A September 2002 trip
to Honolulu by smmmarti guide
Quote: If you’ve come to Hawaii hoping only to see beaches, rainbows and lava cliffs, you’ll be disappointed with Waikiki‘s high rise scene. But if you’ve come to see a city, you’ll be delighted to find that this urban center is ringed by beaches, bathed in Aloha and framed by rainbows.
Prada-clad Japanese princesses shuffle down the street with shopping bags, distorting their small frames while robust middle-America moms and pops walk the beach in their socks, viewing paradise through rosy camera lenses and cowering as hard-body workout addicts in spandex bikinis toss sand in their faces while zooming by them.
Locals are less exasperated by all this than you’d allow them to be, for this is America’s most friendly city. This is a big city that still retains Aloha and is every bit as much the "real Hawaii" as the other parts of Oahu and the neighboring islands.
To the detractors who only see Honolulu as a blemish on the cheek of paradise, as a hectic example of mass tourism and over commercialization, I would remind them that Honolulu is a city with all that cities' have to offer including museums, culture, shopping, and the arts. The beach, exotic atmosphere, and unique influence of the aboriginal Hawaiians are simply the lei around a character-filled face. Surely the critics must admit it's a paradisiacal city nonetheless, not only a result of the amazing landscape, but due to aloha. Aloha says you are breathing this same air as I and are thus welcome in my space. Go anywhere else in the states and ask, "Got Aloha?" Well, do you?
For extended day trips you would need a car, although there are tour operators who would be happy to take you anywhere on the island. My preference is to drive around since it’s easy with a good map from the rental car agency or hotel concierge. There are not that many major roads in Hawaii, even Oahu, and friendly folks everywhere will give you directions and advise on what to see. There's also a good public transportation system with cute open air trolleys which my husband took to familiarize himself with the city on his first visit. He reported that the driver gave him a personal tour and loads of "talk story" and insider information. I‘d advise allowing for these quality experiences by slowing down to Hawaiian time. Submit to it and you’ll really enjoy yourself.
But before you become filled with envy, note that not all reviews were as unanimously glowing as the hotel website and other publications would have had us believe. One person who’d been a recent guest here complained that the rooms were small and the overall appearance of the hotel was dated. This comment had lowered my expectations sufficiently so that when we did arrive and see our room, I was thrilled. Elated. Ecstatic.
No, the hallways were nothing to speak of and yes, the grand foyer was relatively bland except for the glorious floral arrangement. But the room itself was quite large with a sitting area with sofa, desk area, and coffee table. A chic glass platter laden with fresh tropical fruits and a box of the hotel’s signature chocolates served as enticement and decoration. The king sized heavenly bed was draped with a down comforter in cool, refreshing neutral tones that provided a startling and welcome contrast to the brilliant views beyond. Visible through the open full wall of plantation shuttered doors leading to the grand lanai was a celebrated view of the famed Waikiki Beach and Diamondhead.
The marble bath was equipped with every conceivable amenity including sunscreen, bath salts, plumeria scented lotions, thick monogrammed Frette bathrobes and slippers, and living orchids. A separate glass enclosed shower and Jacuzzi tub made bathing options the most difficult choice of the weekend.
Yet, all this could still be so much window dressing were the service not exquisite to match. No worries. Here at the Halekulani our every request was graciously and immediately answered and our needs considered before we even knew we had them! Someone must have mentioned my birthday. Along with the extra down pillows we’d requested, a little boxed gift (sea shells) was left bedside and a chilled bottle of vintage champagne awaited our return from the traditional sunset stroll.
As if that weren’t enough, I soon learned that Halekulani has a special "For You, Everything" program that allows guests free admission to many of Honolulu’s special venues including exhibits at the Academy of Arts, the Iolani Palace and Bishops’ Museum , as well as tickets to plays and the symphony. Added up - the perfect location, service, views, programs, dining options, free tickets and chilled champagne - and the room fee suddenly seemed a bargain!
