The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Ben Wong, left, proprietor of The Bistro, and chef Rodney Uyehara, prepare a "Bananas Foster."

Old formalities make
reappearance at The Bistro

Call me old-fashioned, but I kind of miss the restaurants I grew up with. Not that I grew up eating much at The Third Floor, Cavalier or Black Angus -- I would more likely have been found at Zippy's and McDonald's with my friends or Shakey's Pizza with my parents -- but to dine at one of those formidable institutions was something to aspire to, our prom dream.

Come to think of it, it was never the prom that was so special -- nor our dates back then -- but the planning of the pre-prom meal. I was, thankfully, able to visit all of the above before they started closing, victims of, like hair bands to grunge groups, changing economics and tastes.

"Hawaii's Kitchen": Ben Wong will be the guest at 5:30 p.m. today, following "Let's Go Fishing."

Food trends stick around longer than music trends, but now that dining has become such a major industry, we think nothing of going out for crabcakes or a grilled steak when we don't feel like cooking. The typical American spends $855 per year on dining outside the home; more than 54 billion meals consumed, according to the National Restaurant Association. With dining so democratic, who even dresses for the occasion anymore? So let's face it, few restaurants might be considered very special anymore.

So what to do when you want something a little more exclusive? The re-emergence of such classics as Sergio's, Morton's and now The Bistro, suggests a longing for the old formalities and courtesies. They're the kind of places where women can be women, men can be men and in these ultra-conservative times, we can just forget the past 30 years ever existed.

THE BISTRO offers the luxury of waiters in tuxedos, candlelight, dark, cozy booths, a pianist (Tim Kallen), and most importantly, flambés!

Ben Wong was charged with bringing the restaurant to life, having left Hy's Steakhouse after a 24-year run. His face will be familiar to anyone who's frequented that restaurant or watched TV over the same period as his credits range from commercials to "Magnum, P.I.," "Baywatch," and of course, "Let's Go Fishing," which he hosts.

He's joined by general manager Don Buechner (John Dominis), executive chef Rodney Uyehara (Chai's Island Bistro), special events coordinator Ann Kobayashi and sommelier Brian Geiser.

They've put together a menu of classics such as venison chateaubriand ($28.95), duck a l'orange ($28.95) and steak Diane ($29.95), 7 ounces of filet mignon, flambéed at your table.

With so many old friends, where does one begin to renew acquaintance? Before you even get to the main event, there is steak tartare ($11.95) and escargots to consider. There are two preparations for the latter -- "classique," marinated in burgundy and baked with butter and garlic, or "a la Bistro," mixed with diced chanterelles and morels in a mini tower surrounded by shelled bits of Maryland crab. I suggest you try the former if for no other reason than this: most of us wouldn't be eating snails at all if they weren't drenched in butter and garlic.

You won't go wrong with Atlantic salmon tartare ($9.95) accompanied by seed pearls of Osetra caviar and a fine mince of onion and dill. On the trendier side, there are two diver scallops ($9.95) nestled in the center of crisp Idaho potato cakes, and accompanied by a creamy citrus beurre blanc.

The restaurant's most unusual offerings involve veggies. One appetizer choice is a labor-intensive soufflé of eggplant and goat cheese ($8.95) surrounded by layers of thin-sliced eggplant. Then, as an entreé there is an English pea custard ($21.95) that starts as a giant savory tart topped with a layer of grilled zucchini, squashes, onions, shaved asparagus and truffles, and morels.

Decadence can be found with the filet mignon topped with foie gras ($33.95) and a Port and Madeira wine dressing. More tableside service accompanies the rack of lamb ($38.95) presented with a deep red pomegranate sauce, warmed over candlelight.

The show continues with bananas, strawberries and cream, cherries jubilee, and chocolate and fruit flambés, each dish prepared for two at $10.95 per person. As stuffed as we were by that time, we skipped the heat and chose instead the equally extravagant Grand Marnier soufflé.

There's a bit of self-consciousness in the atmosphere as the restaurant awaits its verdict from the public, but it's just a matter of time before the restaurant grows into its role as one to aspire to.


1750 Kalakaua Ave., third floor; valet parking / 943-6500

Food Star Star Star 1/2

Service Star Star Star 1/2

Ambience Star Star Star Star

Value Star Star Star 1/2

Hours: 6 to 10 p.m. daily

Cost: About $80 to $90 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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