Making A Return To The Stage

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 24, 2008
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For the most part, successful restaurateurs listen to their customers, and even those that open to lukewarm reviews can change direction by being open to change.

Brasserie Du Vin is a great example. When Dave Stewart first opened his downtown French-inspired bar and restaurant, prices were high. Wines by the glass cost upward of $12, and a casual drink at the bar with a plate of cheese left you with a hefty check. But Stewart listened to criticism, dropped prices, increased portion sizes and last month Du Vin was voted one of the nation’s top 10 bars by Bon Appetit magazine. Today, wines by the glass start at $6, and business is booming.

When Stage Restaurant at the Honolulu Design Center opened its highly decorated doors, it was met with the same hushed, yet shocked reaction. “Sooo expensive,” everyone said. Added to the expense was a fairly arrogant chef who announced that he would “finally” bring good food to Honolulu. I was so unimpressed I shelved a story and waited for the pretensions to die down.

They have. I went to Stage last week for lunch and can report that the restaurant has undergone a turnaround that ought to have foodies returning in droves.

The food is very good, and even the atmosphere seems more casual and relaxed. “The first thing I wanted to do was to lower the prices and get the word out that the food is not expensive anymore,” says chef Ron de Guzman. He’s been in the kitchen since day one, so he’s seen the result of charging people too much for not enough.

At Stage you now can get an excellent three-course lunch for $25. I had the Spinach Caesar, which is topped with the best croutons I’ve tasted in Hawaii. I was tempted to ask for a bowl of them on the side. The Misoyaki Catch of the Day comes with green tea soba noodles, kaiware sprouts, carrots and shiitake mushrooms. I had mine with grilled salmon and enjoyed it all. I also had the Mushroom Pasta: a huge portion of farfalle pasta and three types of mushrooms in a white wine sauce with Parmesan cheese and just enough white truffle essence to finish the dish perfectly.

At lunch, entrees start at $15, and at dinner there’s a similar menu of salads, fresh fish, pasta and steaks - American food with an Asian/local twist. The entrees at dinner are still priced on the high side, and the kitchen probably needs to create an entre or two between $15 and $25 to bring people back en masse, but there’s no doubting the quality of ingredients and sincerity of the culinary team.

And the furniture? Well, the truth is, whether you like how it looks or not, expensive furniture is extremely well-made and sitting down at Stage is an exceedingly comfortable experience. Plus the dining room looks so much better when you’re actually part of it and not just peering in through the window (come on, admit it, you’ve done that).

I’m recommending the seating - and the restaurant - especially if you’re looking for somewhere to hold a holiday party or get together with a group of food-ie friends.

Charly Yoshida is the general manager, and Scott Armstrong is in charge of food and beverage. They each have a ton of experience in their field. With a humble chef in the kitchen and local ingredients on the plate, the Stage just might be set for an encore.

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