Strangely enough, the very same elements that garnered La Mer rave reviews in one place, cast it in a critical light in another.
"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.