A Charming Neighborhood Bistro

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 14, 2011
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Le Bistro owner/chef Alan Takasaki. Jo McGarry photo

It was not my intention to write this week’s column about a little restaurant in a strip mall, but after spending last evening at Le Bistro in Aina Haina, I find myself thinking of the perfectly seared duck breast I had for dinner and wishing I could have it again tonight.

Of course, I’ve raved about Le Bistro before. I’ve spoken of its intimate dining room, its tiny, bustling kitchen, gracious wait staff and humble chef, but it’s hard not to gush after every visit.

If you’re a regular guest some people eat there two or three times a week then you need read no more. But if a visit to this charming restaurant has somehow escaped you, perhaps the holidays might be the excuse you need to go.

The menu is small, but almost perfect. Executed by chef/owner Alan Takasaki and created from his experiences working in France at Michelinstarred restaurants such as Le Bernadin and La Truffe Noir, and with master chefs including Joachim Splichal and the late Gilbert Le Coze, it features mussels and escargot, steaks, fish and chops, hot bread, cool wines and a tarte tatin to die for.

Le Bistro has just celebrated 10 years in Niu Valley and is still considered by those who love it dearly to be the best keptsecret in the Islands.

Part of the joy of eating here is the utter humility of Takasaki, who has the enviable talent of being able to make diners feel like they have eaten the meal of their lives, all the while acting as though it’s some kind of fortunate mistake that the flavors came together on your plate.

“We don’t really want to get people’s expectations up,” he told me once, completely unaware that raised expectations are the joy of eating at Le Bistro. “I think this is the kind of food people like. That’s why we keep it this way.”

If someone you love is wondering what to get you as a gift in the coming weeks, ask them to take you to dinner at Le Bistro. With a menu that features simple, unpretentious presentations of dishes such as French onion soup, gloriously buttery escargot, seared duck breast, rib eye, fat, juicy pork chops and fresh island fish, the dishes and their complex flavors linger long after your evening is over.

Thankfully, Honolulu diners are beginning to nurture neighborhood restaurants and realize the important part they play in our community. Downtown there’s Duc’s, and further down Maunakea Street the wonderful, eclectic Bruno’s Forno, which, while small and casual, has all the elements needed to survive this unforgiving restaurant climate. In Kaimuki there’s 12th Avenue Grill, and just a block away 3660 on the Rise both remarkably good examples of restaurants that know themselves.

Simple menus, local ingredients, dishes that stay on the menu for years and chef/owners who work tirelessly (especially in December) to make dining out simply fabulous. Long may they continue to thrive.

If you’re headed to the North Shore this weekend, look for Jeanne Vana and her traveling tomato truck. In an effort to relieve stress during the busy surf season, Vana will be taking orders from cars and delivering her gorgeous handcrafted pesto tomato pizza at the side of the road.

“We’re offering traffic relief, satisfying hunger pangs and beating off the heat with ono pops, pizza and ice cold water for those in their cars making their way to the waves,” she says.

Happy eating!

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