COURTESY SHERATON WAIKIKI
Ronnie Dalo pulls a pepperoni pizza out of the oven at Ingredients, a new casual and to-go eatery at the Sheraton Waikiki.
All the Ingredients, plus fun, to go
I wish I had known about Ingredients last weekend, when I went exploring the new shops at Royal Hawaiian Center. I was hungry, but didn't want a long, involved meal. I didn't want the ubiquitous sidewalk ramen. Nor did I want to fill up on Coldstone ice cream. A simple salad or sandwich that didn't involve table service would have been nice, but I didn't think I would be able to find that in Waikiki, so I just drove off.
Sheraton Waikiki, 2255 Kalakaua Ave. / 922-4422
Hours: 6 a.m. to midnight daily; breakfast to 11:30 a.m.
Prices: Lunch or dinner, about $15 per person
Ingredients, newly opened in the Sheraton Waikiki, would have been a perfect, quick, no-fuss solution. Leave it to Starwood to try a concept that I've never seen in a hotel before, that of a gourmet cafeteria. It's a smart, practical way of addressing a go-go visitor crowd in need of a quick bite before hitting the road, a packed lunch for a circle-island excursion, or casual grinds just before bedtime.
It's not really a "destination" restaurant so it's handy mostly for locals who work in Waikiki or who are passing through on other business. Because Ingredients caters to built-in traffic, I had difficulty getting anyone in the hotel to validate the Sheraton garage parking.
The main idea is to allow guests and those passing through to choose from made-to-order meals, grab-and-go service or prepackaged goods. The eatery takes the form of a half-circle comprising about five stations, where servers help you to build your own salads -- or a heat-to-order method prevails.
You'll probably be working your way, Asian-reading style, from right to left. In the morning, that means starting at the breakfast panini station, where you'll find the pressed, grilled sandwiches ($6) filled with your choice of a ham and cheddar scramble, egg white and grilled vegetables, egg BLT and more.
In the evening those fillings are replaced with the likes of seared ahi, grilled vegetables, or turkey, bacon and avocado for $10. Perhaps the most flavorful of the bunch is the kalua pig panini with caramelized onions, herb garlic cheese and a touch of heat from jalapeños. There's actually more meat in the steak panini, but the milder beef was harder to separate from the flavors and textures of red onions, boursin and tomato that also filled the sandwich. Both sandwiches were needlessly greasy.
I thought the "Some Assembly Required" salads were the best part of the experience. (Hmm, desserts are also very good, though.)
Your basic greens topped with a choice of five ingredients is $7. A friend and I both ordered salads. She started with mixed greens. I started with baby spinach. The two other choices are romaine or iceberg lettuce, all prepackaged in plastic, to-go covered salad plates. The greens are dumped into a mixing bowl as you choose your five toppings. For her it was artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, peas, mozzarella balls and Parmesan cheese. I also went with the artichoke hearts, hearts of palm and Parmesan, then veered with roasted eggplant and hard-boiled egg halves. Both of us would have been happiest with just one more choice. For her it would have been olives; for me, sliced avocado.
COURTESY SHERATON WAIKIKI
Ingredients offers an array of sandwiches, "some assembly required" salads, pizzas and desserts.
Other toppings include bacon, blue cheese, broccoli, beets, carrots, mac nuts, mushrooms, tomato, etc. Everything is laid out in front of you, so you can see what looks good and what doesn't. For instance, I usually wouldn't hesitate to add asparagus, but the stuff on the salad bar looked like it came out of a can, so I passed.
We could have paid an additional 50 cents per extra topping, but we wanted to splurge on the protein option. It's another $5 to add sliced steak, grilled salmon, seared tuna or boiled shrimp. I thought the portion was fair at about 4 ounces. I added tuna, my friend added salmon and both of us were perfectly happy.
If you don't want to think about this or that ingredient, ready-made salads ($10) include a mango ginger chicken salad with watercress, hearts of palm and tomato, and a shrimp Cobb with smoked bacon, corn and lemon-avocado dressing.
All food can be walked out to enjoy at poolside tables, though evening performances by hula dancers in metallic cellophane skirts would probably annoy many locals.
The pizza station could use the array of ingredients available to the salad crowd. So far, the only choices available, for $10, are tomato and basil, wild mushroom, meat lover's and pepperoni. Considering the range of toppings available to a California Pizza Kitchen diner, ordering a pizza here was much less fun than ordering a salad, and the crust was a little more chewy than the crisp I was expecting.
All was forgiven with the desserts, confections such as a cheese plait danish, almond croissant, brownies, mango cheesecake and gelato from Mondo Gelato.
Ingredients provides a great template for restaurants beyond Waikiki, which makes me wonder why no one else has introduced the cafeteria format outside an institutional setting. With today's eat-and-run pace, it seems its time has come.
COURTESY SHERATON WAIKIKI
A few of the three dozen salad toppers offered.