The Loft fills up fast
The dining lounge attracts the sedate pau-hana crowd
Unless you're a Rip Van Winkle, oblivious to all going on in the world, you've probably heard that newspapers are dying. That's nothing new. I figure I've heard it for at least a dozen years.
What has been less obvious is that the traditional restaurant also is endangered, a phenomenon exacerbated by current economic concerns.
Certainly, there will be newspapers for a while, and restaurants forever. People are not going to learn to cook overnight, nor are they going to give up the convenience of letting others do the cooking for them, but they've also become more sophisticated and demanding in applying equations of cost versus sizzle versus value, and are increasingly finding the formula is not adding up to satisfaction.
Having been disappointed by some new restaurants, I've fled over the past few weeks to takeout spots, and this week to the new dining lounge, The Loft. Whereas I've always felt that many restaurants cater to restaurateur/chef egos first, alternative spots try to fill niches by thinking of what customers actually want and need. It's been a long time since I've been in business classes, but I would imagine that's still the No. 1 rule.
It was easy enough for the owners of Ichiriki, the nabe restaurant on Piikoi, to expand to second quarters upstairs and open The Loft. The plan was to create a grown-up lounge in a late-night landscape dominated by twentysomethings, because, at a certain age, you just want to be liberated from the "look at me" set. A sedate, older pau-hana crowd has also discovered it's a great place to meet friends over drinks and pupu good enough to serve as dinner.
The decor is trendy with a mix of comfortable low couches, high tables and bar seats, with paper orb lanterns and the warmth of light bouncing off an orange wall. House music is set low enough to allow for conversation, rather than shouting matches. Show up any day and you'll find the dreaded "Reserved" sign on many tables. It's a problem that so early on, the place is already too small.
During happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m., you'll find beer at $3.50 per bottle; it's $5 otherwise. The house red by the glass is $5, while bottles range from $30 to $100. Specialty drinks range from a shochu-based shiso mojito ($8) to a lucscious Drunken Monkey ($10) of Kahlua and Bailey's blended and thickened with apple banana. Yum.
You'll need to get food to keep you on the straight line, and The Loft delivers a basic but well thought-out menu for ladies and gents of varying appetites.
For nibblers, there is silky ahi poke ($6) made with a light, though spicy, kim chee sauce and strings of thin-sliced onions, pipikaula ($7) and mini pizzas on French bread toast, such as mushroom and sausage, and your basic Margherita ($8).
Diet watchers will be delighted by the presence of fresh crudite ($5), caprese doused with fine balsamic vinegar ($6) and a Caesar salad ($7) finished with a handful of diced shrimp. Nothing is overworked, including tempura-style garlic shrimp dredged in the potato starch katakuriko and coated with a barely perceptible garlic sauce.
One of the salads with pasta would make a decent meal, but just so there's no surprise, sausage-tomato pasta ($12) is prepared local-style with spaghetti and sauce stirred together in a pot.
Those requiring more substantial fare might opt for the USDA Prime ribeye steak ($38), but, not being so extravagant, I went with the USDA Choice ribeye steak ($24) and was thoroughly happy with my decision. Simply grilled with onions and mushrooms, it was better than any steak I've had in a traditional restaurant lately.
There's also fish-and-chip or fish-and-chicken combos ($9). The chicken wasn't the usual freezer nugget, but marinated in a soy-ginger sauce dredged in katakuriko and deep-fried.
I'm sure I'll be back. I just hope I'll be able to get a table.