Most locals don’t venture into touristy Waikiki unless it’s to dine at some place special, with the many upscale restaurants inside hotels.
You can add the Park Restaurant to that list. But the two-month-old restaurant is interesting and ambitious enough that locals might consider going more often than just celebration dinners.
Inside the boutique Aqua Lotus Hotel on the edge of Waikiki across from Kapiolani Park and the Honolulu Zoo, the restaurant carries the modern chic vibe of the hotel with young handsome servers dressed in black and colorful contemporary artwork on the wall.
During my vacation in Hawaii, I got together with some high school friends and dined at the Park. The bar was busier than the dining area where we sat, but our friendly server made us feel at home. The food by Chef/Owner Michael Collantes are sophisticated and beautifully plated, which makes sense when you see that Collantes has worked at restaurants owned by master chefs like Joel Robuchon and Eric Ripert.
With a nod to Mediterranean style of cooking (translation: simple fresh flavors), the menu sounds more like something you’d find on the mainland than Hawaii, like romaine salads, little gems, and roasted beets and Brussel sprouts. But there were some Hawaiian touches, like the grilled mahi mahi entrée or the dish I ordered: Hawaiian taro gnocchi ($19).
While my gnocchi dish was robust with the king trumpets and wilted spinach, the taro wasn’t an obvious flavor, although it probably added to the color of the gnocchi. Hawaii came into play with dessert, a pineapple dish with mini malasadas. We tried the three preparations of the pineapple, but my friend Margaret thought the malasadas were more like doughnuts than the airy Portuguese malasada that’s a favorite in Hawaii.
Another way the Park restaurant resembles the mainland is the entrée prices. The dishes were minimal, but the prices hefty, such as a quaint scallop dish that went for $34 or the short ribs (three cubes of tender short ribs) for $24. I’m kind of use to these non-value dining living in the Bay Area but my friends felt a bit ripped off.
Thankfully, we had filled up on a couple of flatbreads, which seems to be a popular item from the bar menu (during happy hour the flatbreads are only $5 each). Crispy like thin-crust pizzas, the flatbreads were creative with fresh ingredients.
The Last Bite
The Park has an ambitious menu, pushing the creativity and modern edge, but some dishes still need a bit more refinement to focus the flavors. More local ingredients might add to the freshness of the preparations, but it’s heading in the right direction to draw locals back to Waikiki.
Park Restaurant, 2885 Kalakaua Ave. (inside the Aqua Lotus Hotel), Honolulu. PH: 808.791.5161. Dinner nightly from 5 p.m. (closed Sunday). Reservations, major credit cards accepted. parkrestaurantwaikiki.com
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