The New Eateries In Town

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - June 20, 2007
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Forgive yourself if you have finally admitted that you can’t keep up with all the new restaurant openings around town.

Me neither - and it’s my job! By my reckoning more than 40 new restaurants (big and small) have opened on Oahu since the beginning of the year. Here are some notes on just a few.

Could there have been any doubt that Roy Yamaguchi’s 34th restaurant opening would be anything other than a resounding success? Well, no, but here’s why it worked. The staff (almost all of them rookies) was infected with completely contagious enthusiasm. No sooner was a wineglass empty when some eagle-eyed waiter snatched it away, returning with a refill. And wait staff were happily trotting back and forth to the kitchen to try to service special requests - all this amid a crowd of 200 people.

The food is so incredibly good at Roy’s, and it seems to just get better and better. The atmosphere is completely Hawaii, without being at all overstated (love the bright hibiscus prints on the wall courtesy of director of operations, Rainer Kumbroch) and Corporate Chef Jackie Lau deserves a medal for pulling the kitchen staff together in such a superlative way. No doubt in my mind that this Roy’s will be one of the No.1 restaurants in Waikiki.

Chef Mavro made my heart soar when he announced he would be opening a restaurant downtown that would reflect the food of his heritage as well as his beloved Hawaii Regional Cuisine. But taking over the cavernous space vacated by Palomino at Harbor Court might not be an easy prospect. The food is first rate, as you would imagine, and nobody doubts the talents of one of Honolulu’s star chefs, but lunchtime diners are looking for something a little less pricy. When I first saw the menu, I thought, ‘oh great, lots of things around $10,’ and then realized that was the pricing of the suggested wine pairings - by the glass. Personally I’d love to see a Chef Mavro burger, fish sandwich or steak and fries for under $15, but I don’t know if that’s possible.

Speaking of pricy, Stage unveiled its statement to modernism a couple of months ago - receiving excellent reviews for its food. Again it’s special occasion dining, but the good news is there are lots of lovely couches to lie down on within the Honolulu Design Center after you get the check. There is lots of local produce on the menu, and Mark Okimura’s stunningly creative desserts.

And just as I was beginning to think that an affordable lunch was a thing of the past, along comes Ed Kenney with chef/partner David Caldiero, and then Chef Donato Loperfido to prove that great quality, locally produced affordable dining is still possible.

Kenney and Caldiero are the owners of Town in Kaimuki. You’ll find locally grown produce everywhere on their menu, and wonderfully unaltered food that is allowed to make its own statement on the plate. A testament to two chefs who really know their onions - and how much to charge for them.

You can have lunch for two at Downtown at the Hawaii State Art Museum for about $25. The “people’s museum” now has a “people’s restaurant.”

Donato has paid homage to the people who will, at the end of the day, ensure his success, by opening Pasta & Basta in Restaurant Row, where his homemade mozzarella, addictive Tuscan bread salad, house-made sausages and freshly made pasta dishes are available for lunch and dinner with prices starting at around $6 - and that includes tax and tip. Handmade pasta and freshly grown organic salads for under $10? My heroes.

Happy eating!

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