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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, July 9, 2004

Chick chat finds its comfort zone at wine bars

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Not long ago, a girlfriend and I decided to get together for a good, long gab fest after work. But where to meet?

Formaggio serves numerous wines by the glass, and you can order a cheese plate, Italian-style sandwiches or such "small dishes" as escargot in the underground ambiance of the wine bar.

Andrew Shimabuku • The Honolulu Advertiser

Our criteria: Someplace where we could talk without shrieking at each other and linger without dangling from bar stools for hours. Someplace to nibble a heavy pupu or light supper without feeling pressured to order a full meal. Someplace with a nice wine list or full bar. (And if we'd been younger and unattached, someplace where we wouldn't get hit on.)

Picking a spot was like flicking through the dress rack on 40-percent-off day at Macy's. No. No. No. Maybe. No. Possible. That's it!

"That's it!" was the Formaggio Wine Bar, next to Fujioka's Wine Merchants in the rear of Market City Shopping Center. I remembered talking to owner Lyle Fujioka about the "girl factor" when he first described his planned enoteca (Italian-style wine bar). He promised that Formaggio (roughly, "cheesery") would be gab-fest friendly (but he didn't adopt my idea about putting fondue on the menu, darn it).

After an evening of gossip and laughter that flew by on the wings of several well-chosen wines and an exceptional plate of bruschetta (addictive garlicky toasts with toppings), I challenged myself to come up with a couple of other options. I also have great hopes for Little Vino, Chuck Furuya and D.K. Kodama's new wine bar opening in Restaurant Row next week. And I'd love to hear your nominees for great Honolulu girl bars (see contact information below).

One quick note: We found service slow and waiters not always informative at all three of these spots; be assertive. Also, none of these places is cheap — those $10 small plates and $8 glasses of wine add up.

• Formaggio Wine Bar, Market City Shopping Center, 2919 Kapi'olani Blvd., 739-9463. Open 5-10:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, until 12:30 Friday and Saturday. Thirty-plus wines by the glass, each described in detail on the menu and available in a two-ounce or six-ounce servings or by the bottle. Hot panini (sandwiches) and antipasti, including escargot, an ever-changing cheese plate and more ($8-$15), plus nightly specials. Dusky underground catacomb feel, interesting music.

• Honu Bar & Terrace, Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hawaii, 5000 Kahala Ave., 739-8888. Hors d'oeuvres, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; light lunches, dinner from Terrace or Plumeria Caf?. Validated valet parking. Small, pretty room between the Plumeria Caf? and outdoor Terrace grill offers beach views, people-watching, comfortable furniture, fresh flowers on the low cocktail tables, a muted TV and half-off pupu prices 5-7 p.m. Six-item pupu menu ($10-$16) includes sushi, spring rolls, blackened 'ahi, sashimi, fried calamari and chicken wings. Ask for the Terrace menu for dinner salads, soups, pizzas, pasta ($12-$14) and desserts. Another option: The Veranda (the tea place off the lobby), a beautiful, light-filled room that has an interesting appetizer menu in the late afternoon matched with a selection of wines.

• Padovani's Wine Bar, Doubletree Alana Waikiki Hotel, 1956 Ala Moana, Waikiki. 946-3456. Validated valet parking. Snack menu, 2-5 p.m., pupu and dinner, 5-10 p.m., to midnight on weekends. This window-lined corner bar on the second floor of the hotel is one of the most gracious and relaxing spots in Honolulu — though sadly quiet now compared with the days when Jimmy Borges and Betty Loo Taylor entertained there. The by-the-glass wine list (plus liqueurs, single-malt Scotches and other tipples) ranges the globe. The menus and expensive linens are growing a bit shabby, but the food, prepared in the Padovani's kitchen downstairs, is exceptional. We ordered dinner — steak and fries for me ($22) and a caesar salad and clams for my fellow taster. Only afterward did I learn that we could have ordered from Padovani's hors d'oeuvre menu, much more to my taste (mushroom risotto, $14; seared foie gras, $18; oyster mignonette, $14). Save room for dessert; the ultra-light Snow Eggs dessert (a sweet meringue surrounded by a creamy banana sauce) is a perfect girl-share.

Reach Wanda Adams at wadams@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2412.