Now you can get jealous.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 21, 2002
2199 Kalia Road
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Restaurant | "Alan Wong's"
The location of the establishment was a surprise. Located on King street next to a funky convenience store across from a funky apartment complex, this non-descript three story building would be missed were it not for the subtle logo, a signature stylized pineapple, offering the only clue of Wong’s presence.
After riding the street side elevator to the third floor we were seated immediately for our 8:30 p.m. reservations. Our casual dress was appropriate here (as it surely is in all Hawaiian restaurants). I had really wanted to take a few minutes at the bar in order to watch the chefs in action via the demonstration kitchen across the back of the eatery, but in his hunger and enthusiasm to try Wong’s food fast, my husband ushered me toward the table.
In most Hawaiian restaurants it's a good thing to have a seat by the windows. In Wong’s you might rather be in the center of the spacious, dimly-lit, wood-warmed dining room so that you can watch those chefs in action and forget that you are on the third floor of a ho-hum building in the center of a big city. The food, you see, warrants visions of something more exotic.
Our waiter was truly professional and happily Hawaiian in his unpretentious yet flawless service. We trusted him immediately and took him up on his recommendations. Breaking tradition, we both ordered the sashimi cake ($12), which we soon learned was a very large portion for an appetizer and could have been happily shared (it was the one thing we’d hold against our waiter). But it was as delicious as he promised it’d be with ultra fresh ahi and avocado and crunchy wontons added for textural contrast to the soft ingredients.
I had to have the ginger crusted onaga, ($35) and my husband ordered macadamia nut-coconut crusted lamb chops ($38). I almost hate to admit this, but I think I’ve had better onaga. Strangely, the portion on the fish was as small as the appetizer had been oversized. Maybe my expectations had risen too high hearing all the praise that‘s been lavished on Wong‘s cooking. Maybe I was already full! My husband, on the other hand, didn’t share one bite of his lamb because he loved it so much.
I rarely eat dessert but I’d been told I had to have a Crunch Bar. Bittersweet chocolate mouse, macadamia crunch. Wow. Even more tempting, though, was the private reserve vintage coffees. This night I’d pass, as I intended to sleep, but for those alone I’d make a return trip.
Alan Wong's Restaurant
1857 South King St (third floor)
Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
+1 808 949 2526
Restaurant | "Duke's Canoe Club"
Long before the beach boy culture and Elvis made Waikiki and surfing famous during the ‘60’s, it was Duke, an original beach boy, who brought competitive surfing to the world outside of Hawaii. This year the USPS even introduced a commemorative stamp series honoring Duke.
Visiting Waikiki, you can pay homage to the great one any number of ways. You can take a surf lesson in the gentle waves that break far from shore and provide the longest, smoothest ride imaginable, or you can leave a lei in the outstretched hand of Duke’s bronze likeness, or you can sit oceanside with your toes in the sand at Duke’s Waikiki and drink a toast to the icon of sport and the Aloha spirit.
Try a "Dig Me Daquiri" or "Tropical Itch" as you watch the beach boys and girls in action all around you while enjoying the tropical sounds of steel guitars and ukelele. Whether you choose the extensive open air seating, the expansive interior or a welcome spot at the bar, the restaurant makes plenty of room for the great crowds of people who frequent it as much for it’s ambiance as the food.
We were "between meals" during our recent visit so we ordered from the bar menu Thai Chicken Pizza ($7.95) and Poke Rolls ($9.95), a sort of egg roll with Hawaiian influences and a spicy-sweet dipping sauce. Duke’s is part of the TS restaurant chain, so here you’ll find a full menu sporting specialties that are also found at Kimo’s, Hula Grill and Leilani’s in Maui, including Hula Pie ($4.95), fish ($17.95-$market), steaks, ribs ($17.95) and island style pupus. At Duke’s you’ll additionally find, appropriately, the Duke sized Prime Rib ($23.95) and Duke glazed fish preparations.
