Buffet's oasis spares no expense


POSTED: Sunday, February 15, 2009

You can count on Jimmy Buffett to bring the party to any city where he touches down, the living breathing grand pooh-bah of Margaritaville, a place where the sun always shines, the clothing is skimpy, the waves are a leap away and the 'ritas flow unceasingly.




Jimmy Buffet's at the Beachcomber

        2300 Kalakaua Ave. / 791-1200

Food ;*;*1/2


Service ;*;*;*


Ambience ;*;*;*;*


Value ;*;*1/2


Hours: Breakfast 7 to 10:30 a.m. and dinner 11 a.m. to midnight daily


Cost: About $25 to $30 for lunch, and $40 to $50 for two for dinner without drinks


Ratings compare similar restaurants: ;*;*;*;* - excellent; ;*;*;* - very good; exceeds expectations; ;*;* - average; ;* - below average.




For a long time he's been content to bring his shiny, happy music to the islands, and about a week ago he introduced grinds integral to the lifestyle and the party: spicy, colorful, casual, fun.

Parrotheads will naturally feel right at home at Jimmy Buffett's at the Beachcomber. Foodies, not so much.

I'm not a Parrothead and am certain that I will never be one, but even non-tribe members will have to agree this place is impressive. My first thoughts, in order: “;Wow, a grotto”; and “;Wow, look at the money.”;

It's pretty obvious no expense was spared in creating a Buffett-style oasis on the second floor of the Beachcomber. It's almost like an elaborate stage set full of colored lights and palm trees with 21,000 square feet of cavernous grotto; a hand-painted, resin-coated ocean-theme floor; booth-side screens presenting concert footage by Buffett, simpatico and local musicians; and other screens bearing video footage of waterfalls and beaches. Sorry, it doesn't have the water slides and pools as at its other locations, but nevertheless, the effects are mesmerizing. When images of the Mokuluas come up, it's easy to imagine what it might be like if the restaurant were transplanted to Kailua or Lanikai Beach.

It must help that Buffett earned his keep as a music star before turning restaurateur. Few restaurateurs could afford to do this.

Tables flow from the restaurant into the pool-side patio, where local musicians perform from 6:30 to 9:30 nightly before moving onto the restaurant's main stage and continuing to play through 1:30 a.m. There's no room for the requisite T-shirts, CDs and souvenirs, so the Jimmy Buffet retail store occupies more square footage on the street level.

I ONLY HOPED that, like the decor, no expense was spared on the food, bearing the flavors of sunny isles and states, from Honolulu to Key West, Fla., to the Caribbean. You can quibble with the recipes, but they do start out with good fresh ingredients, like the pineapple-mango salsa accompanying their Lahaina burger ($11.95). It gets a little soggy piled under the bun, though, so they'd be better off placing it on the side. If you do not eat beef, they offer substitutions of a turkey or Boca patty for any of their burgers at no extra charge.

They even managed to add a bit of novelty to ahi poke ($11.95), serving it satay style on skewers in a credible marinade and sprinkled with goma. If you're just picking at casual fare, Volcano nachos topped with chili, cheese, guacamole, sour cream, jalapenos, tomatoes and scallions are $11.95. For $2 more, add grilled chicken or beef.

Of course they want to sell lots of their specialty margaritas, many made with the house Margaritaville Gold tequila, so you'll probably notice dishes are supremely salty. That didn't stop me from enjoying peel-and-eat shrimp simmered in beer with lemon and sprinkled with Old Bay seasoning with what seemed like an extra dousing of celery salt. The flavors whisked me back to the South, where I picked up a taste for Old Bay flavors while traipsing around the D.C., Virginia and Maryland.

Sandwiches here range from portabella ($10.95) to pulled pork ($10.95) topped with guava BBQ sauce, to a sedate Cuban pork with sliced ham ($8.95), with the requisite sliced pickles. Yawn.

The best dish I tried was the fire-grilled jerk chicken ($15.95) served atop spicy and delicious “;Island”; rice studded with black-eyed peas, and accompanied by a healthy portion of steamed summer squash, zucchini and broccoli.

After that, other dishes were disappointments, including BBQ ribs that had a dry twice-cooked and oversauced presence. After trying the chicken, I thought the jerk salmon might be even better, but that too was overdone. It would have been enough to stop with the dry rub of jerk spices on the fish, but after searing they slathered it with a heavy BBQ sauce, which buried the jerk flavor and any delicacy the dish might have had. It's too bad. They served a bright, zingy mango chutney on the side, and I'd suggest serving the BBQ sauce on the side as well, for those whose taste buds are not numbed or dumbed down by drink.

Key lime pie ($5.95) or pineapple upside down cake ($6.25) might complete your visit to the tropics, but I was happy with the Chocolate Hurricane ($6.95) of fresh, warm brownies topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and chopped macadamia nuts, with a stream of hot fudge. Yum!


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