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StarBulletin.com

Waikiki grill wild about comfort food


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POSTED: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Those mindful of their bodies' response to the summer heat are lightening up — not only on the outside, with lightweight clothing, but on the inside as well — cutting calories, cutting fats and greasy foods.

I wish. While my body has been calling for fresh vegetable and fruit salads, new restaurateurs have been delivering a whole lot of ribs, hoagies, pizza and chicken wings. Frozen yogurt, too, but that's a different story.

It seems strange that in the heat of summer, so many would be clamoring for the foods most likely to make them feel hot, heavy and lethargic, but that's because of another dynamic at work. The desire to feel at ease psychologically simply supersedes the desire for physical comfort. Retreating to simple, affordable and familiar pleasures temporarily relieves the pressure of worrying about how to hold on to job, home and savings account. It's the bulky food equivalent of getting drunk to forget life's troubles.

That is how I came to be waiting amid overflow traffic at Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar over the weekend. And to think I had wondered beforehand how they would manage to fill the cavernous space in Discovery Bay that was formerly home to Shanghai Bistro. Where there's wings and alcohol, there's sure to be a crowd.

The chain restaurant obliterates all traces of the elegant Chinese restaurant that was filled with warm teak and luxurious details. In fact, Buffalo Wild Wings' dark color scheme and stripped down decor contributes to its lived-in look, as if it had been here all along.

Flat screens encircling the room are ideally placed for sports fans, and on a recent Saturday morning, they could have had their pick of golf, racing, baseball, football and rodeo, all just a glance away.

AS FOR FOOD, chicken wings, natch, and burgers are what this place does best. Ribs (one pound, $17.49) may seem inviting, but fuggedaboudit. Earlier, I suggested everyone check out Hog Island BBQ in Kaimuki, and I'm sticking to that recommendation. If you must try the ribs, hedge your bet and try them in combination ($15.99) with chicken wings.

Those wings, like all wing orders come with your choice of traditional bone-in or boneless styles, and your favorite Buffalo Wild Wings sauce. This is where you'll be doing most of your taste-testing, because there are 14 sauces to choose from. Work your way down their own version of a Scoville list that starts with sedate “;Smilin'”; sauces such as Sweet BBQ and Teriyaki, to “;Sizzlin'”; Spicy Garlic and Asian Zing (chili pepper, soy sauce and ginger) sauce, to “;Screamin' “; Wild and Blazin' sauces.

I'm accustomed to chicken wings doused in Frank's Red Hot Sauce, so seeing the Mango Habanero wings arrive in a tepid-looking brown instead of vivid red-orange didn't do much to inspire confidence, but don't let looks fool you. The Mango Habanero wings, third hottest on the Buffalo Wild Wings heat scale, delivered plenty of fire tempered by the sweetness of the mango, and represented a nice change from classic Buffalo wings. Traditional wings are priced at $7.49 for six, $11.99 for a dozen, $16.49 for 18 and $37.99 for 50. It costs a little more for the boneless, at $9.99 for eight, $14.99 for a dozen and $44.99 for 50.

Burgers run $10.49 to $12.99, with the main attractions being a Black & Bleu cheese burger with a touch of Cajun spices, and the Big Jack Daddy Burger topped with kalua pork, fried onion rings, Jack cheese and honey BBQ sauce. All are served on a firm Kaiser roll with a choice of french fries, or, unusual for a mainland chain, white rice.

Other than what's in the Wild Wing sauces, there's nothing exotic about this menu, geared toward beer swillers. They also offer berry, mango and huckleberry lemonades ($3.99 each), more sugary than tart, and the most lemon flavor I got was from a squeeze of the fresh lemon slice that came with it.

There are a handful of basic salads. A grilled blackened chicken salad ($11.29) starts with plain iceberg lettuce, and the chicken is really black, topped with a salt-loaded garlic rub, its skin crisp from being charred beyond recognition. The same chicken fills a jerk chicken sandwich ($9.99).

If you just like to pick at food, get The Sampler ($14.99) featuring wings, mozzarella sticks, onion rings and nachos. A three-quarter pound basket of peppery popcorn shrimp ($10.49) served with your favorite Buffalo Wild Wings sauce, also fits the bill for those who like to use their fingers as utensils.

I wanted to try an appetizer that didn't seem fatty or deep-fried and zeroed in on the roasted garlic mushrooms ($5.99). If I had read the finer print, I would have read that they, too, were breaded and fried. Wraps and sandwiches round out the menu.

You'd think there were already enough casual burger joints in Waikiki to serve our mainland visitors, but apparently, there's always plenty of room for one more. The visitor count may be down, but the restaurant is packed. Even on the road, for many, there's no place like home.

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

 

BUFFALO WILD WINGS GRILL & BAR

Discovery Bay, 1778 Ala Moana Boulevard » 983-3933

Food ;* ;*
Service ;* ;* ;*
Ambience ;* ;* ;*
Value ;* ;* ;*

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Sundays Cost: About $30 for two without drinks

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