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Pau Hana Patrol: The Grove is just so-so
With Kailua town overrun these days by sun-seeking tourists and local folks flocking to behold the new Whole Foods Market, it’s nice to know there’s a reliable watering hole off the main drag to escape the hustle and bustle.
With its pleasant lanai and indoor-outdoor bar, The Grove is close to fulfilling that role — with some tweaking of its “Shady Hour” offerings.
The restaurant was opened in the former Lucy’s Grill & Bar space late last year by chef Fred DeAngelo, owner of OLA at Turtle Bay Resort. The place aspires to be a neighborhood bistro with an eclectic menu reflecting Hawaii’s diverse cultures.
33 Aulike St., Kailua
Shady Hour is from 3 to 5:30 p.m. daily, although the reasonably priced Small Plates menu is served until 10 p.m.
We visited on a Sunday afternoon, claiming a table on the lanai that was dressed with linens and cloth napkins, a nice touch. In addition to table seating, there’s an L-shaped banquette with decorative pillows along the other side of the outdoor space to enhance the casual vibe. The Shady Hour drink menu includes specialty drinks ($8), “mocktails” ($6) and beer ($4-$6). The wine list, heavy on New World vintages, was modest but adequate for most tastes.
We tested the specialty drinks and were disappointed on three counts. The Lanikai Refresher was a mashup of clashing flavors: coconut vodka and coconut water, ginger syrup, fresh lime sour and cucumber. My companion was similarly let down by her Mokulua-Rita (again with the coconut water!). And both drinks were served in short hurricane glasses filled to the brim with ice, diluting the mixture and leaving room for only about three good sips. I hate that.
FOOD CAME quickly from the kitchen, delivered by a friendly and attentive server. We started at the top of the menu, with Deep-fried Cheese Stuffed House-marinated Olives ($4 for six pieces). The green olives, rolled in a coarse, crunchy coating, were so dense there was only a teensy pocket in the middle for a dab of cheese. Olive lovers will appreciate the saltiness of the dish, which might have benefited from a dip.
One of our favorites was the Grove Fries in Truffle Oil with Crisp Prosciutto and Salami ($7). It was worth the extra buck to order the tasty Aioli Trio (sun-dried tomato, creamy mac nut pesto, and furikake and wasabi).
The Pork Belly, served with braised Ho Farms collard greens and kabocha pumpkin puree ($6), disintegrated when I tried to dig in and lacked a distinctive flavor. We decided it needed the crunch and seasoning of Hawaiian salt. In fact, the dish was reminiscent of laulau, leaving us to wonder why the chef just didn’t turn it into a version with sweet potato puree and luau leaf.
The Small Plates menu highlights flatbread, about four pieces to a serving. The choices include caprese ($5), kiawe-grilled chicken ($6), prosciutto/mushroom ($7) and salmon ($8), the last served with roasted New Zealand king salmon, dill, brie, spinach and roasted garlic butter.
One expects flatbread to be on the crispy side, but a slice of the salmon went limp when I attempted to pick it up from the plate, requiring a second hand to prop it up for eating.
THE KITCHEN finished strong with Arancini ($2 each), a tangerine-size ball of Hamakua crimini, alii and shiitake mushrooms and Arborio rice, used in risotto, that was rolled in bread crumbs and fried, served with a savory house-made tomato sauce. Also on target: a perfectly grilled lamb chop ($8) simply seasoned with salt and pepper.
We didn’t have room in our bellies for the Chicharron with Sriracha Sauce ($4) — mmm, chicharron — so we went back a few days later to sample that and give the bar a shot at redemption with a Makapu’u Mai Tai, which once again featured ginger syrup but thankfully no coconut ingredients.
There’s nothing wrong with The Grove that can’t be fixed with a little extra seasoning and more refined combinations.
And there are a few more options to check in at a discount. This summer, The Grove has a variety of special offers from 3 to 10 p.m.: Martini Mondays ($3 martini specials); A Toast to Tuesday ($4 wine and sangria specials); You Call it Wednesdays ($4 call drinks); and Social Media Thursdays (ask how you can get 10 percent off your dining tab).
—Christie Wilson / email@example.com. Pau Hana Patrol sends reporters out in search of rewarding happy-hour haunts. Visits are paid for by the Star-Advertiser.