LOOK in the direction of Nick's Spinners Restaurant on Kuhio Avenue and you'll see row after row of motor scooters and cars.
Those first impressions
Lucky for them, a full house, you say? Not really. The scooters and cars belong to a rental agency that occupies the space, and it obscures the restaurant so that even after a year's existence, few Waikiki residents know about Spinners.
Appetizers are what Spinners does best, and grazers can dine in style by ordering off the first page of a three-page menu. Explore the entrees and you'll find the restaurant loses its way.
Start with the Bagna Cauda ($5.95) served with bread. This luxurious "hot bath" of olive oil, butter, garlic, anchovy and parsley makes it almost impossible to stop eating bread. Nevertheless, there were other dishes to try, so I ended up taking home leftover bagna cauda. It was too lovely to go to waste. At home, the bagna cauda enjoyed a second life as the base for a garlic, shallot, shiitake, tomato, scallop and spinach saute.
Back at the restaurant, Scallop Cakes ($6.95) are a variation on popular crab cakes. Spinners' Scallop Cakes are meatier and sweeter than most of the crab cakes served around town, and are topped by a light tarragon-spiked bearnaise sauce.
The chef also used a light hand with the cream sauce that topped tender pillows of Lobster Ravioli ($8.50), featuring more of a lobster mash than shredded meat.
I also enjoyed an Eggplant and Goat Cheese Salad ($5.95 for one; $8.95 for two). The eggplant was cut thick and roasted to a perfect balance between tenderness and firmness. This was served atop mixed greens, tomatoes and goat cheese, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
I felt good about Spinners up to this point. Considering the pleasant introduction, what followed was a 180-degree turn for the worst.
The first disasters were the pastas, cooked to a flaccid, soggy mass. At first, I thought this borderline forgivable. Who hasn't overboiled pasta at home? But this was repeated with linguine and thick penne. Who overcooks penne?
If one looks beyond the limp pasta, Penne Salsa Rosa with Chicken ($14.95) was OK, with a light tomato sauce, mushroom, peas and tender, bite-size morsels of chicken.
But Seafood Puttanesca ($18.95) was unforgivable, with scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams and fish that were not only overcooked, but tasted as if they had been sitting on the docks too long.
Always willing to give a restaurant a second chance, I went back to try some of the turf items, in hope that one could do OK by staying away from the pastas.
But I wasn't wrong in my original assessment. Spinners did no better with Pork Chops ($16.95) as dry as Styrofoam and Twin Petite Filets ($23.95) of beef that even looked like leather shoe soles. And the taste? Nada. The steaks had been grilled to death, which is inexplicable, since earlier, an antipasto platter featured zucchini grilled to perfection. At least the shrimp that accompanied the steaks were better than they had been on the Puttanesca.
So stick to the appetizers, then get out while you can.
Nick's SpinnersWhere: At Kuhio Village, 2463 Kuhio Ave. with $7 parking underground
Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. for lunch; dinner 5 to 11 p.m.
Prices: Dinner $30 to $50 without drinks
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-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.