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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 19, 2006

You got a date, may we suggest the restaurant?

Reader poll: What's your ideal first date?

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Can't afford Alan Wong's? The Pineapple Room shaves some Jacksons off the bill, but the food's still worth its weight in gold — and your big-impression factor.

Advertiser library photos

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Roll with it at Sushi Kai, where the setting is intimate enough for a get-to-know-you conversation.

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So ... hot date tonight?

But you've got no freaking idea where to go?

We've scoured neighborhoods, rung up credit-card bills, interrogated our single friends to come up with our Top 10 list of great no-stress first-date spots for the confused dater.

Our criteria: good food for every price point; lots of parking; and nearby post-dinner possibilities.

Here's what we came up with.

  • The Pineapple Room, Macy's, third floor, Ala Moana Center. 945-6573, www.alanwongs.com.

    The gist: Don't think of it as a department-store restaurant. This Alan Wong's-for-less (well, a little less) serves trademark Hawai'i regional cuisine in a relaxed room.

    The ambiance: Island contemporary, with bamboo flooring, muted greens and flattering lighting (good for first-date impressions).

    The menu: Wong's crew does everything right. Start with the Hanalei poi cup appetizer ($7), the huli-spiced chicken Caesar salad ($11.50) or the spicy stir-fried edamame ($5). For the main event, the fall-off-the-bone pineapple barbecue baby back ribs ($24.50) and grilled wafu-style New York steak with ponzu sauce ($28.50) are meaty examples of how the restaurant fuses Island and Asian flavors.

    The parking: Fantastic. Park on the top level (roof) outside Macy's. The restaurant entrance faces the parking lot.

    The cost: It's affordable in the haute scheme of things.

    The post-meal possibilities: Tons. You can hit the Mai Tai Bar for (what else?) an Icy Mai Tai and listen to One Drop, dance at The O Lounge on 1349 Kapi'olani Blvd., or take in a movie at the Ward 16 Theatre next door. ("The Da Vinci Code" opens today.)

    The bottom line: If you want to impress your date without handing over your paycheck, this is the place.

  • Sushi Kai, 20 Kainehe St., Kailua. 262-5661.

    The gist: Yes, the Windward Side has a charming spot, where you can have local-contemporary sushi and other Japanese fare.

    The ambiance: Budget zen chic, with rice-paper-globe lanterns and a plasma TV over the bar (on this night, showing the surf flick "Blue Horizon"). Soft reggae and low conversations keep the restaurant comfortably cozy.

    The menu: Good sushi and haute local bar food, like furikake-and-nori-crusted blackened 'ahi katsu ($9.95) and a softshell crab salad with a lemon-lime vinegarette ($8.95). While the sushi selection is limited, the maguro is top-notch and rich ankimo — monkfish liver ($4.95) — is a rare surprise. We enjoyed the not-so-spicy shrimp stir-fry with crisp veggies ($11.50), tempura chocolate ice cream ($5.50) and lychee martinis ($5 each).

    The parking: Has its own small lot. There's street parking, too.

    The cost: Reasonable, for sushi.

    The post-meal possibilities: Check out the drink specials at The Shack Kailua or the live music at Boardriders on Hamakua Drive. Day-daters can hit Lanikai for a dip or walk along Kailua Beach.

    The bottom line: For a tete-a-tete — and an easy menu that lets you be safe or adventurous (that monkfish liver!) — head here.

  • Tiki's Grill & Bar, 2570 Kalakaua Ave. 923-8454, www.tikisgrill.com.

    The gist: This open-air restaurant with retro South Pacific decor is a perennial Waikiki standby.

    The ambiance: Lively, especially on Friday nights.

    The menu: You can go two ways: separate meals or family-style pupus. For dinner, try Tiki's slow-roasted prime rib with garlic mashed potatoes ($20.99 for a 10-ounce slab) or the chicken breast stuffed with spinach, Boursin cheese, garlic, shallots and lup cheong ($18.99). Its signature salmon dish ($22.99) glazed with spiced cane sugar, and served with Okinawan sweet potatoes, is tasty, too. To share, try the fresh poke sampler ($11.99), spicy Thai spring rolls ($9.99) or the very popular coconut shrimp ($10.99).

    The parking: Free valet, with validation.