The staff, like at all TS restaurants, project the good-looking, good natured and casual ambiance ideally suited to the Hawaiian beach scene. An extensive training program for staff assures that they will know their stuff both in terms of the food they serve and the service itself.
TS Restaurant groups really has the formula down in establishing the ideal merging of location, ambiance, and food that people just seem to love. Add to that the legend that is Duke, and the restaurant becomes a not to be missed fixture in the Waikiki dining/beach scene.
2335 Kalakaua Avenue At The Outrigger Waikiki
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Restaurant | "Furusato Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar"
The tiny little storefront on one of Waikiki’s busiest streets was surprisingly devoid of customers. Those who were already seated seemed to know what they were doing as the waitress set a major collection of hand rolls on their table.
I’d be suspicious of a sushi restaurant that promised "Maguro - $1.00!" as this one did, but my husband loves sushi and a bargain is enough to take a chance. After cleaning up with the steaming hot towels, and cooling down with ice cold lemon water, I let him be the guinea pig while I ordered the rainbow roll sans whitefish and a special "Russian Roll", described as an extra spicy California roll. My husband went right for multiple maguro and spicy tuna rolls. After I watched him survive the first few bites of what appeared to be perfectly colored and textured sushi, I extended my chopsticks and snatched a piece.
Ohmigosh! That maguro was the BEST. Had I known it was going to be this luscious, this fresh, this beautiful and only a dollar a piece I’d have ordered a simple dozen and called it a day. Yet, the other rolls were no less disappointing. After polishing off my share of the rainbow, I tried one small bite of the Russian and quickly realized I’d focused my concern on the wrong element.
I had been worried about freshness, authenticity, and never gave a second thought to the warning right there on the menu: Beware Secret Russian Ingredient. Now, with my guard down, and caught completely unaware -- POW, suddenly I encountered something that just about blew my head off! Oh, I get it, Russian, as in "roulette." The thing was slathered on the inside with pure, unfiltered wasabi!
I told my husband, once I caught my breathe again, that this was the most exciting eating experience I’d ever had. Honestly, that wasabi released enough endorphins that I felt afterward like I could bring peace to the world and then lie down and take a dream filled nap.
There were two beers on tap, (thank goodness!) Kirin and Sapporo, served happily from a little tap at the front of the restaurant by our waitress, a charming little lady who seemed to feel my endorphin release was the highlight of her afternoon. "Oooh, now the sinus all good, eh?", she commented upon noting the tears in my eyes as she shoved a tall one into my hand.
An admitted sushi addict before ever stopping in Furusato, now recalling that surge of spontaneous endorphins, recalling that under $30 check for more sushi than we could finish, I’ve narrowed my craving down to THIS sushi, in THIS place.
You’ve been forewarned.
Furusato Japanese Restaurant
2424 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Restaurant | "La Mer"
"At La Mer, it’s hard to tell if you are dining in Waikiki or the South of France," says a reviewer quoted on the restaurant’s website . "[La Mer] lacks a sense of place… could be anywhere," states another . That this is one of the most romantic restaurants in the city and one of only two of the state’s recipients of the AAA Diamond are not debated, however.
It was easy to put the sense of place issue into perspective. Though I understand that Hawaii needs to maintain its unique character, I also realize that you’d never hear a Thai restaurant in Chicago being criticized because it didn’t represent the windy city well. If they said, "you could be in Thailand here!" everyone would rush in.
So I took that one issue with a grain of sea salt and went in search of fois gras and the restaurant’s famed Bouillabaisse.
Oh, the romantic claims were right on the money. Situated so that diners can view the moonlight reflections on the sea, in a setting so serene and hushed that you can hear the waves break gently on the shore, we were immediately put in the mood for l’amour. L’amour des cuisines francais, that is.
