Pau Hana Patrol: In with the new at Rijo
BY MICHELLE RAMOS / firstname.lastname@example.org
I missed Palomino Restaurant after it closed in February 2007. The space was great — with a Honolulu Harbor view, on the third floor of the impressive Harbor Court building, with a bold design punctuated by massive pillars and a cozy bar area separated from the dining room. The restaurant had a lively vibe and an active pau hana clientele.
Harbor Court, 66 Queen St., third floor
Though other eateries took over the space, I never got around to visiting.
Now, Rijo Restaurant, serving contemporary Japanese dishes, has moved into the location, opening on Feb. 23. With the announcement of Rijo’s opening, I was tempted to return to a favorite stomping ground. Would pau hana at Harbor Court be an attractive experience again?
I went to Rijo shortly after happy hour got started, at 3:30 p.m. on a weekday, and it wasn’t very lively. I didn’t expect it to be, since most downtown workers don’t finish work until 4:30 or 5 p.m. This lounge could easily hold about 75 people, and the room area would be great for a small party, but we were the first customers, so we had it to ourselves.
Happy hour is only available in the lounge area, which has a nice and sophisticated feel. After walking through the glass doors to Rijo, you’ll find the lounge to the right. There’s a podium for checking in to the restaurant shortly past the door, but you don’t need to stop there.
As you turn, a pathway created by the expansive bar on the left and a wall of glass and high and low marble tables on the right leads to a room with more low tables and booths. Huge windows overlooking the harbor give great natural light.
Miki, our waitress, was fabulous — she had lots of time to spend with us, as we were her only customers at first.
Drinks came within a few of minutes of ordering and food arrived shortly after. Miki answered all questions we had about the menu: What is shio? What is the chateaubriand yakitori like? If she didn’t know the answers, she went to the kitchen to find out. We had a very pleasant and relaxing meal.
As we left at around 5 p.m., the pau hana crowd began to arrive. We passed two men walking to a table, a guy at the bar and two couples at high tables.
The libations are the best deal at this happy hour, with seven mixed drinks and two wines each priced at $5.
Most of the standards are offered: appletini, Cosmopolitan, martini, mojito and margarita; and in the wine department, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. There is also a Gibson and a Rijo version of a lychee martini called the Rice Rocket, which tastes like any other lychee martini I’ve consumed.
My friend had a nonalcoholic bottomless mango ice tea ($3). She enjoyed its light mango taste.
Most of the happy hour/bar menu offerings are around $10. We started off with the Japanese-Memphis rib ($12), topped with spicy pickled mango. The meat was tender and very flavorful, with a hint of sweetness. The tart pickled mango lacked the spiciness in its name, but I enjoyed the ribs on their own.
Mochiko fried calamari ($8) had slices of deep-fried jalapeno and onion, and came with a spicy serrano pepper lime dipping sauce. That sauce was HOT. So hot that we asked Miki if they had a less spicy sauce.
She brought us a creamy yuzu and black bean sauce that tasted divine, adding a refreshing citrus burst after biting into the lightly coated, deep-fried tidbits.
Buttermilk karaage ($9) came with an orange dip made of sweet Buffalo sauce and blue cheese; that paired well with the crispy and moist karaage, but we preferred the yuzu dip!
I also tried the aburaage mac and cheese ($10). Tiny bits of aburaage were used on top of the cheesy elbow-pasta dish; it was tasty, but pretty standard.
This place could become a hot spot with a pau hana downtown crowd.
I would go back again, but I know some of my friends would not be happy that, even with validation, there is a parking charge. For our 3:30 p.m. arrival, parking was $1 per hour with validation for the first two hours, then $1.50 per half hour.
If you enter the garage after 5 p.m. or go to Rijo on the weekend, rates are 50 cents per half hour, with a maximum charge of $3.