At Lucy's Grill, it's the portion sizes that impress
By Helen Wu
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
Latest Census figures reveal that Kailua outranks Honolulu in per capita, median household and median family incomes. While Honolulu has experienced a boom in new restaurants this past year, most outlying communities have been slow to follow despite increasing housing sales all over O'ahu. With Kailua homes selling in the millions and an influx of new residents from California, it seems as if the demand for quality restaurants will rise, too. Lucy's is poised as one of few such eateries on the Windward side to accommodate these needs.
On a dinner visit there, friends and I almost thought we were in Waikiki. Tiki torches blaze, and umbrella-covered tables outside cozy up to the bar. Inside, surfboards and large, colorful paintings on the wall, along with dark wood tables, create a casual Island-home atmosphere. Contrasting flowery tropical prints the kind found on Wet Okole seat covers battle for attention with demure, jade-colored seating and counters.
Lucy's is known as a Kailua hot spot. It pulses with busy waiters who whir past crowds of conversing guests, while cooks on display in the open kitchen at the back of the room do their own routine. As we chatted over the din, it took a little effort to communicate with the person across the table.
The menu's selections and variety overwhelmed us, with appetizers from ocean and ranch, pizzas, salads and plenty of entrees. It was hard to read through, however, not just because there was so much, but because it seemed to run on too long. Little space separated menu items printed in same-size font and numerous semicolons. Specials and desserts listed in italics were easier on the eyes.
Our waitress informed us the menu was in the midst of seasonal change, which happens about every quarter, and reeled off a list of unavailable dishes. Suddenly it felt as though the menu had shrunk considerably as we tried to remember what was off limits.
With its large portions, Lucy's is dedicated to the seriously hungry, and the men in our group were delighted. However, a heavy hand with some ingredients occasionally marred bold presentations.
A "spicy 'ahi tower" ($13) appetizer of stacked sushi rice, fish and avocado was not spicy. Plastic packs of uncrispy, roasted nori seaweed around the plate did not elevate this dish. A cloying Mongolian barbecue sauce covered moist, meaty kiawe-broiled pork ribs ($9), a dish that's also served as an entrÚe of kiawe-broiled baby back ribs ($16). Overly acidic balsamic-berry vinaigrette doused a salad of arugula, mandarin oranges, mesclun, red onions and gorgonzola ($8).
Entrees, each including a starch and vegetables, were slightly better. Thai sweet chili sauce surrounded tender-crispy pieces of coconut-crusted mochiko moi ($27) accompanied by a few fish bones and too-vinegary, furikake-dusted sushi rice. Black pan rib-eye ($27) with a rustic country crust of Hawaiian steak salt was no surprise salty.
One dish displaying some of the kitchen's potential was a pan-seared, pepper-crusted 'ahi with a wasabi-miso beurre blanc ($24). Although the 'ahi was slightly overcooked, its rich but delicate sauce raised it above the ordinary. Mashed potatoes were an odd match for the fish, but the hungry guy eating the dish was happy to have that instead of the plain rice that came with the steak.
Our desserts weren't the kind we felt compelled to finish. Chocolate-coconut bars ($7) had little coconut taste and were basically brownies made with shredded coconut flakes. Vanilla-bean gelato was a helpful addition. A la mode fresh banana-layered cake ($8) resembled good banana bread, but with a sandy and powdery-tasting hazelnut-butter cream frosting.
Lucy's struck us as a hybrid made from a bit of Hawai'i Regional Cuisine added to an unpretentious beach-boy hangout atmosphere. with a touch of American ingenuity. Despite its upscale food, it has a diner feel that might have some guests wondering if most entrees justify their $20-something prices.
Service was friendly and attentive. We never had to wait long for food to arrive, and we enjoyed the lively atmosphere. Unfortunately, the kitchen antics didn't do justice to a restaurant of this class. This was the first time I have witnessed a mostly-filled dining room momentarily silenced by a cook yelling at a waiter.
The impressively sized portions of sweet, tart and saucy dishes aren't protein-shy, and will appeal to those who laugh at the small-plate dining trend. But Lucy's might not entice a special drive to Kailua just to dine there.
Reach Helen Wu at email@example.com.