In places like tourist-crammed Honolulu, Hawaii, sometimes it can be tough to find an authentic taste of the islands. When we first approached Tiki’s Grill and Bar, located on the second floor of the Aston Hotel right off of Waikiki Beach, we were put off by its blazing torches, carved tiki statues and raucous bar scene. I was expecting the ubiquitous thickly battered coconut shrimp and too-sweet, one note sauces that dominate many of the tourist restaurants in this area. Happily, Tiki’s Grill and Bar proved me wrong. Led by talented Chef Ronnie Nasuti, Tiki’s is truly a farm-to-table restaurant that takes pride in working with local farmers and food purveyors and serving up some of the freshest and most delectable flavors of the islands.
After passing the lively bar, we were led to a softly-lit dining room decorated in dark woods and (of course) plenty of tikis and onto a patio with umbrella-covered tables. With a warm breeze blowing through the palms, we began our meal with delicately pink taro rolls served with vanilla butter that were slightly sweet and crumbly.
The servers, all young and dressed in casual shirts and shorts, were accommodating and efficient. Our server knew the menu well, answered all of our questions and made several recommendations that turned out to be spot on, including selections from the long list of tropical cocktails. They also offer plenty of interesting non-alcoholic drinks and virgin versions of their cocktails.
The restaurant features a large selection of appetizers (called pupus in Hawaii) that range from $12-15. The chef sent us a plate of several to try: light, fresh ahi tartare with truffle oil and tiny rice balls; nicely grilled ahi (rare) with thin sliced mango marinated in rice wine vinegar (sunomono) with sesame seeds; crispy coconut shrimp with garlic aioli that added a satisfying kick; meaty oanko crusted calamari steak with cold shrimp salsa; and, one of our favorites, guava gazed ribs that were fruity and delightfully tender.
Next we split a mozzarella salad—chunks of creamy mozzarella, fresh local greens, several varieties of tomato accented with basil pesto and dressed with a flavorful vinaigrette. The cheese and greens were terrific, but, it was winter in Hawaii, and the tomatoes could have been riper and more flavorful.
While we could have easily made a satisfying meal out of the pupus and salads, we wanted to try the entrees too. I ordered the local grilled ahi, which was cooked rare. It came with attractive grill marks and a satisfying light smokiness. Basted with butter, the ahi was super fresh and delicate yet meaty. It was served with a mound of garlic potato shreds, a few grilled asparagus, and a light buttery yuzu scented scampi sauce with tomatoes that brought just the right brininess to the dish.
My companion ordered an island classic, macadamia nut crusted mahi mahi, which came lightly crusted and seared just right. It was served over orzo pasta tossed with mushrooms, spinach, diced tomatoes, sweet roasted garlic, and a light lemongrass cream sauce. The orzo was the perfect canvas on which to paint this dish and it proved a nice change from the usual potatoes or rice options. The delicate lemongrass sauce lifted the entire dish with a buttery, creamy accent.
The portions at Tiki’s Grill and Bar are generous and, of course, we were way too full. However, our server encouraged us to try the Tiki desserts. We ordered the chocolate mousse, a silky custard that was encircled with a band of dark chocolate and topped with candied macadamia nuts. It was creamy and satisfying, but the real show stopper was the humble looking warm green tea butter cake. This house specialty was a slightly green slice of soft buttery cake with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry coulis. Amazingly rich, this cake made our taste buds scream, “Oh my God this is good.” It was the perfect end to a wonderful meal at this farm-to-table restaurant. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor, Photos By Anne Weaver, RFT Editor