For any local the trek into Waikiki can be a dreaded one. Where do you park? Why is there always so much traffic? There’s just so many people, cars and congestion! But sometimes it’s worth the uncomfortable traffic mess when it comes to visiting with old friends from one of the spots with the best view on the island.
The Top of Waikiki restaurant is known for its revolving dining establishment atop the Waikiki Business Plaza. Some might ask…do you get motion sickness? Or, that place is still open? The answers are simple – first lets start with yes, it’s open. Despite a revolving door with executive chefs who have come and gone, the food and drink has remained a staple when it comes to festive dining, good for special occasions and date night with close friends or your significant other.
The restaurant does spin around in circles, but the movement is so slow and subtle that you don’t even notice it until you are facing something you haven’t seen before or staring in the opposite direction from where you were when you first arrived. The restaurant rotates around the circular bar located in the middle of the room. The bartenders literally have to jump over the bar to get in to the well and serve you, but once they are in and you are seated it’s a great time.
The drinks are full of flavor and feature tropical highlights. Fruits like pomegranate, lychee and lilikoi are popular. The happy hour menu (5-7pm/9-11pm) consist of fish tacos, calamari, chorizo nachos, chicken, poke and sliders, but you can also order off the ala carte menu too. My favorites are the nachos, fries – tossed in soy butter garlic (oh my gosh, so good) and salads from the dinner menu. I had the lemongrass beef salad which was refreshing and tasty, reminiscent of a Vietnamese salad with vermicelli noodles and fresh, bold flavors.
The reason for my visit was to meet with friends and enjoy the cocktails and food – but it was also to say hello to another old friend – new executive chef Lance Kosaka. I have known Lance since 1999 when I started working at Alan Wong’s Restaurant on King Street where he was the Executive Chef at the King Street location and the Pineapple Room. I eventually become the lead expeditor and we had to work closely together for 5-6 nights out of the week. Lance is truly once of the nicest, most sincere and hardest working people you will ever meet. He seems kinda quiet and almost appears shy and pensive, but he isn’t at all. Just a man of few words and when he does speak it’s usually a compliment or a few positive words to offer encouragement.
Lance had a huge following after he left Alan Wong’s and opened Café Julia at the YWCA, but since his departure from the café he’s been missing in action. But now foodies and fans can rejoice because he is back and his delectable dishes are starting to emerge from the Top of Waikiki kitchen.
For many years the restaurant was known as a classic American grill type of place where you could get a nice piece of fish and a steak. They still do that but now the flavors are Pacific Rim focused with unique spices and local style preparations. Lance likes to take classics like panzanella salad and adds local ingredients to give it pizzazz (pictured). He uses things like lemongrass, ginger and Sriracha to add to the zest of the dish. The poke was topped with slim slices of jalapeno and the ahi cut perfectly (pictured). Lance has also unleashed his famous pork chop and Dayboat scallops to add to the diversity of the surf and turf themed menu. Overall the restaurant seems to be a popular favorite of visitors. Sometimes kamaaina will pop in and try out the menu items. While I was sitting at the bar there was a large group of locals who came in to eat and drink, that was nice and added some lively energy to the room.
I didn’t have a chance to try any of the deserts, but I am definitely looking forward to heading back. If you do stop in ask if there are any kamaaina specials. This month they were offering a surf or turf special with a choice of classic lobster or steak for $29. The happy hour drinks and pupu menu is also affordable with the dishes starting at $8 and drink specials starting at $5.
Now something many are looking forward to is the new Skybar Waikiki that will also be located just one floor below the restaurant. It’s going to be a place that will host cocktails, food/tapas, a club vibe, dancing and a new place for 21+ to hang out and indulge, in the open air with some of the best views of Waikiki. Stay on the lookout for that to come later this summer, the menu is also prepared by the Top of Waikiki chefs, led by Lance Kosaka.
You know that TV show where the celebrities, chefs and foodies talk about the best thing ever ate? This next item is one of those things I would love to feature if I were on the show.
