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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 31, 2003

Happy's food tasty, but dim sum disappoints

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Diners enjoy lunch at the Happy Day Chinese restaurant in Kaimuki. The eatery offers excellent poultry dishes, such as roasted half duck and cold ginger chicken. There also is a large selection of seafood dishes, ranging from catch of the day to steamed shrimp and crab.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Happy Day

3553 Wai'alae Ave., Kaimuki

8:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. weekdays, 8 a.m.-10:30 p.m. weekends


For menu items

for dim sum

My first visit to the Happy Day Chinese restaurant in Kaimuki was on a weeknight. The seated throngs of patrons were mostly Chinese, and I thought this boded well for an evening of authentic dishes.

Skipping the short list of common appetizers (fried wonton, $4.95; crispy gau gee, $4.95; egg rolls, $4.95) we opted for shredded duck and mushroom soup ($6.95), which was rich and flavorful. I had considered the shark-fin soup with shredded chicken (a whopping $32.95) because of its mythical healing and aphrodisiac qualities, but I figured since this particular shark's fin had ended up in a soup bowl, his misfortune might somehow be cosmically passed on to me. So I skipped that soup.

Entrées here were pretty good in a Cantonese vein, although I tend to enjoy spicier styles of Chinese cooking. Beef with ginger and onion ($6.95) and the Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce ($6.25) revved up my taste buds. Now that a bit of food was safely inside me, it was time to roll up my sleeves and dig into the sweet-and-sour spareribs ($6.95), meaty and bony treats glazed in the familiar sweet and sticky crimson sauce.

Employing the same ingredients as a standard dish would, the sizzling platters of red-hot cast iron offer up a bit of food performance art — smoke and mirrors if you will, right at your table. The scallops with black bean sauce ($9.95) were subtle and rich, not quite as salty-sweet and satisfying as at many places around town, but definitely good. Steak with black pepper sauce ($7.95) added a bit of zip to tender meat strips, pleasant but not too peppery.

The largest selection of choices is the seafood category, many of them priced seasonally. Among these are the catch of the day, steamed live shrimp and crab dishes; just ask your waiter for the price.

The sea bass filet with choy sum ($7.95) was OK but not stellar; as was the kun pao shrimp ($8.95), a weak version of a dish that's supposed to be a rough-and-tumble expression of flavors.

Poultry dishes such as the roasted half duck ($9.50) looked, smelled and tasted quite good, as did the cold ginger chicken ($9.50). I didn't try the Peking duck ($30), but the large party next to us was enjoying two orders, complete with the yummy steamed buns and lovely sweet sauce as accompaniments.

As for table service, so far, so good. But on another visit to sample the dim sum, I was extremely disappointed. Service was almost nonexistent, with just one rolling cart for the whole restaurant. We waited more than 20 minutes before a cart came close to our table.

What food we did get during the dim-sum session was insipid and greasy. A tray of lackluster items was being offered around the dining room. Many patrons appeared as unhappy as I was.

If you're in the Kaimuki neighborhood in the evening and feel like Chinese food, I can recommend Happy Day because of the good food and nice service. But for dim sum, there are better places.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.