Pau Hana Patrol: Kani Ka Pila Grille
BY LYNN COOK / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Always my go-to place for Hawaiian music, seven nights a week, Kani Ka Pila Grille at the Outrigger Reef on the Beach presented me with an offer I couldn’t refuse.
KANI KA PILA GRILLE
Outrigger Reef on the Beach
The poolside bar now offers a happy hour for drinks and pupu that has the added attraction, at least through August, of even more Hawaiian music, Wednesdays through Saturdays.
The entrance of the hotel is roofed by a two-story canoe hale. Following the curved stone wall and grove of ti plants toward the sound of the waterfall or music, the first thing you’ll notice is a 15-foot canoe, ‘Ilima. It was hand-carved on Hawaii island in the 1920s of koa, kou and hau woods. Canoe expert Tay Perry restored this valuable vessel while also repairing the all-wood, double-hulled voyaging canoe Hawaiiloa.
A few steps away, at the entrance to the restaurant, there are several seating choices. Tables with broad umbrellas are placed between the pool and musical stage. Tall stools surround an elongated U-shaped bar, set off with stone pillars that hide quick-to-close folding glass doors if a bit of rain blows through. More tables and umbrellas stretch past a waterfall and trees, and a raised platform hale for the musicians. At the back is a quiet, tree-shaded area far from the party crowd.
It doesn’t hurt that the hotel’s easy access from the Fort DeRussy end of Waikiki, via Saratoga Road, Beachwalk or Lewers Street, plus the $6 (with validation) valet parking, eliminates much of Waikiki’s traffic stress.
The happy hour menu is diverse, ranging from always fresh ahi poke to three juicy, well-sized cheeseburger sliders ($8).
My absolute favorite, to accompany a cold beer, is the piled-high bowl of deep-fried onion rings ($8). These are Maui onions, of course, served too hot to touch. The Coconut Shrimp are just what I always hope for and rarely find, crisp without thick breading and light on the coconut. I could eat the mango dipping sauce with a spoon.
Peel ‘n Eat Shrimp ($8) also come in at the top of the list, tasting fresh, not frozen.
Two of the dishes seem unusual for a happy hour menu. Fried Noodles ($8) and Mini Oriental Chicken Salad — while called “mini,” it’s a bowlful, rounded high — could easily make dinner for two. The yakisoba noodles are lightly fried with char siu pork, cabbage, onions, bean sprouts, diced eggs and Spam. The Oriental Salad is extra crisp with both chopped cabbage and iceberg lettuce, cilantro, white-meat chicken, char siu, almonds and won ton chips.
Most happy hour dishes are $8, except the salad and garlic fries, both $6. The portions are ample; share plates are a wise request.
Though I have never been a big fan of the mai tai, this one tastes the way they look in a romantic island movie scene. Served in a pint glass, for $5, the color is what you notice first, deep gold at the top and pale gold at the bottom. Restaurant manager Ryan Kotani says the bartender isn’t giving up secrets, but Trader Vic’s Dark Rum and Shellback Silver Rum are involved. My second sip revealed a bit of orange, lime and pineapple flavors.
Wines, $6 per ample glass, include a hearty cabernet and what my friend called a “frisky” chardonnay.
As for beer, at $4 a pint it’s a good choice. Budweiser, a Sam Adams Seasonal and two from Kona Brewing Co.: Longboard Lager and my personal favorite, Castaway IPA, are offered, well matched to every pupu.
The Grille is a laid-back, island-style, open-air kind of place with good food and great music. Conversations start up with your new best friend at the next table over. Spread the word — taking off work early or hanging out from 3 to 5 p.m. on a day off feels like a miniature vacation.
Four days a week, Wednesdays through Saturdays, the hotel’s cultural wizard, Luana Maitland, has booked the Kaala Boys, Jeff Rasmussen with Robi Kahakalau, Christian Yrizarry, and Malia Gibson with Ben Vargas.
From happy hour, you hardly notice how easy it is to sip and slide into the 6 p.m. slot to hear entertainers Mailani, Nathan Aweau, Cyril Pahinui or Kawika Kahiapo. What you really don’t notice is that there’s no beach or sunset view, and on the other side of the waterfall is the valet desk.
The place really feels like old Waikiki, with an emphasis on music and merriment.