Keeping New Year’s Simple

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 28, 2005
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New Year’s always a tough celebration for me. It took me years to realize that one of the reasons I dreaded it so much was that my expectation levels were so incredibly high.

At my house, everything had to be perfect before midnight struck, so I’d spend the day cleaning like a crazy woman and then spend hours in the kitchen making all kind of fancy little hors d’oeurves to go with the dozens of bottles of champagne — that had to be served in the right glasses.

Getting older has a lot going for it. And in Scotland, part of the tradition of New Year (we call it hogmanay) is to have a tall, dark, handsome man come into your house on the stroke of midnight to bring good luck. How difficult do you think that was to organize every year?

Now I realize that I’m not bringing bad luck into my house if everything isn’t absolutely perfect on the stroke of midnight, and I’ve ceased to have such ridiculous expectations of myself.

Restaurants, I think, suffer the same anxiety on New Year’s Eve. It’s the most expensive night of the year in terms of what they can charge for dinner. Throw in a few party hats and streamers and you can add $50 to the price of a somewhat ordinary dinner. But they need to perform and provide their guests with something more “memorable” than just an ordinary evening out. And, a bit like Valentine’s Day, there are a lot of people out and about (and drinking too much) who don’t usually celebrate. So picking the perfect place to spend the last few hours of the old year can be tricky — and expensive.

You could listen to the Honolulu Symphony at La Mer for a mere $365 per person, or rent a room, with catering, at one of the hotels in Waikiki with a view of the fireworks — that should set you back about $1,000 or so.

But if a great view is what you want, then I’m not sure there’s anywhere better than Aaron’s or Sarento’s. Both restaurants understand the meaning of good service, both have excellent menus, offer panoramic views of the city, and both have an outstanding wine list, chosen for the most part by Scott Osterhout. I’d say for party atmosphere, reliably good food and a memorable night, either of these two restaurants are high on my list. The New Year that I decided I was over my manic cleaning phase for good was one of the most memorable — and simple — I ever spent.

We made no plans, stayed home for a while and then, around 11 p.m., headed down to Side Street with the intention of enjoying a glass of wine and some late-night pupu. It’s been a favorite haunt of mine for so long, I couldn’t think of anywhere I’d rather be. When we got there everyone was outside waiting to let off thousands of firecrackers, so we stood and watched and enjoyed the tradition. Just as we were heading back into the bar for a drink to toast the new year (and to celebrate the fact I hadn’t spent the whole day with a bottle of bleach in one hand and a mop in the other), Side Street’s owner Colin Nishida handed me a broom. “It’s a tradition here that we all help clean up the street before we go back inside,” he said with a smile. “Get sweeping.”

Turns out the tradition of cleaning house before the new year is inescapable and international. Happy eating and happy New Year!

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