Restaurant defies bowling-alley image


POSTED: Wednesday, August 05, 2009

A bowling alley might be the last place you'd look for fine dining, but that's exactly what chef-owner Glenn Uyeda is doing at the Alley Restaurant at Aiea Bowl.

The local-born alumnus of New York's famed Le Bernadin restaurant, working under Eric Ripert, returned to Hawaii four years ago, and since then has built his own dining and entertainment center around the lanes.

After winning notoriety for his fast-food burgers, sandwiches and such signature casual fare as the Alley's spicy shrimp and chicken smothered in a tasty sauce, Uyeda recently launched Tasty Tuesdays, not because of any unrequited desire to establish a luxury presence, but simply to breathe life into Tuesday nights, the slowest of the week at the bowling alley.

“;I'm always trying to boost my sales and create something new for our patrons,”; he said. Thursdays, for instance, is Her Way Thursday nights, with women allowed to bowl free, while enjoying prize giveaways.

Tasty Tuesdays started with 15 dinners a few weeks ago, but in recent weeks they've served a capacity crowd of 55, even turning people away, and Tuesday nights have gone from being the slowest to the second-best day of the week.

Upon arriving home, Uyeda did toy with the idea of creating a high-end restaurant but thought the dining and entertainment concept centered around the lanes had broader appeal. It reminded him of his childhood, bowling at Waialae when he was about 5 to 7. He remembered his brother had actually committed to the pages of a book that he wanted to own a bowling alley when he grew up. Plus, it gave him the opportunity to bring, in a fun way, his ohana along, including his brother Gregg, sister Stacy, wife Angela and mom Carol, who plays hostess five days a week.

Another aim was to offer training to culinary students, allowing them to practice high-end presentation and service before graduating to luxury restaurants.

INSIDE THE dining room, you'll be immersed in the sights and sounds of bowling: the thunderous rumble of the bowling balls on the wood floor, the striking of the pins, the hoots of congratulations after strikes. If you like subdued settings and all the attention on you, well, this is probably not where you would care to hang out. But, if your gang can hold its own in a roaring crowd, this might be your kind of place.





        The Alley Restaurant, Aiea Bowl / 342-6232

Food: ;*;*;*


Service: ;*;*;*


Ambience: ;*;*1/2


Value: ;*;*;*1/2


Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays, with open bowling from 9:30 p.m. Cost: Prix fixe menus about $38 per person; wine additional


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


There are TV screens tuned to sports, with one screen reserved for the Food Network.

THE MENU changes monthly, so unfortunately, in August you won't be able to have what I tried last week, which was a five-course prix fixe menu for $38 per person. On top of that cost, wines are optional and served by the glass, bottle or sampler trios. I tried the red flight, and although the samples were supposed to be 2 ounces each, the pours were more like a generous 4 ounces each for Valley of the Moon Sangiovese, Kenwood Yulupa cabernet sauvignon and Kenwood Jack London Zinfandel.

The disparate courses didn't make an entirely cohesive menu, but it was certainly varied and plentiful, so much so that nearly every woman in the restaurant had a takeout box sitting nearby into which she could place half of what was on each plate, after the appetizer. It seems that while Uyeda was in New York, he never forgot local-style hospitality of putting plenty on the plate and sending guests home with leftovers.

The dinner started with an ahi and scallop duet, with the sliced ahi topped with a thin sliver of jalapeno and ponzu sauce. The fish sat atop slices of cucumber. If you ever see this dish again, I recommend eating the fish separate from the cucumber, which has a strong crunch and distinctive flavor that detracts from the nuances of the jalapeno and ponzu sauce. The ocean scallop was topped with black caviar and tobiko with kabayaki sauce served atop a big wad of vinegared sushi rice, which, again, detracted from the seafood.

The salad course was a barbecue turkey Caesar wrap of sliced marinated, grilled turkey breast and thin slices of Asiago cheese rolled in romaine lettuce and served spring-roll style.

Then it was show time, when a server rolled out a cart carrying a huge Parmesan wheel, the top cut into a bowl into which linguini was tossed about to coat with the cheese. The finished pasta was dressed with slivers of proscuitto and a small tangle of basil.

Up to this point, dishes didn't require any great culinary skill, but the arrival of the mesquite herb rack of lamb caught my attention. I took a bite and said to my friend, “;Somebody in the kitchen knows what he's doing.”; It was the smooth demi-glace that convinced me, as well as the accompaniment of a single raspberry encased in a pyramid of clear gelatin that was just beautiful and represented the kind of detail rarely seen outside a fine restaurant.

Dessert was a pina colada panna cotta. I devoured the refreshing pineapple sorbet too quickly, which left the panna cotta naked and tasting like haupia. The way to enjoy this dessert would have been to combine the flavors, of course. My bad.

After the meal, you can continue to bask in the Alley's glow as Uyeda invites Tasty Tuesday diners to enjoy a complimentary lane. If I had known that, I would have taken him up on the offer. I haven't bowled since high school, when my scores were a match for President Barack Obama's, which is to say, not very good. I think I could beat him now.


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