Hukilau nets lunch crowd with few options
As many restaurants and eateries as there are downtown, there's always interest in what's new. The latest talk has turned to Hukilau Honolulu, as readers have been sharing their views on the new restaurant and sports bar. Among them:
Executive Centre, 1088 Bishop St. / 523-3460
Hours: Breakfast 6:30 to 10:30 a.m., lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., dinner from 6 to 9 p.m. weekdays. Huki Hour 4 to 6 p.m. and dinner 6 to 9 p.m. Saturdays.
Prices: $10 to $15 per person for lunch; dinner for two $40 to $50
"I plan to go again when I need another hamburger fix. The only thing is that the Hukilau is not your everyday lunch place because of the prices. However, their breakfast menu looks terrific and reasonable, so I'll be there soon again." -- Myra
"Went to Hukilau yesterday. The food is amateurish. With respect to ambience, it's too Waikiki (and the restaurant is not even in Waikiki!). ... Oh well." -- Warren
My own one-line e-mail review to one curious reader said: "It's OK for lunch, sort of cafeterialike tho'. But a no for dinner, unless you just want heavy pau-hana pupu."
I REMAIN a little confused by the concept. My thought process is pretty linear, so I was thinking, "Executive Centre equals executive food."
A lunch companion similarly thought, "Hukilau equals Hawaiian food."
Neither of us was correct. Executive Centre is also a hotel, thus the tiki theme that creates an airport-lounge ambience. Generally, the only time I'd be caught eating in a place like this is when I'm an airport captive. The retro theme can be charming, but I feel a little embarrassed that this is the image being presented to business travelers likely to be more interested in a city that looks forward.
Maybe the sports bar idea will catch on; it's hard to tell in the dead of summer, but as one sports fan I know noted, "Putting up a couple of TV screens and dart games doesn't make it a sports bar; the fans decide where they want to go."
I think a gimmick was needed at night, because the food itself is not much of a draw.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hukilau Honolulu, in the lobby of the Executive Centre on Bishop Street, caters to a busy lunch crowd.
HUKILAU DOES fill an important niche at lunch time. Considering the vast number of people who work in the area, there are few places where worker bees can enjoy a reasonably priced sit-down lunch. Most downtown eateries are geared toward the grab-and-run lunch, and that works on most days, but sometimes a leisurely change of pace is nice.
Hukilau hits the right spots at lunch with such heavy-duty crowd pleasers as a prime rib melt ($8.95) and a half-pound Kobe burger ($9.95) topped with about a quarter of an avocado (like Kua 'Aina's avocado burger), slices of bacon, fried onions and chipotle aioli, in addition to the usual lettuce and tomato. Ask for it cooked rare and you stand a chance of getting it at medium doneness.
The deep-fried katsu treatment given a portobello mushroom sandwich ($8.50) defeats the purpose of having a healthful burger alternative, and it's topped with Brie to boot, but it is tasty with its sun-dried tomato dressing. A heavy layer of juicy grilled onions, and roasted peppers likely out of a jar, watered down the crisp katsu effect, but it was bound to get mushed up in your opu anyway.
Entrees are $9.95 to $14.95, and a shiitake and Boursin-stuffed chicken breast with a deep-fried crust and truffle kabayaki butter sauce seems like a deal at $9.95. In comparison, I couldn't understand why a stir-fried dish of duck and tiger prawn chow mein was $12.95, when the amount of duck and shrimpy shrimp was negligible. The shrimp was split in half to make less look like more.
Presentation is lackluster, pure cafeteria or sports bar on stark white plates, but at prices of about $7.50 for salads, $8.50 to $9.95 for sandwiches, most people wouldn't care that some of the produce looks wilted.
It's at night that the incongruity can't be missed -- more bar than restaurant, with some prices set at levels associated with finer dining rooms. Fire-roasted rib-eye ($21.95) didn't disappoint, but for the price, I expect better than 1970s-style presentation of a dollop of mashed potatoes and four stalks of asparagus. Similarly, blue crab cioppino, $23.95, arrived in a shallow dish three times too small, such that the seafood rose above the soup, making it look like muddy sludge. On top of that, the broth tasted like old fish.
It's best to stick to the appetizers, although these are not fail-safe either. Ahi-avocado poke ($8.95) should be a no-brainer, but not when the avocado is also old. Granted, they don't make the avocado, but they should show a little respect toward patrons and know when it's too brown and mushy to serve.
A Huki-Wing Platter ($11.95) comes with mix-and-match options of buffalo wings, habanero-mango BBQ wings or garlic wings with ko chu jang sauce. Heavy duty stuff. The Buffalo wings are a ringer for those served at The Shack, but the blue cheese buttermilk dressing never materialized.
They'd probably be better off using the lunch menu at night.
One last note for other would-be restaurateurs: It should be obvious by now, but there is a LOT of competition for diners' dollars and the economy is not getting better anytime soon. Unless you're prepared to put something out there that's BETTER or DIFFERENT, don't bother. I would love to have good things to say about every restaurant, but you have to meet me halfway.