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.