Encore, please: Places we've loved the best
by Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
Here we take a look back at a few of our most favorably reviewed restaurants of the past two years.
Kahala Mall, next to Whole Foods Market
Occupying a corner space on the ground floor of Kahala Mall, The Counter is a post-modern diner with industrial flair.
The menu, made up mostly of burgers, fries and shakes, is a loud and proud invitation to the middle class, despite its slightly gourmet overtones. The Counter isn't an exclusive eatery. It can't be, it's in a shopping mall. But even with its populist nature, the restaurant retains its culinary polish by doing what it does really well: it makes the best burgers on the island.
The place lets you design your own burger from a long list of ingredients and toppings with more than 312,120 burger combinations possible.
The secret to The Counter's patty prowess is the meat, which is 100 percent fresh ground hormone- and antibiotic-free Angus beef. It's allowed to be its own flavor, unhampered by seasoning mixes and additives — and who needs all that anyway when there's 10 kinds of cheese, 29 toppings and 18 sauces to pile on the extra flavor.
— Kawehi Haug, March 2009
Royal Hawaiian Center
2301 Kalakaua Ave.
Wolfgang Zwiener opened his fourth steakhouse in February 2008 in the Royal Hawaiian Center. Though he isn't a chef, Zwiener has some serious steakhouse pedigree — he was head waiter for 40 years at Peter Luger Steak House (which has been rated best steakhouse in the nation by the Zagat Survey for the last 20 years) in New York City before branching off to create his own version of a classic steakhouse. Besides aging its own meat, the restaurant cures its own Canadian bacon (a must have), as well as serving the traditional steakhouse side dishes, such as creamed spinach, mashed potatoes and onion rings. But its "German potatoes," a mountain of pan-fried potato and onions, is the shining star. And if you can manage it, stay for dessert. Wolfgang's signature apple strudel is the perfect end to the meal. Warning: Like the restaurant's other dishes, this one is big. It's more than enough for two.
— Kawehi Haug, April 2009
1025 Alakea St.
At Bruno Iezzi's second location of his Euro-style eatery Mix Cafe, something as ordinary as a sandwich gets elevated to gourmet status without being gimmicky. Iezzi's signature sandwiches — a tender roast pork sandwich, a roast turkey sandwich made with meat from a whole turkey he roasts daily, and a sandwich filled with fresh bufala mozzarella, grape tomatoes and mushrooms sauteed in rosemary-infused olive oil — are always made to order with the very best ingredients available on the island.
The simple fare (by simple, I mean food made from just a few good ingredients — there's nothing here that boasts four kinds of meat, three kinds of cheese and dressing dripping from its ends) is also a symphony of perfectly balanced flavors.
Mix Cafe is the prince charming of restaurants. The culinary equivalent of a Renaissance man. Good food, prepared according to old-fashioned values of freshness, wholeness and goodness, served in a modern setting, with a mind for ecological responsibility.
— Kawehi Haug, April 2009
1341 Kapi'olani Blvd.
If we could conjure up our perfect vision of Italian goodness, it would be plate after plate of tasty nibbles, and we would chase glass after glass of well-paired drinks. The menu would follow the seasons: puckery-tart and minty flavors in the summer, and wild boar and mushrooms in the fall. All for $30 to $40 a person, including one or two drinks.
Sapori Enoteca/Birreria, chef Donato Loperfido's latest experiment with his brand of fresh, flavor-rich Italian fusion dishes in Honolulu, comes very close.
The food's awesome. It's rustic and rich, plated without frills for easy sharing, with sauces through which we keep dredging the fantastic bread, even after we're full.
But does it come close enough to our perfect vision to justify spending our own money? Absolutely.
— Mari Taketa, January 2010
MAILE'S THAI BISTRO
Hawaii Kai Towne Centre
We've been to Thailand and eaten everything from gristly, fish-sauce-marinated roast pig in a mountain shack to street-cart noodles and dried fish salads in Bangkok — all good. But Thai food in Honolulu? Not so much: lots of goopy noodles, ketchupy sauces, cloying curries drowning in coconut milk. And we still haven't found a good pad thai.
We starting hearing about Maile's Thai Bistro about a month after it opened in 2008 in the Hawaii Kai Towne Centre, and it was all good. After trying everything from the fresh summer rolls to the pad thai that is bursting with basil and spicy heat, we had to agree with Maile's many fans.
What's not to like? The parking's right there, prices are in line with other Thai places, there's a full bar and a super-relaxed vibe from being a grownup-friendly place in the 'burbs. And much as it pains us to say this, you don't even have to like Thai food to find something good.
— Mari Taketa, January 2009