Lunching In Affordable Luxury

Jo McGarry
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Friday - June 02, 2006
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Orchids chef Darryl Fujita
Orchids chef Darryl Fujita

You don’t really have to know anything about AAA Diamond Awards or 5 star service before you walk into the Halekulani, but as soon as you walk past the larger-than-life floral displays, through the open courtyard and across a 100-year-old eucalyptus floor, you realize you’re in quite a different world.

There’s an understated elegance and a hushed sense of calm about this, one of Honolulu’s most luxurious hotels. I always take a deep breath as soon as I walk in, slowing down my pace and preparing to take in the surroundings. There are, I hear, unbelievably beautiful rooms at the Halekulani. The Vera Wang Suite is one of the most-talked-about hotel rooms in the country, and a two-night stay was included in this year’s Oscar ceremony gift bag, the one traditionally given to celebrities. Not bad for those with thousands to spend on a place to lay their head. But an oceanfront suite at one of the world’s most-desirous properties is not reality for most of us, and while dinner at Halekulani’s La Mer may be outstanding, it’s also a little intimidating for those who enjoy a reasonable dining budget (entrees at La Mer start at around $39).

But all of this is what makes lunchtime at Orchids - the hotel’s oceanfront dining room - a fabulous food find. Yards from the beach, and with picture perfect views of the ocean, Orchids is so beautiful you can feel stress falling from your shoulders as you sip a plantation iced tea and peruse the menu. With orchids placed strategically throughout the restaurant against the stunning blue backdrop of the ocean, the restaurant is surely one of the most perfect spots to unwind - and enjoy excellent food. But here’s why it’s a find, and probably one of the best-kept secrets in Honolulu. You can have lunch at Orchids for $22.

Darryl Fujita is the executive chef, and he brings a balanced sense of local flair to the excellent creative team at Halekulani. La Mer, under the guidance of the passionately devoted Yves Garnier, is one of the great restaurants in Hawaii. But at Orchids, and certainly at lunchtime there, the whole Halekulani world seems just a little more accessible. The menu changes every two weeks or so, and on any day of the week you’ll find fresh island fish, North Shore beef, local greens, Big Island goat cheese, Kahuku shrimp and dozens of locally grown fruits and vegetables. If there is a more perfect place to lunch in Honolulu, enjoying both the bounty of the island and a view that is almost unmatched, then I’m not sure I know where it is.

My lunch the other day included seared kampachi on Asian slaw drizzled with a lemon emulsion, and a seafood curry that was packed with jumbo shrimp, an assortment of fresh island fish and served with a tangy homemade chutney. It was almost too much food for lunch - but I ate every last drop, and would have asked for bread to mop up the curry broth if I hadn’t remembered where I was.

Other offerings on the executive luncheon menu include an excellent clam and miso broth, a selection of salads that change every few weeks and North Shore tenderloin of beef.

You can add dessert for just another $4, and linger over the view and a classic iced tea for as long as your time will allow. Because here’s the thing. There’s not another place in Honolulu where for $22 you’ll be treated as if you’re spending $200. The service is first rate, the setting is outstanding, and the complete feeling you get while eating is a sampling of luxury. So, next time you need to stop and smell the plumeria, treat a girlfriend to a thanks-for-being-there lunch, or take a business associate somewhere to impress their socks off, head for Orchids and a taste of the good life.

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