Lee Anne Wong was catapulted to culinary stardom after appearing on the first season of the hit show Top Chef on Bravo. After finishing in the final four, she popped up here and there but it wasn't until May 2013 that I had the honor or meeting and working with Lee Anne and her lovely mother when they came to Hawaii to do a special Mother’s Day brunch.
I was a bit star struck as first, I have to admit I was a huge fan of the show from the beginning. I even made a cameo when the crew came to Hawaii in 2007 to film the finale on Hawaii Island when I still worked at Alan Wong’s Restaurant I got to be a guest.
When Lee Anne came to visit KHON she was one of the best prepped chefs I have ever seen behind the camera and on live TV. She treated us to something she called the Japanese rusk which had fresh fruits, Greek yogurt and lime zest. Imagine cinnamon toast, without the cinnamon, but topped with fresh sweet, zesty local fruits and had a crisp sugary crust with dense toast. The flavors were like an explosion in my mouth. I quickly booked two tickets to partake of the special Mother’s Day pop-up event she was having that Sunday. My friend was a mother so that was my excuse for trying Lee Anne’s food again.
Fast forward a little less than a year, and Lee Anne now calls Hawaii home and has now opened her very own restaurant in Kaimuki called Kokohead Café, where 12th Avenue Grill used to be. The décor is southwest meets Bali and the place ONLY serves brunch. Yep, that’s right, everyday – brunch and only brunch for all you brunch and breakfast lovers, 7am-2pm.
Lee Anne knew I loved the Japanese rusk so much she opted to put it on the menu. I was so honored and so tickled to know that my opinion actually mattered to her. This being the best thing I ever ate I am glad that I can now get it every day if I wanted.
The dish is an appetizer and comes with two little servings. They are finger food that you can simply pick up and bite into. The crisp sweet toast with the creamy yogurt, which is mixed with vanilla and macadamia nuts, is a little piece of heaven. But add to that the fresh citrus and sweetness from the local fruits like pineapple, mango and strawberry –to me this is the perfect dish. I have a sweet tooth and love to eat fruits, breakfast items and desserts anytime. This “breakfast bruschetta” as she now calls it, is the perfect combo any day, any time and any place. That’s why this is the best thing I ever ate.
FOOD RevHEU – BY OLENA HEU
Remember what it was like to sit there patiently
for your breakfast when you were a kid? You could hear the sizzle of the butter in the pan and smell the pancakes cooking on the griddle. Well, bills Waikiki reminds me of what it was like to be a young kid again and to look forward to
the warm, creamy, sweet yet salty taste of hot cakes on your tongue.
I ventured into Waikiki with a friend, and our goal was to eat at the new restaurant that opened last week Saturday. Last weekend a line of over a hundred people zigzagged down the sidewalk in anticipation of the world famous breakfast-cooking chef from Australia. bills Waikiki is the first restaurant venture for the self-taught chef in America and I must thank him for coming to the islands.
bills, yes it’s supposed to be in lower case, is located next to Hard Rock Café and is two-stories tall. The downstairs is more of a grab-an-go café with coffee, pastries and other snacks. The upstairs is rustic with island touches, open air
and has a smooth island feel.
The number one recommendation everyone said to get was the ricotta hot cakes, and I am glad I did. The cakes are a very
generous portion, four stacked on top of each other served with honeycomb butter and fresh peeled banana. At first bite the cake is reminiscent of a superb French toast. The reason I say this is because a good French toast should be
creamy and custard-like in the middle with a warm center. These hotcakes are unlike any other I have tasted. I literally felt like there was a sensual, yet exciting party in my mouth. The cakes are served with real maple syrup and three
slabs of the special honeycomb butter.
Service is attentive, yet not over bearing and for just recently opening the staff is adequately trained and
knows the food well. The check comes out on a bills postcard and is attached with a paperclip which is a simple yet earth friendly touch to the unique, trendy, yet tropical urban vibe and décor. They offer partial validation at the
Bank of Hawaii Waikiki branch, but you may want to park somewhere that has better validation – like a full validation.
Long story short, just from my point of Heu – I can’t wait to go back and order the hot cakes with a side of
crispy bacon and a tall glass of orange juice.