What the Heck?
PHOTO COURTESY DESERT ISLAND RESTAURANTS
Pat Bowlen, Tom Selleck, Larry Manetti and Randy Schoch at the Black Orchid opening, 20 years ago last week.
A big party to remember -- 20 years later
It was the splashiest party of the '80s boom -- a restaurant called the Black Orchid opened, one of the first at Restaurant Row. Last Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of that opening gala.
Back in 1988, hundreds of people, with film, not digital cameras, lined South Street. People Magazine and Entertainment Tonight covered the event. It took a helicopter overhead to get a full shot of the 1,100 guests that filled the tents outside the restaurant.
Why the fuss? Tom Selleck.
Just finishing up ":Magnum, P.I.," embarking on a film career that everyone anticipated would be more illustrious than it turned out, Selleck owned a part of the restaurant, as did Magnum co-star Larry Manetti.
The real money came from Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and restaurateur Randy Schoch. "Selleck and Larry weren't really owners," recalls Schoch. "We just gave them some stock to use their names."
"At the time, they were powerful names. "That night you couldn't rent a tux in Honolulu," recalls Schoch, "or a limo. And we rented out all the upscale Porta-Potties in town."
"Carl Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys flew in. Dolly Parton sent a video. "Tony Curtis was there," recalls Schoch, "plus all the usual suspects from around town."
"Including me, sweating in an ill-fitting Sears rental tux, wondering just whose idea it was to hold a black-tie party outdoors in July.
It was, however, the occasion of my longest face-to-face conversation with Tom Selleck, who looked damn imposing, tall, tanned and owning his own tux.
Me, blocked from the buffet table: "Excuse me, sir, could I get by? I'd like to get to the roast beef."
Black Orchid: The Sequel
Refreshing my memory of the Black Orchid, I came across Larry Manetti's claims that the place was mismanaged, that he'd demanded more expensive caviar and champagnes on the menu, enjoyed unlimited comps and helped drive the place into bankruptcy in a year. This view made it into his memoir, "Aloha Magnum."
"No, says Schoch, who's gone on to own 13 restaurants, including the Ruth's Chris Steakhouses and Macaroni Grills here. Black Orchid did well at the beginning and was eventually sold in 1992, becoming the Rex's Black Orchid and finally an upscale pool hall, before turning over the space to Hiroshi's and Vino.
"I'm surprised Larry said that," said Schoch. "Selleck was the difficult one. Larry would do stuff like order Louis XIII at $150 a shot and then put it in his Coke, which we had to talk about."
"Eventually, Schoch and Bowlen bought out their celebrity partners. "We flew to California and gave them a check, which maybe we shouldn't have had to do, because they didn't have money in it in the first place."
"I finally talked to Manetti himself on the phone. "Oh," he said, "Randy's a great guy. You can't believe everything in the book. Some other guy wrote it -- I was too busy -- and he's dead now."
"He's listed as co-author and sells the book, now out of print, on his Web site. "I have 38 copies left," he said. "If you look at Amazon, a copy now sells for nearly $500." (True, a new copy lists for $488.)
The actor, who lives in Southern California, says he misses the Black Orchid. "I come back to Honolulu now, it's not the same. There aren't any hot spots anymore. But I guess that was just the '80s."
A Butt-Kicking Cup of Coffee
"Humans make bad lab instruments," said Shawn Steiman, a hint of frustration in his voice.
Steiman is a scientist, currently finishing up his doctorate at UH-Manoa on the chemistry of coffee, and he's a little huhu that human beings don't react to coffee with quite the precision of scientific instruments.
Steiman has just published "The Hawai'i Coffee Book: A Gourmet's Guide from Kona to Kaua'i."
"To promote the book and help educate the public, he held a coffee cupping for two dozen last week at Native Books/Na Mea Hawaii in Ward Warehouse.
A coffee cupping is roughly analogous to a wine tasting, but there are differences. Wine tasting is a lot like drinking wine, except you have to pay more attention.
Coffee cupping is nothing like the way people normally enjoy coffee. Steiman has his test subjects pour hot water over grounds in a Styrofoam cup. After two minutes the grounds have created a crust on top of the coffee, which Steiman has everyone breaking with a stainless steel soup spoon.
Along the way you have to stop, sniff and finally slurp coffee -- "Do it explosively," urges Steiman -- out of the spoon into their mouths. "Wine tasting's a whole lot more fun," said one of the tasters. "You don't get grounds in your mouth."
"Then came an even harder part: getting the tasters to describe what they were tasting. "Bold," said one. No. "Tasty," said another. No, again.
"Try to be neutral," said Steiman. "Does it have a lot of flavor whether you like the flavor or not? Does it leave an aftertaste whether you like it or not?"
"The problem with human beings is that what they think, how they feel, what they've eaten lately, these all affect their taste buds, said Steiman. He ran the group through a 10-point scale on aroma, body, flavor, acidity, sweetness and so forth. Then he asked for descriptors: Burnt? Crisp? Smoky? Winey? Skunky?
Finally, after much slurping, he said we could just taste the coffee. Cream and sugar? I asked. "I'll kick your butt," said Steiman.