A Worthwhile Oceanside Visit,

Hula Grill Takes on Waikiki

By Kevin McQuarrie

    I once enjoyed a very pleasant lunch at the Hula Grill, in Kaanapali, Maui. It was one of those magic Saturdays where the food and company are great, so you savor both and drink margaritas and don’t get up from the table until almost three o’clock. When the restaurant opened a new outpost, Hula Grill Waikiki, I was curious if it would provide as fine an experience, and on a busy Saturday night, trekked into tourist town to find out.

    The new branch’s chef is Mark Kowalkowski, one of the veterans from the Maui location, and the cuisine is Hawaii Regional, with fresh fish and locally grown produce. As my date and I were seated, we both stared shamelessly at the view: an open-air panorama of sweeping ocean, the sky above tinged with the last vestige of an orange sunset. Palm trees stood in silhouette against the horizon, and in the foreground, two tiki torches leaned towards each other, flickering and conspiring.

    A view like that alone helps make the Hula Grill (which is located right about Duke’s, by the way) worth visiting. T.S. Restaurants, which owns both eateries, does a good job at separating the atmospheres and menus of the two. Duke’s is more casual, laid-back and tiki silly, while Hula Grill is stately and touristy upscale, with plenty of foliage, use of wood and soothing Hawaiian music.

    I ordered a Toad Hollow Chardonnay ($7.50) and studied the menu. A basket of hot foccacia arrived, with a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of chili water. I hadn’t ever thought to mix the two, but they made an addictive little dipping sauce. Our pupus arrived promptly: potstickers with scallops and lobster ($9.50) and a vine ripened tomato and Maui onion salad with goat cheese ($7). The goat cheese and dressing on the salad were great, but the tomatoes were a little hard and pinkish. The filling on the pot stickers was flavorful and a good consistency, the dipping sauce kicky, though the won ton wrappers were a bit doughy. Once our entrees arrived, though, they were so good that we quickly forget the appetizers.

    Our two-fish combination special ($28) featured lemongrass-crusted ono and an opah with sherry/lobster/chipotle sauce. A crispy salad of heart-of-palm, dressed in a Maui onion sauce, accompanied the tasty fish. All of it was fabulous. Our other entrée, an opakapaka with miso glaze special, was served triumphantly atop coconut milk-infused Okinawa sweet potatoes. The side of summer squash and zucchini, just lightly sautéed, was a light, crispy contrast to the sinfully sweet and creamy potatoes. Regardless of which fish we were taking turns spearing with our forks, all were perfectly cooked—truly sizzling stuff.

    For dessert, we tried a homemade ice cream sandwich ($6), which is really more like a chocolate cake with ice cream and a raspberry sauce. It was fine, but suffered from Super Size Me-itis. “We need to find five more people to help us eat this,” moaned my date.

    With its cozy ambiance, fantastic fish and world-class view, Hula Grill is worth a visit, even if it makes you feel a bit like you’re on vacation. Wait, is that a bad thing?


Hula Grill

located inside the Outrigger
Waikiki hotel,

2335 Kalakaua Ave.

The restaurant is open daily.
Breakfast is served from
6:30 to 10:30 a.m.
Dinner is served from 5 to 10 p.m. Happy hour, with just cocktails
and appetizers, is available from
4 to 6 p.m., and the Plantation Bar portion of the restaurant
remains open until 11 p.m.