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Star Treatment

Lunch at Hoku’s is All Business

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS: Hoku's Pan-seared Salmon and Butternut Squash Risotto. Photo: Kent S. Hwang

It's amazing the things that you notice when you're paying attention.

Several months ago, I asked my friend, a former CEO, where Honolulu's movers and shakers do their power lunching. After pausing for a few seconds, he came up with a brief list, which mainly consisted of the city's private clubs and country clubs. One of the few public restaurants he mentioned was the Kahala Mandarin Oriental's Hoku's.

Hoku's? Really?

I have been to the upscale yet comfortable eatery for lunch a handful of times and it hardly struck me as a den of deal making. Located on the edge of Kahala, it's a healthy drive from downtown. On the other hand, I usually wasn't paying much attention when I did have the good fortune to dine there. I'm often focused on my Ahi Poke Musubi ($11) or Sweet Kahuku Corn and Lobster Chowder ($9.75) or …. well, you get the point.

A couple of weeks later, my friend invited Hawaii Business editor Kelli Abe Trifonovitch and me to Hoku's for lunch. I have to admit that I was still a little bit skeptical, but, shortly after being seated, I was thoroughly convinced of the restaurant's business allure. Lunching that day were several high-ranking university administrators, a well-known commercial real estate broker, a Hawaii Appellate Court judge and several high-powered lawyers and bankers. Those are just the people who I recognized. Nearly every table that day had a downtown Honolulu somebody, either horse trading or horsing around.

However, my attention turned elsewhere when our waiter brought me the first course of my Business Lunch ($29.75), Crispy Kahaluu Pork with Chili Mango Salsa, Marinated Big Island Beets and Fresh Hearts of Palm. All sat on a bed of mixed greens. This was the best salad I've ever had. The meat resembled slices of kau yuk, the sinful Chinese roast pork, but it was more subtly flavored, wasn't as fatty and had a very pleasing crunch to it. I imagine it would make a great pupu to go along with a cold beer. The small, creamy white beets were parboiled and had a nice, sweet snap to them. The tangy mango salsa was a perfect complement to the salty pork. Delicious. I've had a few daydreams about this salad.

Next up was Pan-Seared Salmon, Butternut Squash Risotto and Wild Mushroom Veloutè. The fish was flaky, moist and lightly seasoned, so it didn't compete with the hero of the dish, the risotto. Being a local boy, who only puts a little gravy or tea on his rice, I'm not a huge fan of risotto. Oftentimes, it's just too goopy or creamy. Not so with Hoku's risotto. The dish was a perfect balance of liquid and solid, savory and sweet.

I finished my lunch with a Melting Chocolate Cake with Kona Coffee Ice Cream. The dessert was yummy, but I preferred the Coconut Cake that my friend ordered. It's not on Hoku's menu. The cake, which is served downstairs at the Plumeria Café, is so light and airy that I think a gentle breeze would blow right through it. Terrific.

I'm thoroughly convinced that Hoku's is a great place to negotiate a deal. However, for the life of me, I don't know how anyone can concentrate on business with all the great food.

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