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The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Sunday, September 14, 2003


Pauoa Chop Suey
takes guests back
to the good old days


I started house-hunting by accident six months ago. Going to open houses was a fun way to shop for interior design ideas, but along the way, my S.O. and I began to feel a sense of envy and entitlement. We deserve a better house.

In a case of too much exposure being a bad thing, where once all we ever wanted was to have a place to sleep and keep a dog and two parrots, suddenly we wanted an estate. Where once a clean bathtub would do, now we had to have a pool. Where once having two working stove burners out of four that actually worked would have been heavenly, now we needed the Viking range.


art
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Gordon Lewis, left, enjoys lunch at Pauoa Chop Suey with his dad, James, and Shirley McGuire.


In six months, we watched prices soar, to a point where $500,000 tear downs are now million-dollar tear downs. Auwe! Or Ow!

The search for the perfect house failed miserably but, Sagittarian that I am, I always look on the bright side, and this is it: While hunting on Pacific Heights Road, I came across a Pauoa Valley restaurant that I never would have discovered otherwise.

Pauoa is one of those neighborhoods that Windward residents pass by in driving to and from Honolulu. Separated from the rest of Honolulu by a tangle of freeway, other folks simply avoid the area, such that Leeward, Central Oahu and North Shore neighborhoods get more traffic and attention.

The result is that time also seems to have hopped, skipped, and jumped past Pauoa Chop Suey. It exists as a time capsule from an earlier era. The restaurant's actual vintage is 1972, according to owner Betty Yip, but it seems even older than that because of the gentle, relaxed pace of its staff and the kind of neighborly friendliness rarely seen in restaurants and retail today, where transactions tend to be polite yet perfunctory.

Like the fictitious worlds of Brigadoon or Shangri-La, Pauoa Chop Suey seems to function apart from the rest of the world, as if nouvelle cuisine, the tech market meltdown, 9/11, and such, never existed. Even the phone, ringing with customers wishing to place take-out orders, sounds like those you only hear today in movies out of the '60s.

In spite of its 30-plus years of business, the dining room looks quite clean, exhibiting pride of ownership. Sure, the decor doesn't quite match, but I didn't mind the combination of Art Deco lights, chandeliers, window blinds, stands of lucky bamboo and tiled walls, which sort of reflects the way people add to their nests over time, adding to the restaurant's homey appeal.

WOULDN'T YOU KNOW, comfort is what people seek in the food too. According to Yip, the most popular items include crispy gau gee ($5.50), chow fun ($6.20, with beef and black bean sauce) and Shanghai fried noodles ($6.80). The restaurant serves noodle soups such as wor won ton mein ($6) and roast duck noodle ($7) as well.

Other diners ordered dishes no more challenging than beef broccoli ($6), kau yuk or pot roast pork ($5.20) and stuffed eggplant ($7), in which the eggplant had more flavor than the mild fishcake stuffing and both were coated with a thick black bean gravy.

The mostly Cantonese menu is strong on basics such as moist steamed flounder ($10) topped with ginger and onions, and steamed pork hash -- from $5.50 plain to $9 with salted fish. As simple as it is, it takes 20 minutes to cook through, so you might want to call ahead for it.

Then there are throwbacks such as several "chop suey" dishes ($5.60 to $7.20, with choices of beef, ham, chicken, pork or shrimp), an American invention I believed had gone extinct in this politically correct age, only to be reborn as "stir-fries."

Another dish rarely seen on Chinese menus is stuffed duck ($7.50), which by the time it's been seasoned, roasted, fried, stuffed and steamed, resembles duck soup. The duck ends up shredded in its stuffing of barley, gingko nuts, chestnuts, mushrooms and crunchy water chestnuts. The last time I tasted this dish was as a child, before my mom went back to work and had time for such difficult tasks. Now that she's retired, she's still too busy for such pursuits. I remember her stuffed duck had more flavor than the restaurant's, but see if this doesn't hit the spot on a chilly or rainy winter evening.



Pauoa Chinese Restaurant

1997 Pauoa Road / 536-4204

Food Star Star Star

Service Star Star Star Star

Ambience Star Star Half-Star

Value Star Star Star Star

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. daily

Cost: About $7 per person for soup noodles; dinner for two to four about $25 to $35




See some past restaurant reviews in the Columnists section.



Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

excellent;
very good, exceeds expectations;
average;
below average.

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


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