The Best Deals On Meals

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - August 23, 2006
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A caller to my radio show on Saturday morning made a good point. She wanted to know about fixed price dinners at restaurants, because, “I hate getting to a restaurant where I think I’m going to spend $50 on dinner, and I find out that by the time I’ve added on a pupu, a side dish, a glass of wine or two and dessert, my check is more like $100.”

She’s right, of course. Dining out is almost never as inexpensive as it first seems, and unless you’re going to a mom-and-pop place for a plate lunch or for fast food - the extras all add up.

That’s why I’m a great fan of happy hours, early bird dining and set price meals. There are fortunately enough of them around to ensure fine dining for all - if you get the timing right.

Restaurants use happy hours and sunset dinners (where you order before the sun goes down) as a way of getting customers to fill the fairly slow hours of early evening. Menu deals are usually well worth the trip, and even if you’d prefer dining a little later at night, that extra hour could save you as much as 40 percent off the check. The best way to make the most of fixed price dining is to eat at the finer restaurants - that way you experience the same level of service you’d get when paying full price, and usually servers are more attentive because they’re not rushed.

Aaron’s and Sarento’s at the top of the Ala Moana Hotel and The Ilikai Hotel respectively, offer a nightly set three-course menu for just $28 if you order by 6:30 p.m. Diamond Head Grill has just begun to offer a sunset dinner (order by 7 p.m.) that demonstrates, to me, the best of fixed price dining. You can sample some of the amazing food created by award-winning chef Guillaume Burlion, and enjoy a wine pairing with each course. The current menu is $50 and features paella, a torte of braised wild mushrooms and a classic apple Charlotte. The restaurant has apparently been buzzing since the special started just last week - it seems that there are many savvy diners who recognize a good deal when they see one.

At Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which is high on my list of favorite places to have a glass of wine and sushi, there are a couple of ways to eat inexpensively. You can go for the early bird special from 5:30 to 6 p.m. on Sunday and Monday and enjoy a straight 50 percent off all food and sushi, or go late night on Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. and enjoy the same offer - with free karaoke thrown in. At Sam Choy’s Breakfast Lunch and Crab, a set meal - any night of the week and at any time - comes with salad, soup, bread rolls an entrée and dessert for just $19.95, and at sister restaurant Sam Choy’s Diamond Head, kamaaina specials are featured until 6:30 p.m. nightly. They have a changing menu of seasonal produce that keeps the menu interesting. For years, Nick’s Fishmarket has offered a really great kamaaina deal - a set menu of three courses for just $21.95. This is one of the classic restaurants in Hawaii. Ben Dowling, who for years was general manager, has just become a part owner of the restaurant, and I can only think that means there’ll be more attention to detail and service - if that’s humanly possible. Nick’s also has a great value happy hour with up to 50 percent off the appetizer menu, soups and salads. You can go, eat well, be treated like you’re spending a fortune, and leave with a check for less than $60 for two - if you know how to order.

Restaurants want your business, and as long as you don’t mind eating early, or starting cocktail hour at 5:30 p.m. (and who would?), you can be a part of the exciting dining scene in Hawaii without spending a fortune.

Happy eating!

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