The promise of pastrami


POSTED: Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm frequently asked how I pick the restaurants to review, as if it were some special lottery. Some seem amazed when the same restaurants appear simultaneously in publication after publication, as if all reviewers were part of a conspiracy to direct traffic to anointed restaurants.




Giovanni Pastrami

        Waikiki Beachwalk, 227 Lewers St. Suite 116 923-2100

Food: HH


Service: HH1/2


Ambience: HH1/2


Value: HH


Hours: 8 a.m. to midnight, daily


Cost: About $30 to $35 for two without drinks



But no, there's no magic, no divination, no mystery to the process. Like everyone else, I crave what's new, different and potentially buzz-worthy.

Sometimes, when there's a mass of openings, restaurants do get overlooked. In the case of Waikiki Beach Walk, when many openings came in rapid succession last year, it was difficult to get to each one without looking repetitive from week to week.

One of the spots I missed was Giovanni Pastrami, where staffers have to be grateful there are still tourists milling about Waikiki. The restaurant—which attempts to be a “;New York-style deli, pizzeria and sports bar”;—hasn't received a whole lotta love from the citizen reviewers at Yelp.com, who aren't held back by the traditional media's ethic of fairness.

For me, that meant racking up an impressive bill while trying to figure out what this restaurant does right and giving them multiple chances that would not occur with normal diners, who rightfully expect a decent meal the first time out.

Naturally, with a name that includes pastrami, that is most diners' reason for stopping here in the first place. Next thing you know, I had ordered a pastrami Reuben ($15.95) with their idea of “;piled high”; equivalent to a less than 1-inch stack of meat, about half of which was some other kind of sugary meat, as thick as Canadian bacon and cut into bacon-size strips. Grilling brought out all the oils, which leached out of the bread onto my fingers.

A few days later, I thought I might have better luck with a plain hot pastrami sandwich ($13.95), which did turn out to be the better choice. I showed up for lunch instead of dinner, and this time there were two inches of the thin-sliced, mouth-watering, dry-cured pastrami served on light rye. The Waikiki price likely won't make anyone rush over, but it's there if you get a sudden craving. It's just the inconsistency between the two experiences that is worrisome. Whenever a person gives a recommendation, they want to feel comfortable that their experience will be close to what their friends will share on a future visit.

  YOU'RE MOST likely to see that consistency with the Round Table Pizza aspect of the menu, whether you're building your own pizza or ordering one off the menu, such as the King Arthur Supreme; Montague's All Meat Marvel with salami, pepperoni, pork sausage and Portuguese sausage; or Guinevere's Garden vegetarian pizza. These run $10.95 for a 6-inch personal pizza, $22.95 for medium or $26.95 for a large.

I enjoyed the gourmet veggie pizza with its toppings of artichoke hearts, crunchy zucchini, spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions and chopped garlic on a crunchy three-cheese crust. Other choices include roasted chicken and garlic, and Hearty Bacon Supreme with bacon, ham and Italian sausage.

A free pizza slice is offered with the purchase of any bar drink during happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. weekdays.

They also make decent omelets from breakfast time to midnight.

Also among their better dishes is Giovanni's macadamia nut pesto pasta, with linguine tossed in Parmesan and pesto punctuated with the occasional nutty crunch. It's $14.95 plain, $17.95 with chicken, and I'd recommend adding shrimp ($4 more than plain) to avoid starch overload. You can also add a mixed green or Caesar salad for $6.95.

You probably wouldn't go wrong with Pasta Delight of angel hair tossed in a garlic butter sauce at $13.95, $16.95 with chicken, $17.95 with shrimp.

Having had good luck with the pasta, I pressed on with baked ziti ($13.95) in a ho-hum marinara sauce topped with mozzarella and parmesan. I could eat it but I wouldn't order it again.

The real damage was in the bar or starter menu. A quartet of miniature black angus burgers ($9.95) seemed promising, but the flat, gray patties were unappetizing. Now I could see why they tried to push the minicheeseburgers ($11.45). Cheese can mask many flaws.

I didn't hold out much hope for crab cakes, but when one server gushed about them, well, I can sometimes be gullible. Either that or he really believed the mushy cakes were great. The best thing about the dish was the spicy red bell pepper coulis, but I could manage only two bites of the crab cake.

Dessert can sometimes make things all better, and I had my heart set on that ultimate New York cheesecake, but they were out. All I could think of was screaming, “;So, Cheesecake Factory is down the street, send someone to get it!”; A little initiative would have been nice, but somehow I knew that wasn't going to happen.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin.