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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 8, 2001

Dining Scene
A French star glimmers in Neptune's Garden

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Executive chef Eric Leterc shows off his Hau'ula vine-ripe tomatoes with li hing vinaigrette.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Neptune's Garden

Pacific Beach Hotel

2490 Kalakaua Ave.


Dinner: 6-9:30p.m. nightly


The credit for this establishment is due to one man in particular, Eric Leterc, executive chef at the Pacific Beach Hotel. His culinary pedigree is impressive, immediately identifiable when the first morsel of his food passes your lips and luxuriates upon your taste buds.At age 14 he began his professional cooking career. By age 24 he was appointed executive sous chef at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France, previous home to world-renowned chef Jacques Maximin, someone I've had the honor of cooking beside.

More recently, Leterc catered Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' wedding on Lana'i, while with the Manele Bay Hotel. He's also worked at the Maui Prince Hotel, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, cooked for two French presidents, spent close to a year at Alan Wong's HRC Market Place, as well as a brief stint at Niblick restaurant at the Ko 'Olina Resort.

Pacific Beach Hotel's famous three-story high, 280,000-gallon aquarium is filled with 70 species of local fish. Watching them is a hypnotic visual treat. Our waiter told us that these fish lead a charmed life, enjoying seven meals a day.

The dining room at Neptune's Garden has recently undergone some changes.Gone are the cozy booths in the back. For some reason they have placed wood partitions and tied-back curtains between the dining area and the aquarium, reducing its visibility somewhat.Another important note is that the smoking area of the dining room is unfortunately close to the non-smoking area. If the stench of cigarettes bothers you, ask to be seated away from there and you'll be OK.

Now, on to the food. Before your meal service actually begins, you are brought an "amuse bouche" course, courtesy of the house. This is an impressive and special touch that more fine restaurants are adopting. The translation for the French term is to "amuse or entertain the mouth" and serves to stimulate your appetite. On our first visit, it was a wonderful cold cream of avocado soup.

The only dish in two visits that we didn't enjoy was one of the starters, grilled shrimp and Chinese duck summer rolls ($10.75). Rolled in a rice paper wrapper, the shrimp and the duck were dry instead of moist and tender.The accompanying liliko'i-thyme sauce lacked delicacy, and was too sweet and thick. The spicy opah fish cake ($8.50) is served with a sweet and sour pineapple sauce. It's a popular appetizer, dense, crisp, chewy and spicy without being too hot.The pan-fried Hudson Valley foie gras ($11.50) comes with spicy apple compote and port sauce. This is a very reasonable price for this treat, almost half the price of many other places around town.

When you are in the presence of a great French chef such as Leterc, it's always a good idea to sample the soups.His Kona lobster bisque ($6.75) is as good as it gets, and is a very generous portion as well. Deglazed with cognac, this bisque is silky and sexy. The oyster-parsley soup ($6.25) is impressive — creamy, and garnished with a large plump raw oyster in the center of the bowl.

Pan-fried moi ($29.50) is crisp on the outside, moist inside, and delicately flavored with shiso butter sauce. It was plated with wasabi mashed potatoes and sauteed baby spinach. The steamed or grilled Kona lobster ($32) was split, with the claws laid atop, already out of their shell.The sweet lobster flavor comes through; however, this dish is served with plain jasmine rice and sauteed vegetables on the side. Although we love our rice here in Hawai'i, lobster shouldn't be served with rice unless requested. Also, where are the fresh lemon wedges and the melted butter?

The slow-cooked beef short ribs ($24), one of the signature dishes here, is served with garlic mashers and island mushroom fricassee. Other entrees include roasted double lamb chops ($32), with cumin salsa, cooked precisely as requested, pan-fried duck breast ($27.50) with five peppercorn sauce, and grilled free-range chicken ($24.74) with a tarragon vinegar cream sauce and fresh thyme.

Desserts include an outstanding poached pear ($6.75) topped with a layer of creme brulee, surrounded by fresh strawberry slices, with a sweetened red wine sauce.It's easily one of the best desserts in town.The tiramisu ($6.75) is unusual here, wading in a bath of creamy, frothy sabayon sauce. The flaming cherries jubilee ($7.95 per person, two-order minimum) is prepared tableside, flambeed impressively as the liqueur is drizzled down a slice of orange peel.

With Leterc at the helm, Neptune's Garden is one of the bright lights in Waikiki.The food is excellent, and Miss A says it's a treat to eat in such a sublime atmosphere.

Send comments, questions and suggestions to: ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com