Pau Hana Patrol: In with the new at Rijo

Mar. 12, 2015 | 1 Comment In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition

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BY MICHELLE RAMOS / mramos@staradvertiser.com

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.

RIJO RESTAURANT

Harbor Court, 66 Queen St., third floor

(808) 208-8180
www.rijorestaurant.com

Happy Hour
3-6 p.m. daily
>> Coctails and wines: $5
>> Pitchers: $9-$14
>> Sake: $12-$15
>> Appetizers: $8-$24

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?

THE EXPERIENCE

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 DRINKS

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.

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THE FOOD

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.

THE VERDICT

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.

  • freshstart222

    This restaurant is not even close to the good food of Palomino. Palomino was closed by resident complaints of noise. Its closing was a big loss for Honolulu. The residents just couldn’t put up with a little noise occasionally. Boy, they were unreasonable.