Lunchtime Wining And Dining

Jo McGarry
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Friday - September 22, 2006
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I was talking with renowned wine merchant Kermit Lynch recently about people who spend lots of money on wine. Lynch has been in the wine importing business for decades and is well-known and highly respected, but he expressed incredulity at the thought of spending $100 on a bottle of wine that would be drunk within an hour.

“Who are these people?” he asked. If he was looking to me for an answer, he found the wrong person. I know several people who do spend that much on wine, and on rare occasions I am able to share their finds. I think it’s fun and I appreciate it, but I get a much bigger thrill discovering great-tasting wines that cost less than $15 a bottle. I feel the same way - most of the time - about eating out.

A dinner this week at Chef Mavro (albeit a fundraiser) is $350 per person. That makes it one of the single most expensive restaurant seats in town. Apparently ticket sales were brisk and the restaurant had no difficulty selling the evening out. That’s $700 a couple, and about $150 in tips!

And while this special occasion dinner raised money for scholarships and culinary schools, fine dining in some restaurants is headed into the mortgage payment class. And not even in the most obvious, fancy places. I went to a newly renovated neighborhood restaurant last week and almost dropped the menu when I realized that the average entrée was $38, a la carte. This in a place where the furniture didn’t match, the napkins were paper and the waitress was clueless. I know that gas prices are high, fuel costs are up and the cost of importing certain items huge - but give us a break!

That’s why I love to lunch. At lunch, you can experience all of the service and succulence that makes a good restaurant great - at incredibly reduced prices. And, it’s a really good way to test the restaurant for those special event evenings. Lunch at Orchids, at the Halekulani, for example, is one of the best-kept secrets in the city. You experience the Zen-like calm of the hotel, the magnificent view from the dining room, and the same service that would cost you hundreds in the evening can be had for around $25 at lunch.

The same can be said of Yanni’s - the Greek restaurant at Restaurant Row. At lunch you can try almost any of the evening entrees at a tremendously reduced price. A $25 lunch, for example lets you sample entrees that include the fabulous Paidakia (lamb cutlets; $27.50 at dinner), along with a choice of appetizer (my favorite is the Mezze Platter of feta, olive, grilled vegetables and stuffed grape leaves; $15.50 at dinner). Lunch comes with a glass of wine or other beverage included in the $25 price. This is an easy and inexpensive way to sample Yanni Trainedes’ food.

“It’s a way to show people what we have to offer in the evening,” says Yanni. “Customers can sample our entrees and get a good idea of what our food and our atmosphere is all about.”

The Bistro at Century Center is another example of a place you can experience fine dining for a fraction of the evening price. The menu features classically inspired French and German dishes, with a bit of Pacific Rim style thrown in by talented chef Rodney Uyehara.

Each lunch entrée is just $15 - similar dishes in the evening are upwards of $35 - but at lunch you still get tuxedo-clad, slightly aloof waiters, a chance to enjoy the wood paneling, fine artwork and country house ambience, and the same view of the oft-mentioned $300,000 Steinway baby grand that sits in the lobby, all for a fraction of the evening price.

Seeking a fine-dining experience at lunch can literally save you hundreds of dollars - and I like to think of lunch as a taste test drive. If you leave thinking you can’t wait to go back, then the restaurant truly deserves your hard-earned dollars. If not, you’ve saved yourself a small fortune.

To hear an interview with Kermit Lynch, go to and click on pod-casts

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