Grind Time: L’Aperitif opens at Halekulani
BY JASON GENEGABUS / email@example.com
After nearly three decades of serving meals to some of Waikiki’s most discriminating guests, neoclassic French restaurant La Mer reopened its doors at the Halekulani in June after two months of renovations. Along with a complete redesign of the kitchen, the hotel also decided to upgrade La Mer’s bar area.
The result is L’Aperitif, a throwback to the cocktail culture of Paris during the early 20th century. Following the vision set by Halekulani Chief Operating Officer Peter Shaindlin, the bar now features a list of cocktails developed by one of the world’s best bartenders. In addition, each drink is served with an amuse bouche created by Halekulani Executive Chef Vikram Garg.
“We’re approaching 30 years soon, in 2014, and we’ve had this great first run,” said Shaindlin during an interview last month at the hotel. “When I looked at La Mer, I knew we were going to augment and enhance the restaurant physically. And then, the second way we were going to change things up is with a new chef de cuisine. And then I thought about what else I could do that might enhance the La Mer experience from what it already is.”
It didn’t take long for Shaindlin to determine the restaurant’s bar area needed an upgrade, too. During a trip to France in 2010, he explored various antique shops in Paris and realized vintage items from that country’s storied cocktail culture kept crossing his path.
“I found all these wonderful objects that came from … 1890 to about 1911, the beginning of World War I, that real height of French culture and Parisian high society,” he said. “Well, the neoclassical cuisine at La Mer, its genesis, its DNA comes from that period. That’s the food side. And on the beverage side, there was the glorious era of the aperitif.
“The social culture is what defines that great era. The aperitif was what they savored, the conversation piece of the milieu of that era. And so I thought, why can’t we bring this back to life?”
L’Aperitif at La Mer
2199 Kalia Road
Open 6 to 10 p.m. daily
Shaindlin would return to Paris again in December 2011, this time making the journey to the famed Hotel Ritz in search of world-renowned bartender Colin Field. Business magazine Forbes named him “The World’s Greatest Bartender” in 2001 for his work at Bar Hemingway (named after author Ernest Hemingway), which closed to the public in April. Luckily for Shaindlin, he got there in time to approach the hotel and secure a partnership that would eventually see Field travel to Hawaii and help rework the bar menu at La Mer.
“Previously, the La Mer bar was a very quiet, simple, elegant place,” said Shaindlin. “Loveliest setting in the world, but a real sleeper. People would come up and maybe have a drink while they were waiting for dinner. Now you can come in and have an aperitif and then move on to your table experience for the evolution of your meal at La Mer.
“On the other hand, you can also use it as a rendezvous, to enjoy the start of your evening there … and then go off to another place.”
The goal, he said, was to broaden La Mer’s customer base while remaining as elegant as it has always been. Instead of focusing solely on tourists staying at the hotel, however, Shaindlin hopes to attract more local residents who might not typically think of the Halekulani as a nightlife destination. With each cocktail priced at $20, the bar aims to be competitive with — if not surpass — other upscale options in Waikiki.
“I think L’Aperitif could be a periodic but regular gathering place,” he said. “It’s elegant and sophisticated in a selective location that’s one of the most stunning places in the world. La Mer is for people who are more traveled, but this new concept is also something for a younger, cosmopolitan, more international person — male or female — who wants to come in and let themselves be enveloped in a level of elegance and taste, style and subtle sophistication in a relaxed setting that I do believe has not yet been seen in Honolulu.
“As remarkable as the cocktail scene is here, I think we’re going to a whole new place. And so we’re inviting the general public to come and give L’Aperitif a sampling. It’s a destination unto itself.”
Visit www.honolulupulse.com on Wednesday, July 11, for more about the cocktails at L’Aperitif and bartender Colin Field.
“Grind Time” is always looking for the latest places to get your grub on. Email Jason Genegabus with restaurant, bar or any other food/drink-related item at firstname.lastname@example.org.