The Weekly Eater


Sunday, June 2, 2002

Kahala Bistro chef Richard Spear fired up seared ahi recently, which he serves with stir-fried noodles, local baby tomatoes and a sprout salad in ponzu sauce.

Kahala Bistro is an eatery
that takes globalism to heart

Choosing a restaurant is a no-brainer to the very young. It goes something like this: "Me want pizza, me get pizza; me want burger, me get burger."

As said young become more worldly, their options expand to a variety of cuisines: Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, Brazilian, you name it. At the same time, growing sensitivity to others' needs leads them to veer from their egocentric past. That's when they enter the tedious "What do you want"/"I don't know, what do you want?" phase. Get two particularly selfless types together, and they may just end up starving all night.

It gets to a point where keeping the body fueled becomes a chore and "What's for dinner?" becomes a riddle worthy of the Sphinx.

Kahala Bistro solves half your dilemma. The restaurant staff takes globalism to heart, having moved into the space formerly occupied by Troy's, with a multicultural menu. There's a touch of Mexico, India, France, Italy, Hawaii and the rest of America, so if you can't settle on one cuisine, you have options.

Once you're seated you're on your own, and it's hard to narrow down the choices when you're staring at the possibilities of mussels steamed with a spicy garlic-tomato sauce ($11.95), crispy ahi rolls ($10.95), spinach and artichoke fondue ($7.95) or a golden-fried portobello topped with goat cheese and a biting chipotle chile sauce ($8.95).

Spear shows off the dish with sous chef Daniel Cournede.

I'd suggest sticking to a meal of appetizers during the steamy months ahead if you want to keep your beachgoing form. Dishes are often rich with butter or cream. Common sense would suggest it's a bit too rich for Kahala salad-eaters who seem to make sport of watching restaurants come and go here, yet who manage to keep the neighboring Olive Tree restaurant in business for its light Mediterranean fare.

Matching the heavy cuisine is the restaurant's dark interior, which is only good for trysts, and Kahala's not the place for that sort of thing. If you really want to hide, there are any number of mediocre restaurants in the heart of Waikiki that no local behaving normally would touch.

Dark restaurants all but disappeared in the '80s when food quality and presentation made a giant leap forward, and chefs, eager to show off their masterpieces, threw on the light switches. The brighter interiors created the lively, festive settings people flock to today. Only a few dark spots remain today, and those are usually associated with high prices. At Kahala Bistro, pricing fluctuates from reasonable to wishful thinking.

OUR MEAL started promisingly enough with warm bread served with a chunky tapenade of black olives, followed by no-fail escargots in mushroom caps and plenty of butter ($8.95) and pepper-crusted beef carpaccio ($10.95) topped by a fistful of baby greens and shaved Parmesan.

This was followed by what was to be a refreshing summery melon soup. While pretty to look at, it had the acidic taste of fruit left sitting too long.

The alcohol wasn't burned off in a dish of veal scaloppini with marsala sauce ($22.95), and while I'm sure there will be some who welcome that extra splash, few would fail to notice something amiss.

On the positive side, pastas are perfectly al dente, and Kahala Bistro does have a way with shrimp, whether you're ordering scampi ($18.95) or the pancetta-wrapped shellfish ($19.95) topped by a spicy chipotle cream sauce. Accompanying mashed potatoes were mushy but got a lift from shredded basil stirred into the batch.

I particularly liked the bistro's tender Indian-style lamb curry, the sauce naturally thickened by the presence of a small dice of potato. I thought it could be even spicier, but there's no need to tamper when I know there are far too many chile pepper wimps out there.

The best way to enjoy this place is to show up for jazz nights Wednesdays to Saturdays and load up on pupu with a cocktail or two.

Kahala Bistro

4614 Kilauea Ave. / 738-5655

Food StarStar1/2

Service StarStarStar

Ambience StarStarStar

Value StarStar

Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. nightly
Cost: About $40 to $75 for two without drinks

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.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin