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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 15, 2005

Location best thing about Lulu's Waikiki eatery

By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Dawne Barnes, of Nu'uanu, serves Christine Sklar and toddler Trevor Sklar, of Puyallup, Wash., at Lulu's Waikiki Surf Club.

Photos by Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Mami Kubotera and Michael Cunningham, both of Nu'uanu, eat at Lulu's. The surf-themed eatery offers views of the beach and Diamond Head.

Mary Fowlie, left, of San Diego, Calif., and Dylan Bozlee of Kane'ohe eat at Lulu's Waikiki Surf Club. The restaurant imitates old-style Waikiki hangouts, with most of its business coming from tourists.

Lulu's Waikiki Surf Club

Park Shore Waikiki, second floor

2586 Kalakaua Ave.

926-5222, luluswaikiki.com

Open 24 hours daily except Monday 4-6 a.m. for cleaning

Breakfast: 2-11 a.m.

Dinner: 5 p.m.-2 a.m.

Metered and street parking on Kapahulu Ave.

Full bar

1/2 Mediocre

Long ago, on a beach not so far away, there was "Beach Blanket Bingo."

If you remember that the film belonged to a series of zany 1960s, beach party movies and aren't puzzled by the name Eric Von Zipper, you will probably recall the popular hangout called Cappy's Surf Club. Its rough, thrown-together eclecticism embodied the kind of watering hole appealing to every rebel wannabe — motorcycle outlaw, bronzed surfer and poetry-reciting beatnik — in a good, clean John Waters flick.

Playing on the theme of retro-beach-bum fun for modern-day Frankies and Annettes is Lulu's Waikiki Surf Club right across from Waikiki Beach, Queen's surf break and The Wall. Its second floor, corner perch looks out at scenic views of the famous beach and Diamond Head, making it an ideal spot for people-watching below.

Decorated in a design scheme resembling a teenage boy's fantasy, Lulu's relies on amusing ploys such as surfing paraphernalia to attract customers rather than providing quality food and service.

I love lanterns made from blown-up, spiny, porcupine fish and giant, wooden tiki heads carved in the likeness of Elvis just as much as the next Flintstones fan. However, there aren't enough contrivances in all of Bali Hai to distract me from spotty service and sometimes less-than-mediocre food. And Lulu's newness doesn't have the genuine charm that places like La Mariana possess — older, original dives that can invoke a more forgiving attitude.

Lulu's appears to be a smart imitation geared to tourists who, to seize a photo opportunity, will pay $13.99 for a frozen drink served in a coconut shell souvenir glass. Inside, the crowd fluctuates from families at meal times to college-age carousers later in the evening. With all its gimmicks, this haunt seems unable to pull in a local crowd who probably realize they get more bang for their buck at similar places, such as nearby Duke's and Tiki's.

On my several visits, I began to understand why I seemed to be one of the few locals in the place after having to flag down a server like a Manhattanite hailing a cab. Nothing stands out enough at Lulu's that you couldn't find better elsewhere, but the average tourist who just wants to have fun may see a place like this as an integral part of a Hawaiian vacation.

The entertaining menu reads like the Sunday funnies and offers a smorgasbord of choices, but the dishes sound better than what you actually get. Crab cake po' boy sandwich ($10.95) came with a choice of fries, garden or pasta salad. I chose the fries, which arrived limp. The patties contained a dearth of crab, tasting more of surimi, and were smothered under mayo sauces.

Death Valley chicken wings ($6.95 for 10 pieces; $11.95 for 20) come in three degrees of spiciness with blue cheese dressing on the side. Feeling like Goldilocks, a friend and I passed on mild — too tame, we thought — and the very hot, opting for medium-hot. The wings arrived in a kid-size, Corona beer pail looking like they had been marinated in sambal oelek and giving off a vinegary flavor. On a packed Sunday night at 6:30 p.m., I tried to order prime rib ($19.95 for a 12-ounce regular cut; $23.95 for a 16-ounce Waikiki cut), but was informed that the kitchen had run out of it. I settled for a 12-ounce rib-eye steak prepared Creole style ($21.95), which came with "upcountry" veggies and a choice of garlic-mashed potatoes, white rice or rice pilaf. I specified that the steak be cooked medium. The plate showed up with a well-done, thin steak covered by a bland sauce. A broccoli spear, a piece of cauliflower and mashed potatoes with no garlic flavor whatsoever surrounded the meat, which could have used a shot of A-1 to wake it up.

Breakfast was an improvement only in that I could at least hear what my companion was saying. Even at 8 a.m., loud music pulsates through Lulu's, but it is tolerable without the noise of a dining room full of customers. This was the first time I ever received fried, over-easy eggs instead of poached ones in an Eggs Benedict ($8.45).

What did I expect from a place with Spaghetti-Os ($2.75) on the menu, and one that jokingly recommends they be served at room temperature? Well, there is bad bad food and good bad food. Just because something is cheap and bad for you doesn't make it unworthy. The food here didn't fall into the good bad food category.

Lulu's bodacious makeover hasn't quite managed to break away completely from its old Denny's shell. But if you are craving a beer, five TV screens and possible tourist diversions, this will do.

Reach Helen Wu at hwu@honoluluadvertiser.com.