The Weekend For Chinese Food

Jo McGarry
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Friday - January 27, 2006
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With Chinese New Year celebrations happening this weekend, it’s hard to avoid the plethora of multi-course menus for large groups. Chinese dining is definitely best suited to family-style eating, and this weekend you can fill the lazy Susans with some fairly unusual dishes, including shark’s fin, coconut roasted crab, lobster tail stir-fried with curry sauce, shredded duck with jellyfish, and Taiwan tea duck, to name but a few menu items I’ve seen (and eaten) these past few days.

Honolulu has several really excellent Chinese restaurants - and as long as you don’t mind a complete lack of atmosphere, poor lighting and so-so service, you’re in for a fun weekend of eating. I don’t really get why Chinese restaurants favor clinical ambience over more subtle lighting and décor. If an Italian restaurant welcomed you with wide-open spaces, large tables with just a bottle of shoyu and some mustard as decoration and fluorescent lighting, you’d be much less inclined to go there. But it seems when it comes to Chinese food we don’t mind sitting with bright lights on listening to elevator music. I dined once in a Chinese restaurant where Bing Crosby’s greatest Christmas hits were being played. When I pointed out to the waiter that we were listening to I’m Dreaming of A White Christmas in July and the temperature outside was a certain 75 degrees, he just smiled and nodded amiably.

But if atmosphere is as important to you as good food, then there are a couple of restaurants you might want to hit this weekend to be sure of both excellent cuisine and lighting more suited to a romantic date.

Hong Kong Harbor View at Aloha Tower Marketplace during daylight is absolutely beautiful. With glass windows that allow a fabulous view of Honolulu Harbor, the sunlight that floods the room during the day makes it a wonderfully bright place to be. Sit and enjoy dim sum watching cruise ships come and go and sample some of Chef Chih Chieh Chang’s excellent fare. At night, the restaurant does suffer a little from the bright light syndrome, but the nighttime harbor scene offers a different view from most Chinese restaurants. If you’re there when the Star Of Honolulu docks, it’s interesting to watch three decks of people partying as they come into the harbor.

Golden Dragon has an exceptional atmosphere with its view overlooking the lagoon at Hilton Hawaiian Village and its charming Chinese gardens - but with entrees that can cost upward of $30, you’d expect a little ambience with your meal!

Probably the best example of the worst ambience is Fook Yuen at McCully Shopping Center. They serve some extremely good food and have a lobster deal that’s better than anyone else in town. Chai Chaowasaree, owner of Chai’s Island Bistro and a man with great taste, tells me it’s his favorite place to go when he’s finished work (Fook Yuen stays open until about 2 a.m.), and there’s no doubt that it has some cooks who know their way around a wok - but oh, the décor! The bright lights highlight bits on the walls that need a fresh coat of paint and parts of the floor that could do with a bit of a clean. I’ve always found the service a bit surly, too, but that could be because the waiters are still serving plates of lobster and house noodles at 1 in the morning when they’d rather be home.

And if you really want to find some good food with absolutely no atmosphere whatsoever, head over to Chinatown this weekend, where you’ll find color in the streets, lion dancers on parade and a host of restaurants with chipped paint and greasy walls all serving great Chinese food!

Hey, we live in paradise; you can’t expect everything to be perfect!

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