Aloha Table menu is beyond touristy


POSTED: Wednesday, May 13, 2009

If you need any reassurance that the essence of “;aloha”; is still marketable, look no further than Aloha Table in Waikiki. The restaurant may be the first of its kind in Hawaii, but it's part of a chain that started in Japan, where there are 10 restaurants—some bearing related names of Lanai and Pa'ina—between Tokyo and Toyohashi. All celebrate the aloha spirit and flavors of Hawaii.




Aloha Table


        2238 Lau'ula St. (behind Waikiki Shopping Plaza) » 922-2221

Food: ;*;*;*1/2


Service: ;*;*;*


Ambience: ;*;*;*


Value: ;*;*;*1/2


Hours: Noon to 2 a.m. daily Cost: About $36 to $50 for two without drinks


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


That would explain the abundance of Japanese guests. But before fleeing from the idea of faux aloha fare, don't worry, it's not as hokey as it sounds. While a couple of dishes are nods to its touristy locale, such as mochiko chicken karaage ($8) rolled in coconut flakes, and dessert of coconut rum Jell-O under pineapple granita ($6.50), there are some seriously delicious grinds here.

The restaurant occupies the second-floor space of the former Petite Garlic, behind the Waikiki Shopping Plaza. If you're a garlic fan and swear by its health benefits, you'll be happy to know that the chef is a hold over, still offering a short roster of simple garlic dishes such as fries ($5), edamame ($4.75), shrimp ($8), warm French rolls filled with a garlic-butter spread ($4.75), and even whole cloves of garlic roasted in their skins ($6).

It was here that, thinking back to the American Olympic men's swim team win of the 4 X 100-meter medley relay in Beijing, I came to the conclusion that the dining experience can be compared to a relay race. If a team can start and finish with a bang, upon winning witnesses are likely to remember those highlights, with the middle somewhat of a blur.

This is what happened to me when I mentioned I had been to the restaurant and someone asked, “;How was it?”; I started to say it was excellent, before doing some backtracking. “;Wait, the garlic shrimp were really good, and the dessert was good, but in between, the pasta was just OK, and lunch here is just OK.”;

You will want to be here in the evening, when a full menu is offered. By day, only a handful of options are available while the kitchen staff preps for the evening's main event. Lunch choices include a loco moco ($9), Japanese curry and rice ($9), Cobb salad ($10.50), and Cajun shrimp salad ($11.50) apparently meant to be shared. It comes in a big acacia wood bowl with large matching wood service spoon and fork of the sort that people may have hung in their homes in the 1960s. The shrimp is none too fiery, served with slices of tomato and tortilla chips along with the greens.

Pasta of the day was mild-mannered seafood spaghetti ($9.50) with a light tomato sauce, tossed with clams, calamari and shrimp. There's also a plate lunch of the day, which, when I visited, included two pieces of shrimp and the best chicken karaage I've tried to date, light, crisp and tender. That's why I had high hope for the coconut karaage as well, but that extra layer masks the goodness underneath. It didn't come close to the noon version.

IN THE EVENING, start with glistening ahi poke ($8.50) tossed with wakame, ogo, onions and tomatoes in an intensely flavored Japanese soy sauce and sesame oil. Better yet, the pan-fried shell-on garlic-butter shrimp ($8) made a great pupu, and you can have those spiced up with chile flakes.

I had ordered the bagna cauda when Petite Garlic was here, but couldn't remember what it was like, so I ordered the dish to refresh my memory. My advice to you is, don't do it. The few sprigs of crudites—lettuce, radish, celery and carrot sticks—that accompanied the smooth anchovy, olive oil and garlic paste didn't merit the $12 price.

From there, the menu offers such no-fail local favorites as grilled ahi ($18), furikake salmon ($12), and misoyaki butterfish ($13). I gave them a second chance at pasta with a duet of chewy Hamakua mushrooms with porcini and chicken tossed with penne in a heavy, creamy Parmesan wine sauce ($14). If the Japanese are eating like this back in Tokyo, they may catch up to us in weight gain in the next few years.

Other pasta dishes include penne arabiata ($12) and spaghettini with tomatoes and arugula ($12). Meat eaters can opt for sizzling rib eye steak ($22) or grilled pork loin ($16) cut into strips and draped with a sauce of sweet sauteed Maui onions with a dash of tart mustard. A wine list is available.

One of the more unusual desserts here is the mango pudding ($6) that sits like flan when you order the mango pudding sundae ($8). The layered dessert starts with vanilla ice cream layered with corn flakes, chantilly cream and fresh fruit. The corn flakes were a little strange, and you'd think, dry. But when scooped up together with the rest of the ingredients, it did add a nice crunch.

But all tiramisu fans must get here for the Kona coffee granita with mascarpone mousse ($7.50). It is essentially tiramisu in a cup, but nice and light without the lady fingers and with the coffee ice adding flavor without extra calories. So good! Staffers said that one woman came in and devoured four of these in a sitting. I know I could, too.

Nadine Kam's restaurant review appears every Wednesday in the Star-Bulletin. Restaurants are reviewed anonymously. Meals are paid by the Star-Bulletin.