The Weekly Eater


Pizza cook Xavier Napala pulls a spicy chicken pizza from the oven at Wolfgang Puck Express.

Wolfgang Puck’s Express
serves up safe fare on the go

Maui, Maui, Maui. It's difficult to avoid envying our sister island. Maui's got A-list stars turning up at its film festival.

Maui's got the fabulous luxury makeup emporium the Cos Bar.

Maui's got a spectacular aquarium.

Maui's got Spago, while Oahu's home to Spago's fast-food cousin Wolfgang Puck Express.

Although the first of the Express restaurants opened last spring, I didn't run out to check it out, deciding to hold out until I could get over to Spago. This makes perfect sense, of course, for one can always learn more about the offspring by knowing the parent.

Or is it vice versa? Although Puck received formal training in Europe, leading to a string of three-star restaurants, his claim to fame upon hitting our shores were his gourmet pizzas, introduced in 1981 at Spago on Sunset Strip.

Which led to Chinois on Main, Postrio in the heart of San Francisco, Granita in Malibu ... You get the idea.

It's quite easy to drop $200 at Spago or Postrio, which means not everyone can afford the luxury of the complete Wolfgang Puck experience. Which makes a visit to one of his Express restaurants the equivalent of the starter home or the training bike.

Can you say "fontina" or "aioli"?

Those who now like their pizzas with only cheese, pepperoni and mushrooms can prepare for more extravagant cuisine by learning a new vocabulary involving herbs and the aforementioned cheese and mayonnaise. The takeout menu goes as far as helping clientele with pronunciation of Puck's signature Chinois chicken, instructing customers to say "shin wah," lest they embarrass themselves with a "chin-noise."

The Express restaurants offer a safe outlet to try the lingo and taste some of Puck's more mainstream pastas, pizzas and salads. There's nothing scary about it. I promise.

THE MENU'S SO nonthreatening that the bulk of it seems to be chicken. You've got your basic white-meat tenders served with herbed fries or garlic mashed potatoes ($6.95), BBQ chicken pizza ($8.95) and a roster of sandwiches including chicken Caesar ($6.95) and chicken with cilantro aioli ($6.95; and cilantro haters, don't worry -- the cilantro is so mild, you might not realize it's there).

The rotisserie chicken is suitable for a family dinner. The whole chicken, rubbed with savory rosemary, is $9.95 a la carte. For $4 more you can choose two side dishes, whether garlic mashed potatoes, herbed fries or Caesar salad. The single diner can opt for a half chicken at $7.50 a la carte or $8.95 with one side. It may be enough for lunch and dinner.

For some reason, the chicken -- both rotisserie and sandwiches -- I tried in Waikiki was more succulent than that at Ward. Business was slower at Ward during the early evenings than lunch time in Waikiki, so I imagine the chicken might have been sitting longer. More consistency would be nice.

The spice on a spicy chicken pizza comes from a generous sprinkling of red pepper on top of the crust before tomatoes, leeks, chicken, red and yellow bell peppers get added.

The beauty of having the cook right there is you can request a little more of this, a little less of that. For me, it was more cilantro on top of the pizza when it popped out of the oven about 5 minutes later.

The most exotic it gets is the butternut squash soup ($4.50). It's a sweet country classic most closely resembling a pumpkin soup. A baked mushroom and spinach lasagna ($7.95) had more pasta -- six layers by my count -- than other ingredients, which is backward in this day of carbohydrate fear. I'd knock off three of those layers and load up on the dish's main attractions.

All this is served by chefs behind a counter, who will make up your dish on the spot. Then dine inside or out at tables both modernly stark and retro, with a color scheme reminiscent of 1930s fiestaware. Puck's interiors are always as well designed as his menus. As a finishing touch, the Express walls are lined with cover illustrations from the early 19th-century humor magazine Puck.

If you learn nothing else from the experience, at least consider the chef's motto: "Live, love, eat." Those are good words to live by.


Ward Entertainment Center, 1060 Auahi St. / 593-8528 and Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel / 931-6226

Food StarStarHalf Star

Service StarStarStarHalf Star

Ambience StarStarStar

Value StarStarStar

Hours: 11 to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at Ward; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily in Waikiki

Cost: About $10 per person

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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