The Weekly Eater
ALTHOUGH The Willows staff tried to keep the restaurant's opening low-key, it didn't work. The grand opening will come in early October, but the crowd is already there.
Say hello again
to an old friend
I'd heard gossip that The Willows was going to offer Pacific Rim fare -- no big surprise. Next it was going to be a rib joint. Then I heard an all-chicken menu was under consideration. That's when I stopped listening and waited for the real thing.
With so many menu options available, I was disappointed when the restaurant went the buffet route. But now that I've been there, I realize it was the best decision. The Willows "Aloha Cuisine" buffet makes the restaurant accessible to all. It is now among the best places one can bring an out-of-town guest, and best of all, the menu and grounds recall a tradition of local hospitality.
The WillowsFoodAddress: 901 Hausten St.
Hours: Buffet 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. daily; fine dining room closed Mondays
Prices: $24.95 buffet dinner, $14.95 buffet lunch (senior discount); keiki $12.50 dinner, $7.50 lunch; fine dining about $80 for two
The Willows grew up around Kapa'akea Springs, which in the '20s became home to Emma McGuire Hausten's family and gardens planted with flowers, Hawaiian herbs and medicinal plants and willow trees.
Due to popular demand, Hausten began hosting luau in the mid-'30s. The Willows formally opened in 1944 and was run by Hausten's daughter Kathleen McGuire Perry until being sold to restaurateur Randy Lee in 1980, and closing in 1993.
The Weinberg Foundation which now owns the property has done a wonderful renovation job. The thatched pavilions, no doubt charming in Hausten's day, had begun to look tired by the late '80s. These are gone, replaced by open-beam construction, a chapel and banquet room surrounding a central courtyard.
Kapa'akea Springs has dried up, but a manmade spring surrounded by rock and plants has been built to recreate the ambience of the old days, though a red-lit rock volcano recalls MTV's "Real World" set.
As for the menu, give me plenty of poke and I'm happy. Here, there are only ahi and tako versions, but what was offered was excellent. You must try the Willows Roasted Portabello Mushrooms, served atop garlic toast with balsamic buerre blanc. Other bests include Pork and Butterfish Laulaus, Pineapple-Mango BBQ Ribs, and, recalling the days chef Kusuma Cooray was in the house, a mild curry of tender chicken with chutney, grated coconut, raisins, green onion and peanuts on the side.
To complement local-style entrees, including Beef Stew, Squid Luau and Chicken Long Rice, there is rock salt, chile pepper water and onions.
Carving stations offer roast turkey; ham, which was overly dry; prime rib that was bright red; and cuts from a whole, crisp-skinned suckling pig.
Desserts were weak but the restaurant continues to make adjustments daily. And the famous "Sky High Coconut Pie" will soon be back.
Fine dining is available, but the menu is limited for now. I am just thrilled that someone was able to step in and keep this property intact in a way that can be shared with the public. You just don't find many places like this anymore.
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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.
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