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The Weekly Eater

By Nadine Kam

Thursday, December 7, 2000

Pueblo first to
bite on tapas plea

THERE'S no denying local chefs have accomplished the unimaginable in creating a dining scene of international caliber within a span of 12 years. All of this is very exciting to travel writers and tourists who swoop in to sample the best, but, unable to visit each restaurant, leave with a longing for the entree not taken.

Not so those who live here, who have seen the same things on our plates for the past six years or so as innovations from top chefs have trickled down, sideways and zigzag, creating a boring sameness statewide.

I've been hungry for something different, such as Brazilian or Jamaican fare or a tapas bar more in line with the current leaning toward grazing on pupu with no heavy entree to weigh diners down.

Pueblo Spanish restaurant


Bullet Address: McCully Shopping Center, 1960 Kapiolani Blvd.
Bullet Hours: 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. daily
Bullet Prices: About $35 for two without drinks
Bullet Call: 946-8500

Some chefs are finally getting the message. For a while, it looked like Maui had us beat, with Kapalua's Bay Club introducing its tapas and Spanish-influenced menu just before Thanksgiving. Now Oahu's got its first nibble courtesy of Pueblo Spanish Restaurant, though this is a taste of Spain with a stop in Japan.

There's not much of an aesthetic in the room that once housed Salerno. Decor is spare and dishes are of the thick, cream-colored, cafeteria type.

Would I bring a Spanish friend here? No. But I would return for a short list of dishes.

Start with Spinach ($4.75) sauteed in olive oil with pine nuts, raisins and a light dusting of cinnamon. Skewers allow you to stab at raisins and slices of garlic so no morsel is wasted.

Many gravitated to Steamed Manila Clams ($13.50) and Pan- Seared Squid ($6.75), which is a better choice than the sour Spicy Octopus ($6.50). As for the Marinated Smelt ($4.25), don't go there unless you really, really like smelt and vinegar.

Don't restrict yourself to the first page. The expectation is that you'll be ordering Seafood Paella, at $13.50 per person for a minimum of two, so no side dishes accompany entrees that might as well be tapas, such as a half-dozen Madrid-style Shrimp ($11.25), sauteed in garlic, paprika and sherry.

About that paella, you'll pay $27 for an order and I think the better value is the Bullabesa Zarzuela ($18.75). The bouillabaisse is perfect for chilly weather and wonderful, made with fresh shellfish including half a lobster tail. Two can share this as well, but to share you'll have to make do with those tiny cafeteria bowls that can barely contain a mussel. It would be wise for management to invest in nice soup bowls.

Lamb Chops ($12.50) are delicious but not very exotic, simply seared in butter with lemon and fresh basil. Most people prefer to play it safe anyway, ordering Fresh Island Chicken ($12.50) sauteed with Maui onions, garlic and red peppers, then baked in a light, homemade tomato sauce.

Then there is the Butterfish ($16.50) simmered in white wine with garlic, parsley and onion. It's described as being Vask; do they mean Basque? A lot gets lost in translation here. Don't depend on the waiters to set you straight. They misrepresented dishes; promised bread, utensils, and drinks without returning; and had deficiencies unrelated to new restaurant learning curves.

There's room for someone else to improve on the concept.

See a listing of past restaurants reviewed in the
Do It Electric!

section online. Click the logo to go!

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:

-- excellent;
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- average;
-- below average.

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