    The cost: It won't leave you destitute.

    The post-meal possibilities: Wander the streets to walk off your dessert, dance all night to Asian beats at Zanzabar Night Club in the Waikiki Trade Center, take a short drive to Aloha Tower Marketplace for the Spring Jam Concert Series (featuring Natural Vibrations tonight) at Don Ho's Island Grill or Kapena at Gordon Biersch. Or stay put for Tiki's live music.

    The bottom line: If you're looking for party mode, not languid romance (yet), take your date here.

    Other date spots to try:

  • Panya Bistro (Ala Moana Center, 946-6388, www.panyabakery.com). This spot boasts funky decor; fun-tastic speciality drinks like Strawberry Mint Iced Tea ($4.25) and the Double Apple juice ($4.95); and an eclectic American-Malaysian menu. Great for a lunch date.

  • Little Village Noodle House (1113 Smith St. in Chinatown (545-3008, www.littlevillagehawaii.com). OK, it's everyone's post-First Friday favorite, but it doesn't hurt to remind you that that this is a restaurant with parking in Chinatown. Our favorites: honey walnut shrimp ($13.95), pan-fried beef ($8.75) and dried string beans ($7.95).

  • Vino (Restaurant Row, 524-8466, 533-4476, www.vinohi.com). He or she is into wine? Impress with your grape picks at this low-lit restaurant. Make like Lady and the Tramp over a bowl of bucatini topped with garlicky crisp shrimp.

  • The Contemporary Café (The Contemporary Museum, 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, 523-3362, www.tcmhi.org). This cozy restaurant, which spills onto a grassy lawn beneath the museum, offers healthy, fresh and great-tasting selections, from a soba noodle salad ($8.75) to the popular hummus and pita sandwich ($9).

  • Ninnikuya the Garlic Restaurant (3196 Wai'alae Ave., 735-0784). Yeah, garlic probably isn't the best thing to eat on a first date. But the craftsman-house setting, mood lighting and affordable prices override the breath factor. (Bring gum.) Try the Black Angus steak ($30 for a 16-ounce ribeye) with garlic mashed potatoes. For dessert — sorbet with light garlic sauce ($6 per scoop).

  • Assaggio (Koko Marina Shopping Center, 396-0756). Just romantic enough for a first date, this restaurant, on the marina, begs you to relax with a glass of chianti. Reliable pastas and specialties such as crisp-skinned Sicilian chicken ($15.90 for the small portion or $17.90 for the large) fill the food bill. Don't miss the fresh, hot bread.

  • Lei Lei's Bar & Grill (Turtle Bay Resort, Kahuku, 293-2662, www.turtlebayresort.com). Lei Lei's has everything you need for a stress-free date: parking, laid-back vibe and dessert. Its resort location makes it a mini-getaway for town and country folk alike. Recommended dishes are the slow-roasted prime rib ($26.95-$33.95), herb-crusted chicken in a garlic cream sauce ($21.50) and the fresh chopped spinach salad ($8.95).

  • Town (3435 Wai'alae Ave., 735-5900): Be in the swing of things at this Mediterranean-leaning bistro, where the room hums with talk and regulars include actors Naveen Andrews and Barbara Hershey. On the cocktail menu are seductive potions such as pear-sage margarita. Don't drink? The signature parsley-spiked lemonade ($2.75) is just as flavor-potent.

  • Mi Casa Taqueria at 3046 Monsarrat Ave. (737-1562): Reasonably sized — and priced — Mexican fare within walking distance of Waikiki Beach, should the urge arise. Try the fresh-fish tacos ($10.95 for two) topped with guacamole.

  • Haleiwa Joe's at Haiku Gardens (247-6671, www.haleiwajoes.com): A relaxing lush setting — and lots of parking — make this a great date spot. A must: the slow-roasted, bone-in prime rib with creamy horseradish sauce and garlic mashed potatoes ($35.95). So good you have to get there early because they run out. And they don't take reservations.

  • Mr. Ojisan at Kilohana Square (735-4455): At this tastefully no-frills neighborhood Japanese izakaya (tavern) — with parking! — you can get to know each other over tasty ramen (starts at $7.25), wafu steak ($15.95 a la carte, $17.95 for teishoku) and handmade gyoza (4 pieces for $3.95).

    Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.