the flavor was assertive without being too strong........I really want this again.
My oxtail soup ($13.75) was delivered disguised as the leaning tower of "china". So what was in those bowls? One held rice, another ponzu sauce (which we thought really didn't go with the soup), and one was empty for your eating pleasure. There was the requisite grated ginger and green onions as well.
I really couldn't believe the amount of oxtail in this bowl. The oxtails were also prepared well, they held form and the cooking was timed well as they were tender without being mushy. The soup here is not the "clear style" but like what I make at home "shoyu style".
The broth had good oil and star anise flavor, with peanuts strewn throughout. The Missus would have a couple of bites of Her fish then tell me "switch" and grab my bowl of soup!
The Alley Restaurant Bar & Grill
in Aiea Bowl
99-115 Aiea Heights Dr, Ste 310
Aiea, HI 96701
Man, this has been a long one; thanks so much for reading....let me leave you with a photo of a landmark that I remember from "small kid time".