A Happy Hour To Smile About

Jo McGarry
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Friday - July 28, 2006
| Del.icio.us | podcast Podcast | WineAndDineHawaii.com

Sunset Grill owner Luong Nghiem Nguyen offers select wines by the glass during happy hour
Sunset Grill owner Luong Nghiem
Nguyen offers select wines by the
glass during happy hour

I’m prepared to stand corrected on this, but I think I’ve found the best value happy hour in Honolulu. With all wines from a fairly interesting list at just $5 a hefty pour, and a pupu selection that should satisfy even the fussiest eater, Sunset Grill’s 3-7 p.m. daily happy hour is a winner.

I noticed the chalkboard sign outside the restaurant proclaimed “select wines” by the glass during happy hour, but owner Luong Nghiem Nguyen - he goes by Nghiem (pronounce Nim) - assured me that all wines were just $5 and the bartender confirmed this. That means you can order a wine that’s usually $12 (the excellent Whitehaven Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, for example), or the $14 a glass Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon and pay just $5.

“I want people to come in and to see the menu and taste some of our best dishes,” says the hard-working Nghiem, “so naturally we are giving a good deal right now.” Nghiem took over Sunset Grill a few months ago and has been trying to tempt back regular lunch and dinner guests, who had gotten used to the kiawe wood grill and the American bistro style menu.

“We changed the menu completely,” he says, adding that it now closely imitates the menu at his other restaurant, Assaggio’s in Kapolei, where the emphasis is on American style Italian food.

The happy hour menu gives a taste of some of Sunset Grill’s new dishes, and it’s a painless way to test the waters - and the wines.

We started with a couple of glasses of Whitehaven and enjoyed homemade, hot crusty bread while we waited for our appetizers. Nghiem bakes the bread at his Kapolei restaurant each morning before commuting to Restaurant Row to spend the day overseeing operations.

The hot antipasto appetizer - also the special of the day - was incredibly good. Calamari, white fish, clams and shrimp are served in a bouillabaisse style tomato broth that is a little too buttery for my taste, but excellent nonetheless. The combination of a crisp, cold Sauvignon Blanc with this Southern French seafood dish and a basket of hot bread for just $10 seemed an incredibly good value. There are lots of intriguing happy hours out there, but finding one that doesn’t have a lot of “read-the-small-print” rules is unusual. At Sunset Grill, what you see is what you get - $5 wines, $3 beers and well cocktails for just $3.50.

There is a selection of other hot appetizers, priced at around $5-$6, including clam scampi, and an excellent stuffed shrimp that I’d order again in a heartbeat.

Sunset Grill still has its white linen tablecloth look, but those who frequented the place when GM Stu Schroeder was in charge will certainly notice a difference in the atmosphere and in the menu. But it still remains a great place for a quick business lunch or a pau hana drink. Although the kiawe wood grill has gone, and the restaurant has adopted a more casual tone, the appetizers we tried and the selection of wines by the glass make it an excellent stop anytime between 3 and 7 p.m.

Sunset Grill Restaurant Row Ala Moana Boulevard 521-4409

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