Upon being seated we were offered a complimentary glass of champagne -- the good stuff! The mood quickly turned merry and our waiter, returning amidst our joviality, suggested perhaps a cocktail. He was clear about not wanting to rush our experience in the least, noting, "I know that fine conversation should never be interrupted." This almost made me cry! It’s been years since a waiter hesitated to interrupt our fine conversation. Yet this gracious, unobtrusive master of service never left us wanting for a thing.
Following our salad and a glass of fabulous French wine the waiter noted that the couple at the best table had departed. Would we like to move there? Was it the wine making me maudlin, or did I again feel the urge to shed tears of joy?
After learning that the lobster on the menu was Maine raised locally in Kona, my usual concern about warm water shellfish vanished. Served with a unique opakapaka sausage, my faith was rewarded with something like seafood ambrosia. My husband had the bouillabaise, served as a dish of exquisite fruites des mer, ladled sur la table with its delectable broth, and topped with a puff pastry dome. Dessert, another artistic rendition of sorbets topped with a spun sugar lid, proved totally unnecessary yet absolutely memorable.
La Mer is very expensive. Don’t go unless you are in love (or take your mother.) It would be a complete waste of ambiance and could make you sad. If you really like your partner and it's your birthday, however…ooh, la, la.
La Mer Restaurant
2199 Kalia Road
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
(808) 923 2311
Restaurant | "Sam Choy's ...Crab and Big Island Brewery"
Restaurateur, author, TV host, celebrity he pours out Aloha with effusive charm and no holds barred enthusiasm. His recipes, featured on his TV show , with their "touch of this, dash of that" approach to cooking prove his reluctance to take things too seriously even in the realm of his livelihood: the preparation of food.
His restaurant in Honolulu reveals this same fun-loving approach. Although it is a big warehouse type space it is arranged so comfortably that you feel immediately at home. Greeters and waiters are eager to show you the ropes and recommend their personal favorites and specials of the day (samples are conveniently on display as you walk in) as they escort you to your choice of tables. There are many separate party rooms beyond the main dining room (catering‘s a Big Deal with Sam), a bar/brewery and even a full sized boat where you can enjoy menu favorites. A four line exhibition kitchen spotlights the culinary skills of the cooks and chefs as they sear, boil, flip and fry under a canopy of hanging pots and pans. Beside them loom five giant copper tanks, the home of Sam Choy’s Big Aloha Brewery.
The sight of these gleaming tanks tempted me to order their "tasting" sampler; five small servings of five big beers. As this was the breakfast hour, instead I stuck with wholesome green tea served in a big fat steaming cup and ordered a local loco moco favorite, kalua pork moco ($7.25) the Hawaiian version of death by cholesterol. My husband ordered the spinach, bacon, cheese omelet ($7.25) which came with a choice or rice or potatoes and toast. This food is the ultimate Hawaiian soul food and was so good my husband and I stole portions from one another.
If you come for lunch or dinner you might try the fried poke wrap. (Poke is island fish eaten raw, like sushi, but without the rice and with the addition of seasonings and chopped onions and chef’s variable ingredients.) Sam’s also serves the usual Surf and Turf, Crab Legs, Caesar salads and burgers, but if you are adventurous have the Papa Choy’s Tripe Stew or the Kona Flaming Wok, created at Sam’s first restaurant on the Big Island. Sam doesn’t forget the kiddoes (keikis) and has a first rate, low-cost children’s menu with things like Mac Nut Chicken ($5.25) and Sprice ($2.95) (spam, rice and eggs) or Teriyaki Beef. On Tuesdays Keiki Night, kids even eat half price while Chris da Clown entertains!
Even if you’d never heard of Sam Choy before visiting one of his restaurants you’d catch on fast to the man’s island persona since it’s exhibited and reflected everywhere in his establishments. Even though his motto is, "Lucky you live Hawai’i," you get the distinct impression that Sam would feel "Lucky to live - period." Even if it was in Keokuk.
Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch & Crab
580 North Nimitz Highway
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
Okay, so the real reason for the parade and festival was the Hawaiian celebration called Ho'olaule'a. It could be best described as a traditional neighborhood and community wide party in the manner of the Fourth of July or Mardi Gras. Some specific activities such as the parade, music, hula and grand picnics are a part of all Ho`olaule`a's, held in many towns in each of Hawaii’s islands. Even sparsely populated Molokai has its celebration which includes the typical parade, investiture of neighborhood ali’I, bands and ono food. The size and extent of additional festivities and attractions depend on the size of the community, the depth of the involvement and the budget potential for the spectacle. Ho`olaule`a is such a tradition for Hawaiians that it is recreated in many communities across the mainland, including Long Beach and Las Vegas !
On Oahu, Waikiki, it becomes a grand party spanning many days, even weeks, that includes every sort of Hawaiian entertainment both ancient and modern such as historical recreations, Royal Balls, cultural special events, fundraisers and good old fashioned fun. Take the bed races, for instance.
I’m not sure how this made its way into the traditional Hawaiian celebration, but apparently the wacky idea made its way from Australia and New Zealand to the UP of Michigan and attracts impressive crowds and competitors from all over. This isn’t any old bed race, this is the International Bed Race and raises a great deal of money for local charities while everyone has a ton of fun.
It was especially befitting, being my birthday and all, that the House Without a Key seaside venue at our hotel, the Halekulani was the sight for the Steel Guitar competition. Just up the street a block from our hotel and the beach, a grand parade passed along for hours as stunning floral floats, marching bands, dancers, hula girls, musclemen, the neighborhood ali’I wound their way down Kalukaua Street.
The parade will be broadcast on Thanksgiving as part of the larger Thanksgiving Day parade. Maybe if you watch, you’ll see me. I was just across from the reviewing stand taking lots of pictures and wearing a big huge smile and a birthday hat.
Unlike Adam, I had some insider’s awareness and had identified Bishop Museum as the sole "must do" during my visit to Honolulu. Knowing a little about Hawaiian history, the birthing of the islands, the journeys of the Polynesians, the emergence of the monarchy, the arrival of Captain Cook and subsequently the whalers and missionaries, the flood of cultures who came to work the plantations, and the inevitable melding of all of the above to make Hawaii one of the most fascinating and unique places on the planet, I wanted to know more about all that. If Honolulu is your only destination in the great state of Hawaii, you’ll want to do those typical tourist things such as beaching, snorkeling, ogling the surfers, catching a hula show, shopping till you drop. But if you live in Maui, as I now do, you won’t because you have those things at home, where they are even better.
Why You Should Go to the Bishop Museum, Too
If you stop here first, everything else you see in Honolulu will be with different eyes. Then you’ll know that Hawaii has America’s only royal palace, the ‘Iolani', in Honolulu. Since Hawaii was an independent nation prior to becoming a US state, it was ruled by a dynasty of monarchs who had royal blood, possessions, manners, and perspectives. The husband of the last direct descendent of the Kamehameha lineage was Charles Reed Bishop. His wife, Bernice Pauahi Bishop, had given up the throne of the kingdom, but following her death Charles established the museum, officially called the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum .
Here the royal possessions, including those of her Aunt Emma, were archived. In time the museum became the largest repository for Hawaiiana and Polynesian artifacts in the world. It also boasts the largest natural history collection in the world, rotating exhibits, tutelage and scientific studies partnered with NASA, and a planetarium.
The impressive lava rock structure was originally built for the Kamehameha school for boys, but now is used solely to house the outstanding collections that include historical tribal masks and implements from various Pacific Island groups, feathered capes and kahilis, carvings and over thirteen million entomological specimens. The koa interior and grand three story Hawaiian Hall gives visitors a unique contrast in perspective from the high rise glare of modern Honolulu as well as insight into the royal culture that preceded it. A visit here will clear up more misperceptions about the "real" Hawaii faster than you can race up Diamondhead.
It bears repeating. "The real Pacific starts here."
1525 Bernice Street
Oahu, Hawaii 96817