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Alan Wong's, Honolulu


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#1 IrishCream

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Posted 27 September 2004 - 06:45 AM

Two minutes after being seated at Alan Wong's my husband asked, "Where's the camera?", and my heart broke. My most important meal in Hawaii and I forgot the camera. Pictures jog my dining memories...without them I can only produce a truncated description of the meal I had two weeks ago.

Of course, I desired the 5 course tasting menu. But almost every course included fish (which the Judge does not eat), so he wanted to order a la carte. Surprise, that was no problem. I had the 5 course with wine pairings and he ordered by the course.

But perhaps that is why the service was so odd? Every course was served by a different person. Our original server only reappeared once about half way through the meal to check in. It was the same for all the tables around us. As a consequence, there was really noone I could talk to about the various dishes and their preparation. That was disappointing and surprising. How can I explain that the service was technically okay but lacking in warmth or personality? Also lacking in knowledge in terms of the wine pairings...they had to check on the year and a couple times the producer.

Service aside, the food was very good. Within moments of being seated we were each served a hot dinner roll accompanied by a Dijon-pepper butter. We were told the rolls were housemade fresh from the oven...they were torpedo shaped, chewy crust with tender inside, French rolls, the best "white" dinner rolls I have ever been served. And they were replaced constantly.

First, an appetizer duo. The "Soup and Sandwich" was a delight...if I could go to Food Heaven, this is a dish I would eat every night. The soup was served room temp in a long stemmed martini glass, yellow tomato beside red tomato, contrasting in both color and taste, absolutely smooth and meant to be sipped. The warm grilled sandwich of kalua pig (shredded pork), foie gras and sharp white cheese on thin-sliced baguette was a perfect counterpoint to the soup. The parmesan frico that accompanied it was just a bonus.

The other half of the appetizer duo was 3 silver-dollar sized pieces of ahi. The ahi was wrapped in nori and dipped in a tempura batter and seared so briefly that the batter was crepelike and the ahi was raw. A ginger relish and mild mustard sauce didn't mask the delicate taste of the ahi.

Above served with Jordan Sparkling Wine, 98.

The second course was a thick slice of Ginger Crusted Onaga. The fish was pan seared and finished in the oven yielding a crusty yet medium rare, perfectly cooked piece of fish. Garnished with a sesame vinaigrette, and a shiitake sauce with corn shoots. I need to find Onaga here. Great fish.

Served with 2001 Gunderlach Reisling, Wong private label.

Third course was a seafood risotto that included shrimp, scallops, and lobster with a lobster curry sauce. This was served in a bowl with the contents contained in a glass ring which was removed at table for the sauce to spill down almost like a risotto soup. The sauce was basically a very rich lobster bisque. I adore lobster but ... for me it was just too heavy and rich at that point in the meal. I ate about half and started to crater. I was full and needed a break to recover but that was not an option given the odd service.

Served with 2002 Raymond Reserve Chardonnay.

Then came the course I was most anticipating, grilled short rib. I could only manage a couple bites but they were heavenly. Meltingly tender but still maintaining texture with a spicy hot sauce (Korean Ko Choo Jang sauce), garnished with a huge ginger sauteed prawn. If it was in front of me now I would eat it all!

Served with a Selby Zin...noone knew the year! I doubt it mattered.

Finally, the dessert duo. The first one was called "Coconut Tapioca" but luckily for me it also had a lovely passion fruit sorbet topping the pool of tapioca. (This confirmed for me that I really dislike tapioca.) The other was layered Macadamia nut cookies (thin lace cookies) with bittersweet chocolate mousse.

No wine with dessert which surprised me.

Despite the weird service, which I hope was a fluke, this was an excellent meal. It is a bargain compared to mainland prices for a comparable meal (at least in the Bay Area). I'll return.
Lobster.

#2 robert40

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Posted 28 September 2004 - 08:39 AM

IrishCream,
Great report. Thank you for sharing with all.
I live in upstate N.Y. and Fall is already getting a grip on the weather, so your report is a welcome escape. :biggrin:
Robert R

#3 skchai

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 03:38 AM

You make it sound really wonderful. To be honest, despite years either living here or visting on a regular basis while I was banished to the mainland, I've never made it to Alan Wong's main restaurant (though I've gone to the Pineapple Room a number of times). Maybe when the kids grow up. . .

What will they think of next in service innovations. In a sense, having each server "specialize" in the presentation of a particular dish might help to minimize mixups in presentation, but it does lend an anonymous air to everything.

The weirdest service routine I ever saw was at Emeril's NOLA in NOLA (not my choice, though the food was pretty good). We had about a party of about ten, and for each course about six waiters would suddenly materialize along with a huge cart carrying the plated dishes. Each waiter would take one or two plates out of the cart and lift it high in the air, until all of them were doing this. Then, on signal, they would simultaneously plop the assigned plate down in front of each of us at exactly the same time. Then, suddenly, they would all disappear again.

Sun-Ki Chai
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Former Hawaii Forum Host


#4 NVNVGirl

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Posted 29 September 2004 - 09:50 AM

I haven't made it to Wong's main restaurant either yet....have done the Pineapple Room and it was fabulous (even tho it's sort of in the Macy's store). We had excellent service and the wine selections were great.


If you're in Honolulu again, do check out John Dominus.....beyond compare!

#5 skchai

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 10:17 PM

Now we've really hit the big time. We have an off-the record source! To wit (via PM):

just some inside info.. but since i have some personal connections, i shouldn't post.. but alan wong's service  a team thing, kind of like catering, where there is a captain, and runners..  it's efficient, but the main server doesn't come around that often..


Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#6 glossyp

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Posted 30 October 2004 - 11:27 AM

A bit of off topic but I didn't want to start a new thread. Wong and Mavro fans will be happy to know that Gayot has included these two Honolulu restaurants in their list of the Best 40 Restaurants in America. Wong gets 17/20 and Mavro 18/20. You can find the complete list at gayot.com. I was pleased about Mavro's recognition as I do consider him to be in a league of his own when it comes to precise execution of very creative yet palatable food.
"Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." TMJ Jr. R.I.P.

#7 mcattaneo23

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Posted 25 January 2006 - 12:24 AM

Anyone been recently, is the quality still there...creativity..etc. I'm not going to eat there, but I am looking into it as a possible cooking job, just wanted a recent feel of the restaurant...Thanks in advance for advice!!

#8 gmi3804

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Posted 26 January 2006 - 08:51 PM

Anyone been recently, is the quality still there...creativity..etc.  I'm not going to eat there, but I am looking into it as a possible cooking job, just wanted a recent feel of the restaurant...Thanks in advance for advice!!

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I'm going tonight! I'll report back tomorrow.

#9 gmi3804

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Posted 27 January 2006 - 08:34 PM

Anyone been recently, is the quality still there...creativity..etc.  I'm not going to eat there, but I am looking into it as a possible cooking job, just wanted a recent feel of the restaurant...Thanks in advance for advice!!

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We had an extraordinary meal there last night. The menu is HUGE (two pages of "regular" items, plus a sheet of about a dozen specials updated daily, and a vegetarian tasting menu - so much to ponder!); the service was spot-on, the room was humming, and everyone seemed to be having a great time. The place operates like a well-run ship. I wouldn't have any qualms about working there. Hope this helped.