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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 8, 2002

Newly opened Tiki's gets it right from the start

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Culinary adventures and retro South Pacific décor can be found at the new Tiki's Grill & Bar.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Tiki's Grill & Bar

Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel

2570 Kalakaua Ave.

10:30 a.m.-midnight daily


Free valet parking with validation

Very Good

Our policy generally is to let a new restaurant work out the kinks before publishing a review, waiting at least a couple of months. But this unwritten law was altered recently when we heard that celebrated chef Fred DeAngelo (of Palomino fame) was opening the much-anticipated Tiki's Grill & Bar at the newly remodeled Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel.

I didn't think he'd need much time to get this spot, on the pool deck of the hotel, off the ground.

Retro South Pacific décor takes you back to another era. An attractive bar and lanai overlook Waikiki beach, a view that is softly lit in the evening.

A souvenir shop behind the hostess area and a lei-selling operation at the entrance might suggest this operation is all about grabbing the tourist buck. But that first impression is off-base. Foodies (local or visiting) soon find much that's of interest in DeAngelo's playful, palate-pleasing and delightful touch.

The appetizers are good enough to make this a top grazing spot for finger-food enthusiasts. The grilled ribs ($8.95) appetizer was incredible, better than most barbecue spots. The ribs are dry-rubbed with spices, grilled to bring some natural smoke flavor, and finally braised slowly until the moist meat falls away from the bone. The sauce is guava- and lime-based, with a sweet-sharp flavor that's irresistible.

Baked oysters ($6.95) are topped with a blue-crab crust and draped with lobster hollandaise sauce, giving this rich sea treat an addictive quality. Island nachos ($8.95) combine ripe, locally grown tomato, guacamole, sweet Maui onions, and melted cheese over crunchy tortilla chips, with either grilled chicken or kalua pig (which is what I tasted). Crab cakes ($7.95) are made from Dungeness crab, bound with a cream-based reduction and accompanied by a sweet chili butter sauce.

Other appetizer choices include Korean-style garlic chicken wings ($5.95), grilled beef tenderloin and vegetable skewers ($6.95), steamed Manila clams ($8.95) in saffron-enhanced coconut cream, and several others that could keep you happy for three or four visits.

The clam chowder ($4.95 for a huge bowl) is silky and intensely clam-flavored, with chunks of clam, potato and crabmeat adding texture, and shreds of red pepper and parsley for color. Definitely order this.

Entrees are simply prepared. Braised beef short ribs ($16.95) offer no resistance whatsoever, the meat collapsing seemingly at a glance. The hoisin brown sauce (thankfully not too sweet) works well here; the entirety is served over fresh Kunia corn mashed potatoes.

DeAngelo has a fine hand with fresh fish. Many of the flavoring components and techniques used here fall into the Pacific Rim style. His signature king salmon ($15.95) is glazed before being sauced with lemongrass beurre blanc; mahi-mahi ($15.95) is grilled and given a spicy finish with a seafood salsa; pan-seared 'ahi ($16.95) is appropriately fried quickly and offered with a wasabi-mushroom and soy beurre blanc.

I saw a hunk of what appeared to be perfectly grilled New York-cut Omaha steak ($20.95) pass by my table, along with an oven-roasted half chicken ($12.95) stuffed with herbs and Maui onion, with a soy-ginger glaze. I'll order those on future visits.

Créme brulée ($5.95) came in three ramekins; Kahlua, ginger-lime and vanilla bean were the trio of flavors in question, with fanned and sugared strawberries as the colorful and edible garnish. Pastry chef Ron Villoria also makes chocolate bread pudding and a fabulous lilikoi cheesecake with basil syrup served in a white chocolate cylinder.

After a couple of visits, I spoke with DeAngelo. He reflected upon his emotional departure from Palomino's after five years, but said he couldn't miss the opportunity to become chef/partner in the Tiki's venture. "I want to bring fun, along with an approachable level of sophistication to our menu," he said.

Looks like he's right on target.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.