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.
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!
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.
Update (9-10-14): We discovered that Taormina’s no longer observes happy hour.
| Taormina Sicilian Cuisine
227 Lewers St.
Honolulu HI 96815