Manoa mist can't dampen spirits at Beau Soleil
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
Consider yourself fortunate if you happen to be out and about in the early morning hours around here. The low, rain-fat clouds trap the aroma of freshly baked breads from the ovens at Beau Soleil. It's enough to send you over the olfactory edge.
This mom-and-pop shop is owned and run by Holly Hadsell-El Hajji and Moumen El Hajji. The decor has a country kitchen look to it, with a few bursts of color, but it's the style and ambience an overriding sense of the languid that gets ya every time.
Over the years Beau Soleil has grown more sophisticated with its food offerings and cooking techniques, but up front it's still a place where you can enjoy without any pretension whatsoever. That sentiment is more clearly communicated by El Hajji, when he says, "It's OK to play with food."
When you step inside, you will see a take-out counter area jam-packed with five kinds of breads baked daily. It may be an olive loaf, sourdough, fresh rosemary, black pepper and Parmesan, roasted garlic, or lemon dill.
If you're a scone lover, you're in luck, too. With bread in hand, you can match that with luscious cheeses such as Cheshire or feta, and a selection of olives including choices such as Nicoise, picholine, Moroccan oil cured and kalamata.
And if you want to take away salads, sandwiches and such, there's always a bunch to choose from. It's a nice way to start your day if you plan to visit the beach or the park.
Lunch salad choices include pasta primavera (half-order $3.25, full $6.50), lightly dressed with fresh vegetables, or the very popular Tuscan white bean salad ($3 and $6), and lastly, the tomato and fresh mozzarella combination ($3.25, $6.50). Daily salad specials change all the time, so expect to be surprised when you arrive.
Sandwiches are extra enjoyable because of the wonderful breads. They are also priced in half and full-sized potions like the salads. Try the Italian-style ($3, $6), layered with salami, prosciutto, sharp creamy Gorgonzola cheese, tomatoes, mixed greens, aioli and vinaigrette. The Cuban sandwich ($3, $6) is not the authentic pressed and grilled product you'll find in Miami, but it's plenty tasty, warmed with roasted pork loin, provolone and mango chutney.
At dinner time, a generous touch of fresh bread and olives is placed at your table. A carafe of water is also placed, which is a welcome idea. The Prince Edward Island mussels ($10) are plump and bursting with garlic and saffron-enhanced broth. They're topped with aioli and are as good as any mussel dish in Honolulu.
The mezze plate ($8) combines hummus, Moroccan eggplant salad, fava bean puree and Tuscan white bean salad. We also dived into an order of home-made french fries ($3.50) with remoulade sauce.
There's escargot ($8.50) with parsley cream sauce, house-cured salmon ($9.50) with horseradish mousse and a superb 'ahi-salmon tartare ($9.50), tossed lightly with flavorful olive oil, capers and pine nuts.
The Moroccan braised lamb shank ($20) is so fine, tender and savory. It's matched with a dried apricot couscous (savory, not sweet) that soaks up the flavor extremely well.
There's a rack of lamb ($27) served with lemon-rosemary polenta, a mixed seafood grill ($25) with a mini lobster tail, Kahuku prawns, Scottish scallops, fresh fish and calamari. All that is tossed with olive oil, lemon, orange and garlic sauce, with orecchiete pasta (a shape resembling small ears) in Alfredo sauce.
Holly and Moumen are a super team. She emits a soft, welcoming and friendly quality. He is more the song-and-dance component to this machine, a front man with a winning smile, who loves people.
If you look deeply, you can definitely see a bit of the Moroccan wild-child past in him, but that is tempered by his commitment to his family and to his business. Beau Soleil is definitely worth a visit soon.
Send comments, questions and suggestions to ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com