The Weekly Eater


Marbella server Marina Alexia Antonopoulu holds up a tempting appetizer: home made Buffalo milk mozzarella stuffed falafel croquettes with creme fraiche and a balsamic reduction.

Marbella feeds those
starved of culinary

In a down market, restaurants continue to open, though they tend to be small and unassuming. Certainly, good food can be had in such humble haunts, but the restaurants themselves don't tend to generate a buzz.

This has been good for diners who don't want flash and fireworks, but simply want to put dinner on the table at a price that doesn't interfere with the car payments or the kids' college bills.

But there are two kinds of diners and you have to feel pity for the second sort -- the foodies who've been starving from a dearth of culinary enchantment. For them, the past two years have added up to one long, dreary hibernation, but Marbella could very well thaw their icy tongues with its warm Mediterranean menu.

The room -- formerly Tai Pan -- is recast as a Spanish villa in an inviting, toasty terra-cotta, though the effect is somewhat diluted by the air-conditioning. Brrr. Bring a jacket. Plants and art work channeling Vincent Van Gogh added to the ambience.

Neither could I understand the point of offering excellent balsamic vinegar and oil to accompany bread that may have started fluffy but ended up petrified. It fell just short of being biscotti. No.

Luckily, things started to improve shortly after this inauspicious introduction.

Marbella's appetizer list is quite tempting, with all manner of Greek, Spanish and Middle Eastern offerings from a couple of brothers who hail from Alexandria, Egypt. With the restaurant only open a month, some fine tuning can be expected, but the appetizer roster has been popular enough to avoid major overhaul.

We started with one of the more exotic dishes of spicy shrimp pil pil ($8), which was much milder than its combination of olive oil, garlic and red pepper would suggest. Let's kick this up a notch. The general public may faint but don't worry, foodies will take the punishment and return begging for more.

A caramelized onion tart ($8) topped by a dollop of goat cheese and dotted with Nicoise olive halves was recommended by our waiter over an appetizer of phyllo purses ($6.75) stuffed with spinach, leek and feta cheese, but if you're having other appetizers the latter may be a better choice. Although the tart is indeed delicious, it is also the equivalent of eating pie before dinner and you'll end up stuffed before your entree arrives.

This advice goes out the window if you want to feast tapas-style on many of the smaller dishes. Round out your meal with a tomato bisque ($6.50) and "Greek salad" of grilled vegetables ($7.50) sprinkled with feta.

My favorite of the appetizers is the seared salmon fingers ($7.50) wrapped in grape leaves. It may be a visual ringer for local-style nori-wrapped ahi, but the flavor is much more dramatic. The tart flavor of the leaves is the perfect counterpoint to the salmon's smokey, fatty richness. It's served with a refreshing salad of julienned cucumbers.

The roster of entrees is subject to change, but for the time being includes the likes of a Moroccan-style half chicken ($16), braised lamb shank with white bean ragout, basil and roasted tomato vinaigrette ($19), and salmon three ways ($17) -- roulade, carpaccio and tartar style.

I opted for a "steak" moussaka -- the steak turning out to be plain old hamburger. What the menu should have said was beef, which is no match for the traditional ground lamb, anyway.

A special of seafood ravioli proved much better, full of savory, sweet shellfish served in a cream sauce.

There are homemade desserts of apple galette ($5.50) crowned with vanilla bean ice cream, creme brulee, and molten chocolate cake. But I found a single scoop of rose sorbet is the perfect finish for an experience that manages to be understated and stylish at the same time.


1680 Kapiolani Boulevard (next to 24-Hour Fitness) / 933-4353

Food starstarstar1/2

Service starstarstarstar

Ambience starstarstarstar

Value starstarstar1/2

Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Tuedays to Sundays; to 1 a.m. on certain days beginning April 1
Cost: About $45 go $55 for two without drinks

See some past restaurant reviews in the
Columnists section.

Nadine Kam's restaurant 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.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to

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