A new elegant, affordable Aiea eatery

Jo McGarry
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Friday - January 26, 2007
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Lily Koi Restaurant and Lounge co-owners Keith Ogata and Julia Wong
Lily Koi Restaurant and Lounge co-owners
Keith Ogata and Julia Wong

Residents of the Aiea area have long bemoaned a lack of fine-dining restaurants.

While there are dozens of decent mom-and-pop places offering great value fare, and a couple of good neighborhood spots opening in outlying Waipio and Kunia, Pearlridge has more than its share of chain restaurants - and few that qualify as “special occasion.”

But all that should be about to change.Above the wonderful, family-run Mexican restaurant El Charro II, and on the site of the old Buffet 100, Lily Koi Restaurant and Lounge opened its doors in December, much to the delight of local foodies.

“We’ve been getting a really great reaction from customers,” says managing partner Dennis Kinoshita, “and everyone seems to like how the restaurant looks - and how the food tastes.”

For some, the look is almost too nice.

“Yeah, we’ve had folks open the door and say, ‘Oh, it looks too fancy,’ says executive chef Keith Ogata.“But they soon realize that it’s not too pricey, and that we’re pretty relaxed. “

Certainly there’s an elegant, lounge-appeal feel to the front half of the large, softly lit room. Soft couches and comfortable seating in the main area connect

the bar to the main dining room, where linen-covered tables are elegantly set.

“We wanted to do something that was a little more upscale, with good food and reasonable pricing,” says Kinoshita.

Ogata returned to Hawaii (he’s a Castle High School and KCC grad) via Las Vegas, where he spent the last few years working with superstar chef Joachim Splichal, and the menu he’s devised at Lily Koi includes a couple of dishes that seem set to become local favorites.

“People love the short ribs,” says Ogata modestly, “and they seem

to really like the braised pork belly, and the rib eye too.”

I had an excellent grilled vegetable foccacia sandwich with house-made pesto when I stopped for lunch the other week, which I would highly recommend - especially to vegetarians looking for something they can really sink their teeth into. And I was also impressed with a generous serving of pan-seared scallops with a golden, crunchy truffle potato croquette that was perfectly light and fluffy inside.

Other menu items at Lily Koi include Salt and Pepper Pork Loin with Fried Udon Noodles ($17.95), Grilled Teriyaki Beef and Watercress Salad ($9.95), and Mushrooms Stuffed with Lump Crab ($8.95).

Part of the attraction at Lily Koi is that there’s a very elegant bar, a long list of drink specials and some fabulous pupu - as well as live entertainment and some great cocktails. Bar manager Jay Buchanan has created some truly gorgeous drinks, and happy hour prices are proving to be a huge hit with local residents.

“We want people to be able to relax and either come for dinner with their family or come later in the evening to enjoy cocktails with their friends,” says Kinoshita.

However you choose to try Lily Koi - for lunch dinner or for cocktails - you should find lots to like and a very warm welcome.

“We have a family-style atmosphere here that’s just a little nicer than normal,” says the chef. Lily Koi Restaurant and Lounge.

98-150 Kaonohi St., Aiea 486-8488

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