A Foodie’s Duty To Share Finds

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - June 07, 2006
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I’m taking a one-week break from politics and social issues to write about food.

I’ve been cooking for more than 30 years, currently specializing in local, American, Italian, African, Middle Eastern, Indian, Balkan and Latino dishes.

My wife and I eat in more than out these days, but I know you Honolulans are major dining-outers. Maybe because we suffered so long with Chuck’s broil-your-own for the proletariat and Canlis steak-and-salad for the bourgeoisie.

We have so many new and good restaurants that it’s impossible to try them all, but I do regularly sample for food, ambiance and service. I did Los Chapparos on Beretania Street right after some newspaper publicity and found the waithelp spectacular-plus, but the food no better than the cheaper La Bamba on Kapahulu Avenue. Some chef should design a great Mexican menu. No rice-and-refried-beans dishes, no tacos or burritos, and real mole made with chocolate.

Newly added to my MidWeek Great Eats list is chef Mike Nevin’s wonderful soups, salads and sandwiches at the Pavilion Cafe at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Bargain prices - too bad the cafe looks out on cement walls. I wish they had settled on the grassy area they’d used while this new area was being built.

Betty Pang’s Green Door on Pauahi Street is very small and serves in Styrofoam containers, but the Malaysian and Singaporean food is so good that there’s almost always a waiting line. Dinner for three was $42.

My first time in Spices in Moiliili shocked me. The noise level was unnerving. But I got used to it, and I’d say that’s the place to try exciting flavors for everything, including the durian ice cream and smokey iced tea. The dinner bill for two was $44.

I’d love to go more often to Le Bistro in the Niu Shopping Center or Hy’s in Waikiki, but those $35-$45 entrees are a bit daunting. Greek Taverna across from the Varsity Theatre is so much more price-pleasing. Alas, no more Pils Hellas beer and the retsina’s far from the best.

A place that’s taken off like a rocket with dim sum connoisseurs is Mei Sum on North Pauahi in Chinatown. It’s light and loud, but the specialties are eye-popping. Dim sum for two at about $25. No liquor license.

On that latter topic, neither Mei Sum nor another of my Chinatown favorites, Little Village Noodle Shop, charges anything for bringing in alcohol.

I do not believe a restaurant without a liquor license should charge you a corkage or glass fee. As much as I love the food at C&C Pasta in Kaimuki, I’ve removed it from my “preferred” list because of its $5 per glass fee.

Big on my current list is the newly-managed Formaggio on the lower level of Market City in Kapahulu. Wes Zane turned a so-so place into a marvelous wine bar with an extraordinary and affordable food menu, plus light jazz and easy-listening guitar music. Open very late.

My wife and I take guests to the beachfront Cabanas at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Best for four-or-more and family style eating right at the water’s edge. Not cheap, but exceptional food from a talented kitchen and waiter staff. Closed on rainy nights.

And I had a major wow! moment at Nico’s at Pier 38 with its $8 lunch plates of fresh fish. I wonder when we’ll ever have the waterfront fish restaurants you find all along the West Coast?

When we want Vietnamese spring rolls to go for a party, my wife uses Pho North King in Moiliili. It also has a secret ingredient (rock candy) for its pho. The up-and-coming place for Vietnamese chow is the My Lan restaurant at 1160 Maunakea St.

Donato’s in the Manoa Marketplace closed, but there’s still the Paesano. Excellent food in a warm setting, however I think $8 for a glass of Santa Cristina ($14 a bottle at Longs) is a bit stiff.

Longest on my good-eats list is Chiang Mai near the old stadium park. Consistently good food and beautifully decorated. Great for taking first-time Hawaii visitors, as is Tiki’s Grill & Bar in Waikiki.

I enjoy the food at Palomino’s, but the enormity and brassiness overwhelms me and you can’t drive up and park for free.

For old-timers turned off by fusion, infusion and nonsense, there’s Don Murphy’s Bar and Grill downtown. Huge amounts of exceptional food at low, low dinner prices. How does the man do it?

I don’t take freebies, so what I’ve said here is what I believe as a cook and an eater. Try the places. If you disagree, please do tell me.

I’m sure I’ve missed fine eateries in Kailua, Kaneohe and Haleiwa, and for that I apologize and hope you’ll get your places in the sun with Jo McGarry’s Food Finds in MidWeek.

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