The Weekly Eater


Sunday, January 6, 2002

Sergio Mitrotti opened Zazou, where the budget-conscious can enjoy Mediterranean-inspired food.

2001 brought a few new
surprises nearly every month

Another year has come and gone, and with it a parade of restaurants. How many of the year's newbies made your favorites list?

The year got off to a quick start with the opening of Troy's behind Kahala Mall, as Troy Haley became the first of the original Donato's partners to return to the scene, making the transition from Italian to all-American cuisine. We had to wait until June to find out what Donato Loperfido would be up to in Manoa Marketplace: He opened another Donato's.

Not too far behind Troy's was Blue Tropix, the first (and hopefully last) since Pearl City Tavern to put a monkey behind the bar.

Mini Garden spiffed up its digs in September and continues to cook up winning duck noodles.

And Kumi Iseki was on a roll. Right after opening the family-oriented Japanese restaurant Moshi Moshi Tei in Ewa in December, she was over at the Kahala Mandarin, presiding over the elegant Tokyo Tokyo, with its robata bar, sushi and teishoku specialties.

In March we watched as Nelson Chun expanded his family's Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory empire into the Leeward side by offering noodles, manapua and other local favorites out of a 21st century-ready showplace in the Waimalu Shopping Center, where manapua enthusiasts can try some unusual combinations. The Pizza manapua made with pork, pepperoni and cheese was a revelation.

In April, Little Village Noodle Shop opened on Smith Street, introducing an original concept for a Chinatown restaurant: ambience. The restaurant's interior was built to resemble a small village courtyard, complete with artificial willow tree. The owners also are mindful of health concerns, eliminating MSG upon request, offering vegetarian substitutions for all dishes, and using heart-friendly olive oil.

Around the corner at Grilla's, Mike Tudisco could do no wrong, introducing everything from a rich shrimp bisque to his signature "Philly Gorilly" steak sandwiches, and where customers pronounce, "Everything's good."

Sergio Mitrotti may have been feeling claustrophobic over at Cafe Sistina. With a couple of partners, he started Zazou on Monsarrat Avenue. The aim was to be a good neighbor, offering inexpensive Mediterranean-inspired chow that people could feel good about consuming on site or at home, every day.

In time for summer, debuted at McCully Shopping Center. Kids could pick up a cool treat of ice cream served in a sturdy crepe cone. If they were really, really hungry, they could also get hot dogs, mashed potatoes or other savories in a crepe, too.

Windward residents saw the return of a familiar name, Pinky's Pupu Bar & Grill, built near the former Pinky's Broiler. Its pure beach house decor fits right into Kailua. The family-casual menu is local all the way.

Maybe Little Village's appearance awoke the sleeping giant Mini Garden. The restaurant appeared unchanged for 29 years and seemed destined for another 29 years of wearing the same coat of Chinatown drab. But after a summer break the restaurant revealed its new, glossier look in September. I would have chosen punchier colors than mustard and brown, but I don't think the restaurant's regulars are into ambience. Soup and stew noodle dishes are now joined by fancy entrees and, typical for 2001, smoothies and bubble teas.

Hong Kong Orchid Cafe debuted in October. Most unique to this Chinese restaurant were its Italian-style red- or white-sauce pasta bakes. Most people were happier sticking with more traditional offerings.

Boomerangs brought great ribs to Restaurant Row in September in a shrine to male bonding, its interior decorated with stone, wood and -- this is new -- a copper wash basin with brass duck fixtures. It allows customers to wash their hands after getting drenched in the cilantro-spiked rib sauce, but what kind of barbarian uses hands? The ribs fall apart with a touch of a fork. Meanwhile, at India Cafe, Shree Sadagopan brought hot India wraps and cool sounds to Kilohana Square.

Ward Entertainment Center became dining central when Dave & Buster's moved in with a bar menu geared toward late-night gamesters and filmgoers. The post-Sept. 11 economy didn't stop people from checking it out. Downstairs, we got a taste of Argentina when Gaucho Grill opened in November. Those man enough went for the mixed plate, with its whopping portion of meat: a half-chicken, a skirt steak, two short ribs, chorizo, morcilla (grilled sweetbreads) and mollejas (blood sausage). Oh yeah, with rice and black beans.

The opening of Morton's closed the year by whipping us into steak frenzy. Not everyone is willing to hand over $34 for a steak, but enough were in a celebratory mood to make me realize that even in the worst of times, people do like to eat well, and restaurateurs continue to be an optimistic lot.

Let's hope 2002's restaurants will dazzle us with diverse menus and much experimentation -- the kind that works, of course.

See some past restaurant reviews in the
Do It Electric!

section online. Click the logo to go!

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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