We vacation in Hawaii at least once a year and Oahu is the island we visit most often because it not only has great beaches, but fabulous dining. We landed early enough to get in a full day by the pool and surf and captured the magic of a beautiful sunset. We stayed at the Royal Hawaiian which has been on Waikiki since 1927 and over the past few years had been completely renovated.
The Starwood properties are a great place to stay because you can visit each of the four hotels (Sheraton Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian, Moana Surf Rider or the Sheraton Princess Kailulani) and use their pools, restaurants and bars and charge everything to your room bill.
Our first evening we decided to stay at the hotel and dine at Azure because it has such a great reputation for seafood on the island. For starters we shared – Raw Oysters from Vancouver with fresh lemon and cocktail sauce and a large bowl of steamy Clams with Smoked Pork Belly, Enoki Mushrooms in a Garlic Herb Dashi Broth. The smokiness of the pork gave the clams a woodsy flavor and the light and fragrant dashi was refreshingly earthy. Both dishes were a great start to a nice evening.
Next, we both ordered snapper, but I chose Onaga with a Beurre Blanc Sauce with a side of spinach and my husband the Opakapaka, blackened, over mushrooms, asparagus and fresh corn. Both snappers were fresh and flakey, but we both agreed that the Onaga was juicier and the sauce – creamy and much more decadent. As for wine, we had a Barbera from Palmina that went great with our meal.
The next day we enjoyed another relaxing day by the pool followed by dinner in the Kaimuki district at Salt Bar & Kitchen. Quinten Frye is the executive chef and I can’t say enough about his cuisine. The restaurant is a local’s place with a large bar on the bottom floor and small tables on both floors for dining.
Our waiter was very knowledgeable about the food and wine and we listended to his advise upon ordering. First, we ordered drinks – my husband a local amber and I, a French Rhone. We started our dinner with Chicharrones, which were deep fried pig skins. These particular chicharones had no meat left on them and were super crunchy with a slight chew. The spice powder added heat and I ate the whole bowl.
Next, Bacon and Egg — a piece of Pork Confit braised and seared on one side of the plate with a housemade English muffin piled with kim chee and a poached egg on top. The dish would make breakfast lovers cry, the pork was my favorite.
From the charcuterie section we chose the housemade Pork Belly Rillette – creamy, rich and very spreadable…nice with the grilled ciabatta and pickles. Local Tako or Octopus was our next small plate with house Chorizo, Potatoes, Tomatoes and Jalapenos. The octopus was tender and juicy, but the salty chorizo and spicy peppers made it even better.
Brown Butter Gnocchi was our entree for the evening with house Pancetta, Charred Tomatoes, Preserved Lemon, Local Mushrooms, Manchego Cheese and Garlic Puree. This dish had several flavors going on — rich buttery dumplings with earthy mushrooms and a hint of lemon with a sweet roasted garlic puree to dip your gnocchi. The entire meal was one of our favorites of the trip and we definitely ate our way through an entire pig.
The next day we decided to rent a car to head to China Town in downtown Honolulu. I was very excited to have lunch at Lucky Belly because I had read so much about their ramen.
We stared our lunch with Shrimp Gyoza sitting on top of an avocado edamame puree with ponzu. The dumplings were big and juicy, but the puree was outstanding. The spread could be used on so many things including sandwiches and crackers.
Next, We shared the Tempura Shrimp Tacos which were filled with Asian Slaw and Yuzu Mayo. The tacos were and fresh, but I could of used a few more shrimp inside to make them even better.
As for ramen, The Belly Bowl was the way to go – a huge bowl of warm ramen with layers of pork belly, smoked bacon and sausage on top of the traditional bean sprouts, soft steamed egg, wakame, green onions and ginger. It was so big and delicious that we couldn’t even finish it all, but were trying our best. The flavors of miso and pork were just perfect.
After a quick spin around Chinatown we headed to Aulani to see what Disney had created on Oahu. In Disney fashion is was pretty amazing. The back of the hotel not only was multiple pools, but a lazy river, self enclosed bay for swimming and water sports and countless bars and restaurants for everyone to enjoy. It is definitely a place for kids and I would only go if I was taking my grandson or families kids.
Before dinner that evening we headed to a local bar called Pint & Jigger. The bar was filled with locals having drinks and dining on casual fare. I had a smoked Manhattan that was prepared by burning wood and covering it in the glass and then quickly adding the cocktail to retain the smokey flavor.
After a great cocktail we headed to Le Bistro, which opened a week before 9/11 and has held it’s own during several years of hard recession. Our waiter was polite, but quite young for a fine dining restaurant. We didn’t know much about wine and he couldn’t find the bottle we first ordered so we ended up with Maranet from Dumol Winery, a pinot noir from Russian River. It was a nice bottle with the food.
