The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Following is the excerpted text of March 14's column:

Hoku's is Maile Room gone casual

SAY goodbye to the Maile Room and its formal dining forever. Hoku's is contemporary, bordering on casual, from its open kitchen preparing light Pacific region cuisine to its sleek, space-age flatware. But make no mistake, it's still a place to dress up, to see and be seen.

No expense has been spared in Hoku's creation. A dream kitchen is equipped to fulfill every dining fantasy, with everything from wood-burning pizza oven to tandoori oven.

From these varied appliances come an equally varied array of appetizers, from Kalua Pig Won Tons ($9.95, all dinner prices) to Naan Bread ($7.95) topped with smoked salmon. Diners can also get Norwegian Salmon ($12.50) that has been coated with pastrami seasonings, cured, smoked and left wonderfully succulent. The intense flavorings do not detract from the fish one bit.

Appetizer specials included a delicate salad of shrimp and scallops, paired with deliciously caramelized star fruit.

Equally amazing was a Tandoori Chicken Salad ($11.95), with chicken as pillowy as a marshmallow. They really seem to have spared no expense in putting the finest ingredients on the table. One might even mistake the chicken for the mozzarella beneath the tender Waimanalo greens.

THE superb appetizers made the main courses all the more jarring in their drabness. Starting with a crescendo is bound to leave some disappointed, and unlike a movie, there's no walking out in the middle of dinner.

There's no excuse for such a staid specialty of Grilled Pepper Crusted Rare Tuna ($29.50), not much different from the rectangular blocks of sashimi one can buy at Safeway.

Hoku's also served Stir-Fried Lobster ($35.95) as chewy as fish jerky. The lobster was paired with pork sausage. Unusual? Yes. The reason one doesn't see this combo often is because the two are not particularly compatible.You might have better luck with other entrees.

Snippy, uneven service, beginning with three befuddled hostesses at the door, does not enhance the experience.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants: HHHH - excellent; HHH - very good, exceeds expectations; HH - average; H - below average. To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

Feedback: After this column ran March 14, hoteliers complained that Hoku's should have been given time - at least three months - to get rid of the bugs in their operation. My response is that a restaurant of Hoku's stature should be set to go from Day 1. The restaurant is booked to near capacity and people are spending money. There is too much interest to ignore.

The other response is that I was too easy on them, and that the restaurant is the equivalent of Ryan's at Ward Centre. Uh, Hoku's food is actually much better than that pau hana restaurant/watering hole, but I get the point in that it's not quite as luxurious as people seem to want it to be.

This week in the Star-Bulletin: The Big Burrito

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