Pearl sets high bar
As chairman of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, Beau Mohr could be expected to know a thing or two about restaurants and he does not disappoint with his latest endeavor, Pearl. He's put 20 years of restaurant and nightclub experience to good use in creating Ala Moana Center's sparkling new restaurant and ultralounge.
Ala Moana Center Ho'okipa Terrace (mauka side) / 944-8000
Hours: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (open until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays)
Cost: Appetizers about $8.50 to $13.50; entrees about $20
'Saints & Sinners Halloween Ball'
Featuring: Music, dancing costume contests. Wear a costume to suit the theme.
Details: Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday for ages 21 and over; no cover.
Call: 944-8000 to reserve a VIP Table.
Also: Sample the Bitch Grenache, a collaboration of Grateful Palate owner Dan Philips, Australian winemaker Chris Ringland and grower David Hickinbotham.
Much has already been said about the $2.2 million that went into creating this nightlife destination. It's stunning from mahogany floors to audio and video equipment to the amorphous cutouts in the multi-colored ceilings.
Separate lounge areas allow late-night crowds to spread out comfortably and organically instead of bunching up around the smallish dance floor, which is bordered by V.I.P. tables.
The question is, how conducive is this ultra-lounge setting to ultra dining? Pearl was conceived as both a nightclub and restaurant. The club has already been well-received.
Restaurant traffic has been slower as people try to make sense of Pearl's dual nature. In after-hours style, music is loud, tables are small, chairs are high but plush and comfortable. For traditional diners, it will take an adjustment they may not want to make, but for followers of chef Donato Loperfido, the menu is worth the effort.
Certainly, there are a few mayo-based and mismatched sauces that go hand-in-hand with addressing a young party crowd, but what I appreciate most is the way Mohr and Loperfido have, while presenting all the requisite bar fare, still managed to raise the food standard for clubs in Hawaii. Nothing on the menu is rote. Even burger and fries are reimagined and styled as befitting this environment.
THE TAPAS-STYLE menu is perfect for a pau-hana crowd. After sampling an appetizer or two, you just might decide to settle in for a meal. Appetizer and entree-size portions are available for heavier meat dishes.
Women who are light eaters or those who love variety will find themselves especially at home with multiple small orders such as cremini mushroom caps ($6.95) stuffed with crabmeat. When I saw these from a distance, I thought they were the mini Kobe burgers ($8.50), which I found weren't so mini after all. An order comprises two quartered patties served on crisp baguette with onions and avocado. Accompanying fries are stacked to form a small fortress.
You'll also find poke ($8.50), Dungeness crab cakes ($8) with garlic lemon aioli, and Kumamoto oysters ($8.75) served with refreshing Bloody Mary granita, cucumber sorbet and ginger tobiko.
The description of the ahi and Tristan lobster roll seemed like overkill, so I asked our waitress about it.
"Oh, it's so good!," she replied. "It's ssenssual."
All I can say to that is, "Keep your clothes on. It wasn't all that, OK?"
See, that's what I mean about club kids. Raised on pizza and McD, they can't separate the sensual from the so-so. The lobster was somewhat lost in its blanket of fish, and an accompanying spicy pink vodka sauce was overpowering. Not that all was lost. When separated into parts, each had its integrity, but as a whole I would have preferred that the lobster dominate, especially for $23.75.
RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Menu items at Pearl include, clockwise from bottom, Prosciutto Wrapped Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin for $11.50, American Kobe Flap Tagliata, $12.50 and Fruit de Mer, $60.
THERE IS something for everyone on this menu. Drinkers may gravitate to fritto misto ($10.75), a heap of lightly salted, deep-fried calamari accompanied by a single shrimp and perfect scallop, served with a trio of dipping sauces, or the wok-fried hoisin-flavored barbecue prawns ($12.75/$22).
If it's light dinner you want, an approximately 4-ounce onaga fillet ($12.50) is served Puttanesca style over a bed of heirloom tomatoes, sweet Vidalia onions and Gaeta olives.
My other favorites were grilled Colorado lamb chops ($13.50/$24.50) served with roasted figs; and three pieces of prosciutto-wrapped Kurobuta pork tenderloin ($11.50; $17.50 for larger portion), each topped with a sun-dried Bing cherry and served with a port wine sauce and small dice of roasted Yukon gold potatoes. Just keep your orders to a minimum, because everything tends to arrive at the same time.
For dessert, Loperfido brings back his famous Nicciolato chocolate cake. If you've stuffed yourself completely, don't despair. A trio of chocolate-filled crepes are a perfect feather-light finish. You won't feel a thing as they disappear from the plate.
All can be washed down by drinks, such as the Pearl martini and pineapple mojito, created by Vegas mixologist Francesco Lafranconi.
Some diners will find themselves missing the formality and service associated with traditional restaurants, but if you just follow food, this is where it's at.