The Weekly Eater


Art cafes prove food is more
than just something to eat

THERE ARE people who swallow food without pausing to chew or glance to see just what they are eating. They are heathens.

The rest of us know that food is more than fuel for the body. Before food even passes your lips, its aromas tantalize or sometimes assault your nostrils; its colors, riotous or subdued, set a mood that's playful or serene. Once inside your mouth, its flavors and textures create a symphony that challenges your brain to decipher its ingredients and commit it to its place in your memory.

As all attention focuses on the arts in the coming weeks, with the opening of the Honolulu Academy of Arts Gallery of Islamic Art, the Hawai'i State Art Museum and Shangri La, consider the art of food. Artists of the past certainly did. Medieval and Renaissance paintings are full of images of food, feasts, and kitchen and tavern activity -- life's pleasures as important as scenes of epic battles and religious expression. Any number of still lifes offer up pretty bowls full of fresh fruit and vegetables, ravishing in their ripened perfection.

Anaheim peppers are sauteed in olive oil with capers, anchovies and garlic and served with Parmesan-topped crostini at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Pavilion Café.

At the academy's Pavilion Café and The Contemporary Museum's Contemporary Café, food is presented in life-enhancing environments that magically slow time and cause your breathing to deepen and slow. In these contemplative settings, you are asked to explore the goodness of food presented plain and simple.

New additions to Mike Nevin's menu at the Pavilion Café provide ample reason for a second look. You will still find favorites like the feta, tapenade and Hauula tomato on foccacia sandwich ($8.95); Piadina, a dense bread topped with arugula, tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and prosciutto ($9.95); and beef tenderloin sandwich ($10.95).

New arrivals include a market salad of 'Nalo greens, couscous and grilled curried chicken ($11.95); a half island chicken roasted to crisp perfection and surrounded by pesto-coated penne ($12.95); and an especially graphic, sublime presentation of three mild Anaheim peppers -- their skins blistered and peeled away to liberate pliant green flesh. They're irresistibly sauteed with capers, anchovies and garlic ($8.95).

If you can resist chocolate pot de creme ($5.95), a specialty since Nevin's days at Il Fresco, there are daily specials such as fruit crisps that are well worth sampling. A recent cranberry-rhubarb offering was excellent.

MEANWHILE, to enhance your experience at The Contemporary Café, there is an exhibition by the artists' collective Special Prescription, entitled "Food for Thought."

Koi Ozu's "More Than a Mouthful Wasted" is one of the works, shown in detail, on view in The Contemporary Café's "Food for Thought" exhibition through Jan. 19, 2003.

Thus you may consider Koi Ozu's "More Than a Mouthful Wasted," an assemblage of flatware and a rubber baby-bottle nipple, Ryan Higa's study on consumption "Freeble Grow Slow" or Nicole Morita's araimo "Siblings" while feasting on light fare such as a tofu burger ($7.75); saucy shrimp ceviche cocktail ($7.75) with crunchy jicama, refreshing cucumbers, red onions and avocado (if available); or house-cured gravlax ($7.95) on crostini with dill cream cheese and capers.

A tuna sandwich ($9.25) is upgraded with the additions of olive tapenade, pesto mayo, red onion, capers and egg slices.

Here, too, I cannot resist dessert, particularly when it's their caramel flan.

Respect is conferred by the offering of food. All a cook asks is for guests to take time to appreciate his or her effort, and perhaps admire the way colors and textures of a meal set mood, creating suspense, joy and drama, and tinkering with an emotion or two.

Food is, after all, an art.

The Pavilion Café

Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St. / 532-8734

Food StarStarStarStar

Service StarStarStarStar

Ambience StarStarStarStar

Value StarStarStarStar

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays

Cost: About $20 for two

The Contemporary Café

The Contemporary Museum, 2411 Makiki Heights Drive / 523-3362

Food StarStarStar1/2

Service StarStarStar

Ambience StarStarStarStar

Value StarStarStarStar

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Sundays

Cost: About $20 for two

See some past restaurant reviews in the
Columnists section.

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:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

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