For starters we began with a Fondue Special which was a traditional Swiss cheese fondue topped with fresh Mozzarella, Wild Mushrooms and Black Truffles. A great choice to warm up on a semi-chilly night in Hawaii.
Next, we had the Ahi Tartare with Maui Onion, Gorgonzola and capers. The fish was of course fresh, but the overall dish was a little salty with the cheese and capers together.
For our entree we shared a four Sampler of Beef – Peppercorn Short Rib, Rib Eye with Wild Mushrooms, Filet Mignon and a Wagyu Beef Slider. The prep was very old school and all the flavors hearty and comforting. I thought the slider was the best part with the juices exploding out the sides of the bun.
The next day we headed to Doraku for Sushi at the Royal Hawaiian Center. The waitress at Halekulani Hotel mentioned they had great sushi and special so we decided to give it a try. The fish was extremely fresh and the prices reasonable. The Ahi & Avocado Salad with crispy wontons was done well, but my salmon and avocado handroll was one of the best I have ever had. The Uni Roll and Tempura Shrimp were also very well prepared.
For dinner we walked to Nobu from our hotel in Waikiki. Nobu always provides some of the best Japanese food in our country and you can always count on a great meal. We began our meal with Nobu Poke which they only make at the Waikiki restaurant. The sauce is so spectacular with a hint of Japanese mustard and soy not your typical sticky sweet poke sauce, but much better.
Mo’ Farms Salad with Grilled Shrimp and Parmesan Dressing. The dressing on this salad could be used in any cuisine because it is so light but, decadent in taste. I could see it in any Italian restaurant because of the flavor profile.
Sea Trout with Crispy Spinach was our next dish to share. I have had this entree before (and usually love it) but the spinach was dripping in oil and my plate had a thick puddle floating on top of the sauce, not good. The fish was nicely cooked.
We ordered a Wagyu Beef Slider to compare it to the one we shared the night before. This particular slider came on a Tofu Bun which I thought was interesting especially for the gluten free crowd. The burger was very good and the bun had a sort of thick pancake consistency.
The best dish of the evening came last – Pork Belly with Tomatillo Salsa. The pork cubes were cooked gently then seared and the salsa had heat, but not too much. The pork was sitting on little pools of plum sauce and Brussels Sprouts were in between each bite.
After dinner we headed to Lewers Lounge at the Halekulani Hotel. The piano music that night was Classics and Show Tunes and the audience was requesting some great songs from the past. What a nice evening.
The last day in Waikiki we settled in to enjoy the pool and beach. Our final dinner was at a brand new restaurant which opened two weeks prior called MW Restaurant. Both chefs had worked at Alan Wong’s for several years and Dusty at Lucky Belly mentioned it was a new restaurant we should try.
Before heading out to dinner we walked to another new spot for a quick drink called Genius Lounge. The space was located upstairs above a retail store that was great for shopping. The sake lounge had a fun selections of cocktails, beer and sake as well as a Japanese tapas. We just stayed for a quick glass of wine because of our reservation, but next time we will stay longer.
MW Restaurant was located across the street and down from the convention center in a strip mall. Most taxis didn’t know where it was because it was that new. When we arrived the restaurant was lit up like a hospital. The crowd was buzzing with noise and the staff a little scattered. Willing to overlook the ambiance for good food we had our fingers crossed.
For starters we began with Bao Buns which had braised pork belly and a ginger scallion oil with pickled jalapeno. The buns were fluffy and light and the meat cooked just right. The sauce needed to be dispersed more evenly to give the entire bun a better experience.
Fried Goose Oysters was another small plate we shared and the oysters themselves were fresh and crunchy. The Cucumber Namasu just tasted like an irrelevant garnish and the chili mayo an after thought.
Next, Greek Salad that was sparse on feta, olives and tomatoes. Not a good experience at all. As a former pantry chef, you can always tell a good restaurant by their salads and this one was not being tasted by the head chef.
Our entree of Oxtail Stew and Rice with beef risotto, peanuts and mushrooms was just average. The oxtail was thin and flabby and the beef risotto just tasted more of the same. I did like the peanuts and mushrooms together, but the entire dish needed to be reworked.
For dessert we shared the mini ice cream sandwiches because the lemon custard mousse was all gone for the evening. The sandwiches were prepared well and the carrot cake with the cream cheese ice cream was my favorite. MW definitely needs to work the kinks out.
Oahu is our favorite island and sometimes it gets a bad rap for the crowds and tourists, but I think that is what makes it so special. The restaurant scene is quite vibrant and I can’t wait to return.