Reading a table setting at a fine-dining restaurant can be as difficult as trying to read an eye chart, without your corrective glasses. But you don't have to squint if you remember three basic rules: Start with the outer most fork and work in; your bread and salad plates are always to the left and your glassware to the right; and, please, no elbows on the table, except in between courses.
Now that it's time to dine—as opposed to grind—here are the perennial fine-dining favorites. (Sorry no rubbah slippahs or shorts allowed at these establishments.
53 By The Sea
First-time visitors will undoubtedly be in awe of the dramatic, chateau-like building with its grand stairs that replicate the Tara estate staircase in “Gone With the Wind.” The lower dining room has a neutral, minimalist décor with floor-to-ceiling windows taking full advantage of the ocean views. The lounge area at the far west side of the room is welcoming and at the centerpiece is an imported, Italian-made Fazioli baby grand piano. Upstairs, five private dining areas are named after each of the main Hawaiian Islands. Obviously no expense—$16 million to be exact—was spared in turning this building into what has become Oahu’s latest destination restaurant … and wedding chapel, too. The contemporary American cuisine features fresh local seafood and a 32-ounce Tomahawk ribeye.
53 By The Sea, 53 Ahui St., 808.536.5353
Bali Steak & Seafood
The space is bright, fresh and open-air, making it the perfect setting for a memorable romantic meal. Chef-driven menu of island harvest cuisine focuses on partnerships with local farmers, fishermen and ranchers. Cut into Prime grilled steaks, succulent lamb and chicken—all seasoned with a special in-house blend of Kona sea salt, local herbs and spices with a choice of sauces and butters. Seafood alternatives include pan-seared island snapper, a whole 2-pound Maine lobster and a seafood medley of island fish, scallops, lobster and prawns in a local-style curry sauce.
Bali Steak & Seafood, Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, 2005 Kalia Road, 808.949.4321
Chef Chai at Pacifica
Supple leather chairs and banquettes add a contemporary feel to the room, as do the whimsical lighting features, including chandeliers composed of upside down wine glasses. Chef Chai Chaowasaree's cuisine continues to impress guests. Start dinner with what scientists deem as aphrodisiacs: oysters on the half shell served with a lemongrass-and-garlic mignonette. Known for his modern riffs on Pacific Rim cuisine, Chaowasaree infuses a bit of Bangkok into his dishes. His vegetable terrine, for example, comes with a creamy green curry sauce, while his oxtail soup is flavored with lemongrass. However, his Thai culinary background is most prominent in the crispy whole fish, especially in the accompanying sauce composed of chili, ginger, scallions and jalapeno, a quartet of essential ingredients in Thai cuisine.
Chef Chai at Pacifica, 1009 Kapiolani Blvd., 808.585.0011
Locally and nationally recognized as one of Hawaii's top chefs, chef George Mavrothalassitis uses his French and Mediterranean background to wow diners. The restaurant is frequented by guests celebrating special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries or any milestone event. Tourists will often choose Chef Mavro for their grand finale dinner in Honolulu. The pricey tasting menus—four-, five- or nine-course menus ($105-$185)—feature such seasonal and locally sourced ingredients as bigeye tuna, heart of palm, Peterson Farm eggs and Keahole lobster.
Chef Mavro, 1969 King St., 808.944.4714
New facelift. New menu. But it's still chef Wayne Hirabayashi at the helm with talented chef de cuisine Eric Oto at his side. Describing himself as a fisherman/farmer, the 36-year-old chef de cuisine's menu reflects his passion for the ocean and the land. “I remember my step-dad telling me that if I wanted to eat fish then I would have to learn to cook it. So I did.” Not surprising his menu pays tribute to those who fish, ranch and farm. The themes include: Lawai‘a (“The Fisherman”), which focuses on seafood; Holo Kahiki (“The Voyager”), dishes—such as charred spiced octopus—are inspired by distant places; Mahi‘ai (“The Farmer”), focuses on farm-to-fork recipes; and Kilo Hoku (“The Steersman”), which includes Oto’s signature crispy moi that’s topped with a lemongrass-and-soy vinaigrette.
Hoku's, The Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave., 808.739.8888
Hy's Steak House
Since opening in November 1975, Hy’s has won the forks and knives of patrons who come here for the ambiance as much as they do for the steaks. Characterized by dark wood paneling, musty library books and authentic Tiffany stained glass, Hy’s feels like an exclusive, private gentleman’s club—less the plumes of cigar smoke. The centerpiece of the room is a large copper kiawe-wood-burning grill that’s enclosed by floor-to-ceiling tempered glass. In addition to the filet and Porterhouse, Hy’s also offers tender USDA Prime New York strips, Chateaubriand (for a minimum of two people) and prized Delmonicos, which are difficult to find on other steak house menus. For that Old World charm, be sure to order Sinatra's Strawberry Flambe and start spreading the news.
Hy's Steak House, 2440 Kuhio Ave., 808.922.5555
Known for its impeccable service and haute cuisine, La Mer is synonymous with fine dining at its very best. Dinner starts with a flute of Champagne and some form of amuse bouche, two complimentary amenities that set the tone for a memorable and romantic repast. The Menu Dégustation offers an indulgent array of flavors, from seared duck foie gras and poached lobster with with squid ink gnocchi to roasted lamb and duck breast. The $205 price tag is a splurge but well worth it. Other options include a three-course meal ($125) and four-course dinner ($155). And be sure not to skip the cheese cart. The end of dinner will have you singing Charles Trenet’s classic French song “La Mer,” the last verse of which concludes "La Mer, soothes my heart for life." La Mer, Halekulani, 2199 Kalia Road, 808.923.2311
Signature Prime Steak & Seafood
Oahu’s newest steakhouse is perched 36 floors above Waikiki at the Ala Moana Hotel. Expectations are high—no pun intended—when incorporating “signature” and “prime” in a restaurant’s name. Fortunately, The Signature Prime Steak & Seafood delivers in many ways. Well-marbled, bone-in ribeye steaks are prepared to an ideal medium-rare temperature, oozing with clear juices with a single pierce of a fork’s tine. The seafood options list Maine lobster, Hawaiian snapper, miso butterfish, Alaskan king crab legs, salmon and New England sea scallops. One of the menu’s standouts is The Signature Seafood Tower (priced for two) with Maine lobster, jumbo shrimp cocktail, New England sea scallops and oysters on the half shell.
Signature Prime Steak & Seafood, Ala Moana Hotel, 410 Atkinson Drive, 808.949.3636, signatureprimesteak.com
Star of Honolulu
Fine-dining aboard a ship? Skeptics will be convinced after experiencing the "Five Star Sunset Dining & Jazz." Even before sailing, guests are invited to an exclusive Captain's Reception then greeted bon voayage with a hula performance. The seven-course Signature dinner is served at your private table on the top deck Super Nova room. Menu highlights include air-flown live Maine lobster and USDA Prime beef tenderloin. A Welcome Hawaiian Bellini and three super premium cocktails are included.The show features a jazz trio of some of Oahu's top musicians performing nostalgic blues to current hits. Star of Honolulu, Pier 8, 808.983.7827