MEMORY is a giant magnifying glass. At best, memory can sweeten or intensify events and sensations of the past. At the Star-Bulletin, we recently heard from a woman in her 50s who reminisced about a peanut butter cookie she had eaten when she was 7 years old. That morsel was stored in that cookie jar of memory until it attained the lofty status as "The Best Darn Peanut Butter Cookie" in the world.
Old flavors lost
in Ahis new place
True or not, no harm is done by that recollection. In fact, such a memory tends to make one feel all warm and mushy inside, a boost for the blood pressure.
At worst, one's magnifying glass may be as distorting as a funhouse mirror. It could be downright depressing at one's 20th high school reunion, for instance, to suddenly recall having no friends and no dates way back when, after years of reinventing yourself in your mind as the most popular guy on campus.
My memory of Ahi's Kahuku Restaurant is on the sweet side. That's why a trip to Punaluu to see the new Ahi's gave me such a jolt. It wasn't the Ahi's I remembered.
When I think of the old Ahi's, I still think of clams -- plump, smooth and juicy -- lightly steamed or sauteed in butter and garlic. I think of panko-coated shrimp tempura and sauteed mahimahi with a sprinkling of fresh thyme.
Maybe others remember this too, because the building is more crowded on a Saturday afternoon than it was when it housed Paniolo Cafe. The Paniolo Cafe dance floor and stage area is gone, replaced by a cashier's and hostess counter. During the Paniolo days, I could sit at any table in the house. On a Saturday at Ahi's, you have to settle for what you can get. Tables fill up at the entrance, the main room and all along the enclosed lanai.
SHRIMP is still Ahi's claim to fame and diners can get a dozen of them for $8.75 ($1 off for take-out), prepared scampi, cocktail, tempura or deep-fried style. Try it all four ways on a $9.50 ($1 off for take-out) sampler. Oddly enough, the tempura style is the winner by default. The steamed, chilled cocktail shrimp had no flavor -none, nada. The deep-fried version seemed to be of the frozen, reheated variety. The scampi, for some inexplicable reason, also had a light breaded coating. To make matters worse, the scampi had little of the buttery, garlicky flavor I was expecting.
These were served with hot vegetables, grilled buttered bread and a choice of rice, mashed potatoes or french fries. For $2 more, patrons can get the meal complete with a tossed green salad, soft drink and sherbet or ice cream.
New York Steak combined with mahi, shrimp or chicken ($12.95, $11.95 take out) are satisfying entrees. Salads and sandwiches are also on the menu. A dish of iceburg lettuce topped with raw onion, tomatoes, more of the non-flavored shrimp and bland-tasting scallops served as a Seafood Salad ($6.95). And whereas I had dissed Ahi's burger in the past, this time I was quite content with a Hamburger Deluxe ($4.75), worthy of its moniker.
Now that summer's on the way, the weather's good for circle-isle drives, and Ahi's makes a convenient place to stop for a meal. But if there were an L&L in the vicinity, you'd do almost as well there.
Ahi's RestaurantWhere: 53-146 Kamehameha Highway, Punaluu
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Prices: About $12 to $22 for two for lunch or dinner
-- excellent;To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.