THE intersection of Aulike and Oneawa streets in Kailua is a Bermuda Triangle for restaurants. In 10 years I've seen Someplace Else, Yanni's Cafe, Solana and others come and go.
Things are looking
up in Kailua
Two newcomers vying for affection are Champa Thai and Baci Bistro, and their owners seem to have taken to heart what I've been saying all along, that Kailua has no room for slouches.
There's an isolation factor at work in Kailua, cut off from the rest of Honolulu by tunnels and 12 miles of freeway. If restaurants can't satisfy finicky Kailuans, they're dead. Just like that.
I liked Champa Thai's sister restaurant at Pearl Kai, and I like this one. However, Champa Thai has to break the spell of others' bad karma. There hasn't been a good restaurant on this site for at least 10 years, so it simply does not register as a destination.
Then there is Saeng's. Saeng's has long been a fixture in a town that has never seen a showdown between two Thai restaurants.
The newcomer's food is better, with flavors more fresh and vibrant. I especially love the Mahimahi with Green Peppercorn Sauce ($8.45), with the explosive kick of pepper cherries bursting on the tongue.
On a vast menu that includes exquisite curries ($6.75-$8.45), better-than-requisite Spring Rolls ($5.45) and salads ($6.25-$8.45), dishes to avoid include the Thai Toast ($5.45) appetizer, and a special of Roast Duck Curry. The former is breaded bread, with a thin film of very, very finely minced shrimp sandwiched between bread layers. With the latter dish, you just can't taste the duck, buried in a heavy red curry.
Champa ThaiWhere: 33 Aulike St.
Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner nightly from 5 to 9:30 p.m.
Prices: About $25 for two without drinks
Like nomads wandering from town to town, Baci restaurants have in the past popped up everywhere from Waikiki to Hawaii Kai to Kaimuki to Cooke Street. Now, with all those restaurants history, the focus is on making Kailua a permanent home.
The solarium that houses Baci Bistro is a bit darker than it was in the days of Solana. A moss-green curtain lends a touch of Old World romance and sophistication, while obliterating the unsightly street views. You may feel you've left Hawaii for Europe.
Baci favorites return here, such as the cold appetizer of Gamberetti Marinati ($9.95), grilled shrimp with lime, mint, feta and extra virgin olive oil. Melanzane ($6.95) is a delicious pate of eggplant mixed with garlic, onion and tomatoes, served on a strip of grilled eggplant.
You'll have trouble picking from a roster that includes Porcini ($14.95) and Mixed Seafood ($17.95) risottos; Veal Scalloppine Marsala ($18.50); and creamy Fettuccine Nere Con Capesante ($18.95), fettuccine blackened with squid ink, layered with saffron-tinted scallops, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes.
All this is served with a glossy professionalism.
Baci BistroWhere: 30 Aulike St.
Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner nightly from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Prices: Without drinks, lunch for two about $21 to $30; dinner for two about $36 to $70
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-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.