Critic’s Picks: Betty Shimabukuro
Culinary students at Leeward Community College are essentially practicing on you at the Pearl, so if your server seems a little nervous, that’s why. Be helpful, encourage her to flex her newly learned dining-room skills. You’ll both enjoy yourselves.
And you — you will eat well and spend little. The students in the kitchen are trying out advanced skills on a menu fine-tuned by chef-instructor Ian Risely, so we’re talking true fine dining. The Slow-Cooked Roulade of Chicken Breast featured in early September was world-class, fork-tender and delicately flavored.
The menu is kept to two appetizers, three entrees and two desserts, changing every few weeks. Sometimes the students try out buffet presentations. This makes each visit an adventure.
Leeward Community College Campus Center, second floor; 455-0475; www.leeward.hawaii.edu/thepearl. Lunch, occasional dinner specials (open Wednesdays-Fridays). $$
THE ALLEY RESTAURANT AT AIEA BOWL
Forget this place is in a bowling alley. The Alley has been around long enough that we can all stop exclaiming how awesome it is to find great food in a place where falling pins make up the background music. The food here stands on its own merit.
Order the oxtail soup, which is like none other on the island with its ponzu dipping sauce. Or try the house favorites: Pan-Seared Furikake Ahi, Grilled Coca Cola Marinated Turkey Breast or the Suppa Garlic Shrimp. For sure get the garlic fries. And don’t leave without dessert — any choice (the Lemon Crunch Cake … to die for, see Page 34). If you are actually eating while bowling, the pizzas are a cut above.
99-115 Aiea Heights Drive; 488-6854; www.aieabowl.com. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night. $-$$
It took me years to get to Azul even though it’s pretty much in my greater Kapolei neighborhood. I thought it would be prohibitively expensive. Well, L&L it’s not, but the prices aren’t that scary, certainly in line with any of Oahu’s upper-notch restaurants, like Roy’s down the street.
Azul is a beautiful special-occasion restaurant — ask for a table on the patio for some real upscale island ambience. The menu is very classic, done very well: Fresh Herb-Marinated Rack of Lamb, Steak Diane, Main Lobster Ala Milanese, Shrimp Scampi. The best dish might be the opakapaka, served with brown butter, tomatoes, artichokes and basil.
Service is impeccable, as well. When a diner nearby asked about the black lava salt served with the Heirloom Tomato Salad, the server brought him a sample to take home.
JW Marriott Ihilani, Ko Olina Resort; 679-0079; www.ihilani.com. Dinner (closed Sundays-Tuesdays). $$$-$$$$
Despite its name — and even though the pho is really good — you’ll want to delve further into the menu at Pho 808. This comfy little place in Kapolei soars above the usual neighborhood strip-mall eatery. The flavors are vibrant, the portions are generous and the prices are good.
Our family favorite is Cari Ga (chicken curry), ordered with a mini-French bread loaf instead of rice. The curry is tender and perfectly flavored, the bread an ideal accompaniment. Vietnamese-style beef stew and oxtail soup also can be ordered with bread; both are delicious.
Pho 808 additionally has all the Vietnamese plates you’re grown accustomed to, from summer rolls to vermicelli topped with barbecued chicken.
Kapolei Marketplace, 92-590 Farrington Highway; 674-1828. Lunch, dinner. $
SPICY AHI & BBQ
We do love our spicy ahi, chunky with fish, creamy with mayonnaise, burning with chilies. But there is another way to enjoy this sushi standard. At Spicy Ahi in Waimalu, it’s more about the ahi than the spice, so you taste fresh fish, with a little tobiko crunch. Better yet, have it served over a big bowl of vegetables that includes curly shredded daikon, cucumber strips and mixed spring greens. Add a portion of natto, squid or ikura, too, if you want.
Someone in your party averse to raw fish? Let ’em choose from a full array of teishoku options, teriyaki chicken to broiled saba. Or udon. Or nabemono. Everybody’s happy, but especially you, with your big bowl of spicy ahi.
Waimalu Times Square, 98-1254 Kaahumanu St.; 488-4851. Lunch, dinner (closed Sundays-Mondays). $$
Betty Shimabukuro writes the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly “By Request” recipe column. She picked all her restaurants from Oahu’s west side.