CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chrissie Castillo, left, chef/owner of Cafe Kaila in Market City Shopping Center, and chef John Service show off dishes, including a Roasted Pesto Chicken Panini, bottom left, strawberry waffle, French Toast with Caramelized Apples, Buttermilk Pancakes and a Roasted Chicken and Avocado Salad.
Market City home to new dining spot
I've mentioned this many times before, but there's a dearth of breakfast hangouts in Honolulu and this is unfathomable. Tiny little Kailua has no fewer than eight such restaurants, and they're packed every weekend. Considering the size of urban Honolulu compared to Kailua, we should have 80 such restaurants. In reality, I can think of no more than 10, less when it comes to places I actually care to frequent. (I'm not counting Waikiki hotel restaurants because I don't want to drive there on a regular basis and you often have to pay a premium to eat at tourism central -- though I sometimes make an exception to go to Hau Tree Lanai.)
Weekend brunch is such a no-brainer, because there's nothing more pleasant than hanging out with family or loved ones on a weekend morning. What's so hard about scrambling up some eggs and frying up some bacon?
I'm guessing breakfast isn't sexy enough for most chefs, but it's good enough for Cafe Kaila, where the aim is not to reinvent the restaurant or boost the ego, but to simply give people what they want -- decent fare at affordable prices of less than $10 per person.
Restaurants like this are a dime a dozen in other cities, but for some reason a rarity in Honolulu, where at this price point, you'll usually see a lot of overcooked, fatty and greasy fried foods on the menu.
The restaurant was opened by Chrissie Castillo, a former elementary school teacher who always loved cooking, and who seems to have innate knowledge of the way people like to eat on a daily basis.
I sense a family presence in the service, which doesn't usually result in the most efficient of operations, and this shows on crowded weekends when patrons might wait 15 minutes for a menu, and more than half an hour for food.
We knew there was trouble on a recent Sunday when, at 1 p.m., the restaurant was packed and there was no food on the tables. It would usually be enough to make me walk away as a civilian, but I had work to do. An impatient couple a table away from mine muttered, "Now we know to come earlier next time."
But that is the cost of popularity, and this is just the sort of food that people will wait for, though I hope the staff speeds up its act. Even if the kitchen is backed up, there's no excuse for not greeting the customer or not being able to get coffee and soft drinks to the tables. That's basic hospitality.
THE ROOM is simply appointed, and though small, is comfortable enough for couples and small families. Tables are close enough to hear others' conversations, though, and the sight of kids playing with the peppermills and spewing pepper across a table is annoying. (Parents: Do society a favor, please, and teach your kids some manners before inflicting them on the public.)
Those with a sweet tooth can start with cinnamon French toast ($5.95) made of sweet bread, which doesn't really need a maple syrup boost. You can get it topped with bananas, strawberries or apples for a dollar extra.
It's hard to decide between a trio of buttermilk pancakes ($5.50) and Belgian malted waffle ($5.50), but I'd opt for the pancakes over the dry waffle, which, even when topped with fruit for $1 more, still requires a sizable pour of syrup, which would frighten anyone who's read "The Perricone Prescription" linking sugar to degenerative diseases.
Three-egg omelettes are just as tempting, and there's one for meat eaters (ham, bacon, Spam, Portuguese or Italian sausage and cheese, for $7.75), as well as the veggie-oriented (your choice of three fillings: tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, eggplant, avocado, salsa, or cheddar, pepper jack, provolone or Monterey jack cheese, for $7.50). The omelettes come with a choice of rice, or roasted, herbed new potatoes, as well as a choice of wheat, white or sourdough toast, or an English muffin.
You'll also find a veggie scramble ($7.50) of spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes and Monterey Jack; or local scramble ($7.50) of Spam or Portuguese sausage, potatoes and onions; a ham and cheese croissant sandwich ($6.95); or frittata ($7.95) of Italian sausage, bacon or ham, potato, mushrooms and Parmesan.
Of course it's always possible to stop in for breakfast and get sidetracked by the lunch menu, especially when you see slices of a grilled filet of steak ($9.95) sitting atop a bed of spinach and mixed greens, with slices of sweet grape tomatoes and shredded carrots, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. Yum! I've noted with the salads that the greens on the menu aren't always the ones you get, so sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I preferred the spinach that came with the steak to the romaine listed on the menu, but I also ordered a roasted chicken and avocado salad ($8.95) that listed spinach and got romaine instead. Oh well.
The homestyle salads, pastas and panini are nothing fancy, but at these prices, I don't think most people will quibble too much if that roasted chicken breast is a little dry and the marinara on a dish of penne pasta ($7; add $2 for chicken or small shrimp) doesn't have much zing. If ordering takeout, you can brighten it up at home with a sprinkling of fresh Parmesan and slivers of basil.
They may be trying to keep costs down for harried consumers, but there's no reason we can't start with one of their basic dishes and add a pinch of our own kitchen magic to family takeout.
Too bad Cafe Kaila closes so early, but it's good to know dinner plans are in the works, and for the holiday, gift baskets of baked goods are being offered.