Pau Hana Patrol: Bills Hawaii

May. 7, 2015 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
FTR pau hana bills 1

Bills’ take on Korean chicken with a side of green olives and a daiquiri served in a martini glass. (George F. Lee / Glee@staradvertiser.com)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

I’m sort of in love with Bills Hawaii, Australian restaurateur Bill Granger’s year-old outpost in Waikiki. I’d been there a couple of times since it opened last spring, marveling each time at the soothing, airy design of the interior and the healthy but luxe menu — and thought, “I’d go there often, if only it wasn’t actually in Waikiki.”

Well, Bills is still in Waikiki — and that’s a natural location for the restaurant, which has locations in London, Seoul and Tokyo, and a reputation to attract worldly travelers to its door. But now the restaurant has offered me an additional incentive to cross over to the land of little parking: happy hour. Hallelujah!

THE EXPERIENCE

Much care has been spent on the design of this beachy, light-filled restaurant. Before you even step inside, you’ll be attracted by the whitewashed exterior and cheery, lime-green “bills” sign. There is a small outdoor seating area for the downstairs bar. Inside and out, the restaurant has a casual but impeccable vibe.

BILLS HAWAII

820 Beachwalk Ave., Waikiki

(808) 922-1500

www.billshawaii.com

Happy Hour:
>> Well drinks, cocktails $5
>> Draft and bottled beer, $5
>> Green olives, $3
>> Korean fried chicken, $10
>> Flatbread pizzas, $12-$13
>> Buttermilk pancakes, $10
>> Edamame hummus with flatbread, $6

Online, the happy hour listing says it is offered downstairs, but when I arrived last week, we were directed upstairs, to the bar seating area. That was more than all right with me: Bills’ upstairs, with its outsize windows, peaked ceiling and knotty wood paneling, and aquamarine, cream and lime accents, is a contemporary sanctuary, relaxing even when full of customers.
Parking, $6 for four hours, is across Beachwalk Avenue at the Bank of Hawaii garage.

THE FOOD

The happy hour menu is tightly edited but worthwhile, including something more recently added to Bills’ menu: Korean chicken.

This isn’t the flash-fried piece you may have received elsewhere, but Granger’s take on the craze: Here it’s juicy and only faintly spicy, though served with a chili oil for dipping. The chicken comes with big leaves of butter lettuce that can be used to wrap up bites. It’s a satisfying choice that won’t leave you feeling guilty.

Pizza is a relatively new addition for Bills, but the style here is just what I like: a crisp flatbread crust serving as a palette for pleasing tastes. I had the “bianco” with caramelized fennel, sausage, chili and ricotta. It was rich and delicious, and packed enough flavor (and calories) that I saved a couple of pieces for the next day’s lunch. At happy hour there’s a $3 discount on the pies, which are big enough for two to share.

After enjoying my happy hour experience so much, I had a crush on Bills that could not be denied.

The following weekend, I went for brunch and tried his trademark pancakes.

Success! They were airy, moist and satisfying. I hadn’t thought to order pancakes for happy hour, but now I know Bills’ pancakes are good at any time of day.

A happy hour special, buttermilk pancakes with either fresh fruit and yogurt or “smoked bacon” (a hamlike, sliced cut) and pineapple, are $10.

THE DRINKS

Happy hour prices here are really an incentive: Drinks made with liquor from Bills’ premium well (Absolut/Boodles/Buffalo Trace/Bacardi/El Jimador) are only $5.

Ask about classic cocktails that are offered for just $5, too: I savored my daiquiri, tart with lime, mixed expertly and served in a martini glass.

Beer drinkers don’t fare as well: Maui Brewing Co.’s Bikini Blonde Lager and Sapporo Premium, both on tap, or Bud and Bud Light are the only options. On the bright side, each is only $4. That’s an attractive discount of $3 on the Bikini Blonde, $2 on the Sapporo and $1 on the Bud.

Word to the wise: From the full menu, Bills also serves freshly squeezed juice, a specialty grind of Stumptown coffee and a killer Bloody Mary all day and night long.

THE VERDICT

Bill Granger knows how to set up a restaurant. It is a pleasure for the senses — beautiful, comfortable and delicious.

From the time you are smilingly seated until the time you leave, you will have the pleasure of giving yourself over to this well-thought-out, buoyant experience.

Wealthy beach-dwellers might live like this 24/7, but at Bills’ happy hour, the rest of us working folk can have a taste of the good life at a reasonable cost.

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