COURTESY WESTIN MOANA SURFRIDER
The Beachhouse restaurant retains the beauty of its Victorian past with all the upgrades today's diners expect.
The first hotel built on Waikiki Beach in 1901, the Moana Surfrider, is still one of the most beautiful in the islands, its stately Beaux-Arts architecture standing in stark contrast to the blocky and formidable structures that now fill all of Waikiki.
Time seems to move at the slower pace befitting the Victorian era here. Yes, a lot of time has passed, but always in a relaxed mood when I'm on the property, I never noticed that the room might have been in need of refurbishment, a course started by Starwood Hotels & Resorts early this year to coincide with the property's rebranding as a Westin resort.
In the main dining room, christened Beachhouse restaurant, out went the carpeting in favor of refinishing the existing oak floor. Formerly white walls were colored a pale seafoam blue, reflective of the ocean just outside its doors. Thankfully, the room retains its French doors, reinforcing the feeling of openness to the outdoors.
The restaurant has opened just in time for the holidays, offering a picture-perfect venue for any special occasion dinner. Get into the celebratory spirit with a couple of signature cocktails, the White Ginger Cosmo or 3 Nenes made with three flavors of Grey Goose vodka brightened with lime, cranberry juice and an ounce of Sprite. (Make sure you have a designated driver, of course. Police officers are aggressively hunting down DUI drivers this time of year. Don't ask me how I know.)
In the kitchen is the familiar face of chef de cuisine Rodney Uyehara, the former executive chef at The Bistro in Century Center. Just don't expect the extensive mix of traditional and contemporary fare of The Bistro. A lot of planning went into the restaurant's concept and what has emerged is no more complex than steak and seafood grill.
It was initially shocking, considering the room's grand history. I guess I was expecting cuisine that is a little lighter and more precocious. But on second thought, this everyman menu may be more likely to win an audience of visitors than fancier fare. I don't imagine diehard fans of Morton's, Hy's or Ruth's Chris Steakhouse will make a switch, but when it comes to figuring out what people want to eat, you won't find too many objections to steak or lobster.
COURTESY WESTIN MOANA SURFRIDER
A build-it-yourself seafood platter. Choose two or four selections, from sashimi to king crab and lobster.
FIRST TIMERS will likely be spending a lot of time with the menu because everything on it looks delicious. Starters include salads of Kula spinach and crimini mushrooms ($10), and Hamakua tomato and grilled Maui onions; and steak tartar ($16) accompanied by sweetbread toast.
Don't expect a lot of delicacy on the menu. This is food to assuage the appetite, rather than cater to foodie fantasies. Thus, "diver scallop potato cake" ($14) comprises a single, perfectly cooked scallop buried under a stack of crisp potatoes prepared hash-browned style. Roast asparagus ($12) is wrapped, not with just a sliver of proscuitto, but generous slices, then topped with a sunnyside up fried egg and tangerine hollandaise. It's possible to get full on appetizers before even getting to the main course.
Among the appetizers are "Marinated & Raw" seafood. Choose from a trio of seafood ceviche shots, ahi carpaccio, yellowtail sashimi, and more, priced from $12 to $19 a la carte. A Seafood Tower features choices of lobster tail, king crab, tiger prawns, abalone, oysters and sashimi, at $36 for two selections, or $69 for four. It's worthwhile to try king crab legs ($38 a la carte) that, for once, are sweet and meaty, not shriveled after a deep freeze as usually found around town.
I noticed a lot of lobster tails on tables, but if you really, really want a steak and a taste of lobster is all you need, you can get that from an appetizer of a Maine lobster martini ($21) with mayo tobiko and California Osetra caviar.
Steaks here are 21-day dry-aged Smithfield angus beef that is rubbed with sea salt and flame grilled. I don't know how many will actually be able to tell the difference, but it would help if the kitchen timing was on target. On one occasion, it was perfection. On another, a 20-ounce bone-in ribeye ($42) was more done than the medium rare requested. I expect this aspect will improve as the staff gets better acquainted with new kitchen equipment. Steaks are accompanied by a trio of sauces: citrus bearnaise, a house Worcestershire and cabernet jus. If you like sharing experiences, porterhouse for two is $85.
Sides to go with that include crunchy roasted Hamakua mushrooms, creamed asparagus, iron skillet potato and Maui onion gratin, and tempura onion rings, at $8 each.
After ingesting all this food, you might want to go light on dessert, at $11 each. Look no further than a refreshing, fizzy float of ginger beer and mango. Chocoholics will want to try the triple chocolate spring rolls served with white chocolate rum. Take one bite and you'll forget you're already full.