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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 31, 2002

It's easy to love the impressive main courses at Le Bistro

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Le Bistro waiter Ben Thompson carries out a dish of onaga with a white wine, lemon, caper and butter sauce with garlic mashed potatoes, plus a serving of short ribs.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Le Bistro

5730 Kalaniana'ole Highway, Niu Valley Shopping Center


Dinner, 5:30-9 p.m. daily except Tuesdays

1/2 Good

Le Bistro shows a lot of promise. In business for less than a year, this comfortable neighborhood place seems to have developed a loyal following. It doesn't really have a French bistro feeling or style as the name would imply; it's more a conglomeration of styles, as many Honolulu restaurants are.

I dropped in once when they first opened and decided to give them time to polish the rough edges. Alan Takasaki is the chef and owner, and his wife, Debbie, handles the front of the house. Takasaki is well-traveled: He worked in New Orleans as a saucier at Hotel Iberville, at New York's Hotel Continental and Le Bernadin, and in Los Angeles under Joachim Splichal at the famed Regency Club (I, too, worked under Splichal at the Regency, but at another time).

Takasaki then headed to Belgium and France to further hone his skills before coming back to Honolulu, where he opened Sam Choy's Diamond Head in 1995 as executive chef. Two years later, he created Alan T's restaurant at the Honolulu Club. Le Bistro is his latest venture.

Appetizers here include soup, salads and other items. The soup of the day ($3.80) on one evening was clam chowder, over-flavored with bacon and much too thin. The Caesar salad ($5.80) also was lacking, mostly because the romaine wasn't as fresh as it could be. Much better salad choices are the gorgonzola, greens and fresh pear, or the greens and Kahuku corn with crispy potato (each $7.80).

Incredibly impressive were the fricassee of fresh manila clams ($8.80). Our very friendly waiter, Chester, said these were better than most, so we ordered them. Far beyond the standard white wine, garlic and fresh herbs, these plump beauties were bathing in a delicious sauce that also contains a bit of tomato and possibly a touch of cream to help bind the entirety. Best clams in town, methinks.

Three pastas are offered here at $13.80 each. Spaghettini with gorgonzola and slivered almonds; spaghettini with mushrooms, herbs and créme; and penne with Italian sausage (plus spinach, tomatoes, garlic and chile flakes). Although the pasta dishes are fine, there are several other better choices for an entrée.

Pan-roasted garlic shrimp with tomato pesto spaghettini (petite portion $13.80, regular $15.80) was done just right. The flavors are assertive, and the shrimp burst when you bite them. Slow & low short ribs ($13.80 and $15.80) are popular, braised in red wine, honey, balsamic vinegar and whole peppercorns. Salmon grenobloise ($18.80) is another classic-style dish (with white wine, lemon and capers). These are true bistro-style items; I'd like to see more like them.

Two chicken dishes are offered ($12.80 and $14.80), one with black butter and capers, the other with mushroom and bacon. For beef lovers, there's something called a city steak (flank steak) in a red wine sauce ($13.80 and $15.80), as well as a classic bistro steak ($19.80), a Black Angus delmonico cut, sliced, flashed with cognac and topped with a thick Roquefort butter sauce and caramelized shallots. As I devoured my steak, I wondered where the pommes frites (french fries) were — standard bistro offering with steak.

Last but not least came fantastic barbecued lamb chops ($23.80) glazed with balsamic vinegar and honey, slightly sweet, with muted sharp flavors and herb undertones. These differ from most chops cut from a rack of lamb in that, while most kitchens roast the entire rack and then separate the chops, Takasaki separates the chops from the rack before cooking. He marinates them, grills each chop on both sides and then oven-finishes them. The resulting two-sided grilled flavor is unsurpassed. If you are a lamb lover, as Miss A is, Le Bistro is your nirvana.

Takasaki is very adept in the kitchen, as proven by the excellent clams and lamb chops. There's room for improvement, though, in appetizers and desserts. Once that is accomplished, I can see sky's-the-limit success potential for Le Bistro.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com with your comments and questions.