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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 29, 2003

The Bistro's decadent dishes pamper diners

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Ben Wong, of The Bistro at Century Center, presents a rack of lamb served with pomegranate au jus. The restaurant gives lively twists to classic dishes, and table service has a dramatic, hands-on approach.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The Bistro At Century Center

1750 Kalakaua Avenue, third floor


Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. weekdays

Dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; Fridays and Saturdays until midnight

Late night dinner: (abbreviated menu and pupu) until 1 a.m.

1/2 Very Good

My taste buds arrived long before I did. They were ready for an excursion into the gustatory pleasure that lay ahead.

Stepping off the elevator, you are swept away by dusky and sophisticated visuals. A climate-controlled wine wall made of sparkling glass, framed by rich dark wood, catches your eye. There's room for 127 cases of wine in there.

A tuxedo-clad staffer greets you from the podium and leads you past a limited-edition, $87,000 baby grand piano, one of only 300 of its kind in the world, then on to your table. The air is cool; a heady mixture of richness, class and restaurant decadence is about to descend upon you. This feels as though it may be a memorable event.

Ben Wong is in charge here — the very capable front man for anonymous deep-pocket investors who wanted to open a place on the level of the old Bistro, Cavalier, Maile Room and Third Floor restaurants, Honolulu institutions of days gone by. You may know Wong from his 24 1/2 years years at Hy's Steakhouse, or his TV show, "Let's Go Fishing."

Lunch is semi-formal but in no way daunting. The menu takes on a Euro appearance, with French, Italian and German dishes. At dinnertime, expect more classical French food, formal tableside service and a dramatic, hands-on approach.

Appetizers include a phenomenal taste treat, chicken livers ($9), a dish that harkens back to the "good old days" of high-end dining. These babies are dipped lightly in a beer batter, sauteed quickly with chewy bits of pancetta, and sauced with a balsamic and port wine reduction. The lightly browned crust yields to succulent orbs of liver, which finally give way to a base of red onion marmalade. It's poor man's foie gras, a beautiful marriage of sweet and savory tastes, textures and temperatures that had me giving a silent sitting ovation.

Two outstanding entrées at lunch include the seafood crepe ($15) and weiner schnitzel ($15). The crepe is light and delicate, filled with crab, scallops and shrimp, and sauced with a buttery, creamy and lemony hollandaise. This dish is masterful in its elegance and simplicity. The schnitzel was pounded thin, coated lightly and flash-fried. The veal was tender and juicy; it was delicately seasoned with just salt and pepper, but it contrasted wonderfully with German-style spaetzle and braised sweet and sour red cabbage.

Try the diver scallop appetizer ($9.95) at dinner. The scallops are placed into a mound of shredded potato, browned, and served with a citrus beurre blanc. A traditional onion soup ($5.95) has that very satisfying salty-cheesy bubbling crock thing going on.

Caesar and spinach salads (priced for two, $10.95 per person) are expertly prepared tableside. This efficient staff began training in October 2002 for friends and family, long before the official opening at the end of April of this year. Only hearts of romaine are used in the Caesar salad. Baby spinach leaves are wilted in a hot bacon vinaigrette for the spinach salad.

A lemon sorbet followed the appetizers, providing a fresh, delicious palate cleansing and a perfect set-up for the entrée course still to come.

Steak Diane ($29.95) is a popular filet mignon entrée, finished and flambéed tableside with brandy, garlic, shallots, oregano and a touch of cream, and further enhanced with an unusual pairing of morel and chanterelle mushrooms.

Rack of lamb ($38.95) is carved tableside, medallion style, with the ribs served on a separate plate. The sauce on this is a pomegranate au jus. Salmon Wellington ($27.95), duck a l'orange ($28.95) and coq au vin ($24.95) are other retro entrée specialties. King crab legs ($52.95) are extremely pricey; however, this is one pound of the "maris" cut, the leg segment closest to the body of the crab, yielding a sweet, large hunk of meat.

Desserts include four different flambées (priced for two, $10.95 per person): cherries jubilee with orange zest, cinnamon and cloves; bananas with cinnamon and butterscotch; strawberries and cream; or chocolate and fruit. They also do a Grand Marnier, and a bittersweet chocolate souffle ($9.95), and a pretty decent créme brulee ($7.50).

Everyone enjoys a show, and that's what this is. Chef Rodney

Uyehara (formerly of Chai's) offers a creative touch to these familiar combinations. There's a late-night menu for night owls, too. The bar area is beautiful, and they even stock my favorite aperitif, Lillet, in both the red and white varieties.

Nice touches, such as a sommelier (Brian Geiser; one of the very few on O'ahu), all original artwork, mouthwash in the restroom, and a good valet parking service add to the overall experience.

Try The Bistro for lunch first to get a feel for what they're doing. It's a good value given the personal touch, the quality of the food and the gracious ambience. At dinnertime, you can dress to the nines and consider a visit here a well-deserved splurge.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.