Happy Hour at Taormina and Afterward (Honolulu, HI) **No Longer Observed**


An Italian restaurant doesn’t immediately come to mind when trying to decide where to have a happy hour drink in Honolulu. Along the short stretch of Lewers Street south of Kalakaua, several cafes, restaurants and bars compete for your happy dollar. We intended to get a drink at Yard House known for its plethora of cocktails, drinks and entertainment. But, today was Saturday when the happy hour menu is put away for the weekend. Minor disappointment. A sandwich board close by plugged Taormina, a Sicilian restaurant across the street. More than that, happy hour was happily being observed.

Taormina doesn’t have the flamboyance of Yard House or P. F. Chang where diners and imbibers are in full view from their huge open-air spaces. There is an immediate atmosphere of formality when you walk in: tablecloths, cloth napkins, dressy waiters. You wonder if you’re properly attired to dine here, but I figured that the restaurant wouldn’t be so naive not to expect shorts and sandals in Waikiki. Sure enough, the wait staff didn’t batt an eyelash when we asked to be seated.

Peach prosecco bellini and Limoncello thyme cocktails at Taormina

Peach prosecco bellini and Limoncello thyme cocktails at Taormina

Of the two cocktails we ordered, the other a peach prosecco bellini, the limoncello thyme was a standout, so much so that we ordered another round before leaving for dinner. A big sprig of thyme floated like kelp in a tall glass filled with limoncello, citron, squeeze of lemon, simple syrup, and a splash of Chartreuse to add to the herbal and citrus flavors. At $5, it’s a great bargain for something this good. Outside of happy hour, it is more than twice that much ($14). The bellini was disappointingly weak on peach flavor.

From Taormina, we walked a few blocks to Eggs ‘n Things to split an ahi steak that had a nice furikake-macadamia nut crust. Cut at 1/2″ thick, the cooked tuna was predictably dry, but it was really tasty, served with wasabi mayonnaise served on the side. To top off everything, we got seated almost immediately, which is an impossibility for breakfast!

Ahi steak with furikake-macadamia crust and wasabi mayonnaise

Ahi steak with furikake-macadamia crust and wasabi mayonnaise at Eggs ‘n Things

Note: We returned to Taormina for a full dinner on our last night on Oahu. I mention this because, not only did we have the limoncello cocktail again, but had their outstanding bolognese alla classica, a recommendation made by a couple sitting next to us at happy hour (see above). It was surprising to see this Northern Italian entrée on a Sicilian menu; Taormina distinguishes it from its bolognese alla Siciliana. Regardless, we’ve never had better freshly made pasta (pappardelle, in this case) nor a finer ragù (made with beef, pork, chicken and foie gras), a dish made in Hawaiian paradise.

Bolognese alla classica

Update (9-10-14): We discovered that Taormina’s no longer observes happy hour.

 Taormina Sicilian Cuisine
227 Lewers St.
Honolulu HI 96815
808.926.5050
 
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Barbecued Abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market (Honolulu, HI)


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Last time, we missed out on the grilled abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market. How is it that a mollusk long banned from fishing can make an appearance here in Hawaii? It turns out they are farmed off the coast by Big Island Abalone, which cultivates a Japanese species primarily for export. I was (am) a big fan of abalone, having had it as a kid at family meals (sliced and dipped in soy sauce) and later as an adult in the form of abalone steaks that used to be sold in Southern California restaurants, but its disappearance from the market left me longing for it. So, by the time I discovered that they were selling it at the Saturday Market back in 2010, they were already sold out. This year, I was bent on not missing out. My wife and I headed to the booth as soon as we got to the market. There were only a half dozen people in front of us, so it didn’t take long. We ordered one apiece, setting us back $6 each and sized almost 3 inches long, not very big by California abalone standards back in the day. Several sauces were offered for flavoring, including shoyu-ponzu, lemon juice, and butter spray.

bbq_abalone

Grilled abalone

While the abalone was not without merit, we were both disappointed with the flavor, or lack thereof. It was too mild, not having the signature assertive abalone taste that I remembered from years ago. It’s like the difference between eating a steamer clam and a Northwest razor clam, both are good but the razor is unique and extraordinary. Today’s was a case of an expectation unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, the rest of the market experience was as great as ever—so much food and so little time.