Fine But Casual Dining At The Chart House
Wednesday - July 15, 2009
Editor’s note: Jo McGarry is on vacation.
This story is written by Don Chapman.
Not to get all pop-psychologist on you, but the best restaurants are really an expression of the way their owners see the world.
In the case of the legendary Chart House in Waikiki, it’s a fun and festive world indeed. Founded by Joey Cabell, the former world-champion surfer (and avid snowboarder and sailor), the Chart House exudes a casual charm in a great setting that looks out across Ala WaiYacht Harbor and, in the late afternoon, golden sunsets.
“This is a fun place to be,” says longtime general manager Scott Okamoto. “From the moment you arrive, we want this to be a fun place. Yes, the Chart House is a fine-dining restaurant, but the atmosphere is more casual. Joey’s philosophy is ‘hang loose.’”
The fun includes a hopping lounge scene where there’s live music seven nights a week.
It’s a combination that obviously works. Celebrating its 41st anniversary this year, the Chart House is the oldest singly owned restaurant in Hawaii. While Cabell sold the rest of the Chart House chain (seven at one time), he’s maintained the Waikiki location.
But there’s nothing “hang loose” about the service and the food, as we were reminded on a recent evening. Our waiter Alan Adachi is in his 37th year at the Chart House and is one of the best servers you’ll ever meet.
We began with a slice of warm, chewy Chart House Bread, made with honey and molasses.
From the appetizer menu, we chose Kimi’s Openface Firecracker Unroll ($12.50), a deconstructed ahi tuna sushi roll - ahi poke and nori strips on a bed of rice topped with a spicy cream sauce. The flavors are all familiar, but the appearance is dazzlingly new.
We also sampled Oysters Rockefeller ($14.95) - luscious oysters cooked to perfection in the shell and topped with a Hollandaise sauce unique to the Chart House (a tarragon reduction sauce is the secret ingredient). “People who always order Oysters Rockefeller when they go out tell us that ours are the best,” says Okamoto. The Dungeness Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms ($12.95) were also memorable.
These we washed down with a well-balanced glass of Domaine Napa Chardonnay ($8.75).
Clearly, you can have a great meal here without getting past the appetizer menu.
But not on this evening, with the sun setting beyond the tall masts of sailboats and beyond them the palm trees of Magic Island.
Having had the “onos” for prime rib for some time, I had to go with what Okamoto calls “one of our flagship” items on the menu. The Chart House works directly with Harris Ranch in California for its beef, raised without hormones and fed corn grown without pesticides. A 7-ounce prime rib costs $29.95, 12-ounce $38.95, and 16-ounce $47.50, and they’re all tender, tasty and juicy - everything a prime rib should be. Craving satisfied.
A glass of Peachy Canyon Zinfandel from Paso Robles ($7) made for a nice pairing.
The Chart House is known for its fresh fish, so we also tried Opakapaka (also known as pink snapper, $41.50). It comes in a variety of preparations, and we went with Chinese-style Steamed, with ginger, cilantro and a soy-sesame sauce - a moist and tasty reminder of why opakapaka is my favorite Hawaii fish.
Entrees, by the way, come with a choice of Caesar salad or chowder, and of garlic mashed potatoes, rice, rice pilaf or fries.
And you can “create your own combo” with menu items that include grilled jumbo shrimp, baked stuffed shrimp, king crab and stuffed ahi (prices vary).
With stars beginning to pop into the orange-tinged charcoal sky, we brought the meal to a decadent finale with Chocolate Lava Cake ($10.95). It’s a Heath Barencrusted chocolate cake with a melted chocolate core, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Vodka would seem the least likely of aperitif pairings with such a rich dessert, but GM Okamoto brought us a shot of Van Gogh vodka, a clear liquid that somehow carries the aroma and soft texture of espresso. When it comes to Van Goghs, we’ll take it over Sunflowers and Potato Eaters any time.
We’ll also take another fun night at the Chart House any time.
The Chart House Waikiki 765 Ala Moana Blvd.
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