At first glance, The Grove is a paradox. It's family owned and operated, but helmed by the same world-class chef—Fred DeAngelo—who has run award-winning establishments such as the beachfront Ola restaurant at Turtle Bay Resort, and hosted a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. Chef DeAngelo draws products from local farmers whenever possible, but also uses internationally gleaned ingredients such as cedar-plank New Zealand king salmon and Maine lobster. And although the twinkling party lights and live music on the laid-back patio give the restaurant a low-key, family-friendly vibe, the regular training, menu quizzing, and table hurdling of the attentive wait staff are reminiscent of a fine-dining experience.
The answer to the puzzle may be found in the diverse background of Chef DeAngelo's 'ohana, which is Hawaiian for family. As reported by the Honolulu Weekly, DeAngelo and his sister are Italian, Hawaiian, Korean, German, and Polish; his wife is Hawaiian, Chinese, Spanish, and Filipino; and his brother-in-law is Greek. So guests can order ahi poke, Greek-marinated roast chicken, or risotto all from the same menu, whose eclectic nature may also stem from Chef DeAngelo's world travels as a representative for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
According to another Honolulu Weekly article, the blend of cultures is a success. "The food and well-trained service is white tablecloth … But the mood is palaka-covered picnic table. A rare and sweet balance." Whatever the reason behind the culinary choices, they seem to be working: the hot spot was named a Best New Restaurant silver medalist in Honolulu magazine's 2013 Hale Aina Awards.
First-time guests to Baci Bistro might think that co-owner Bill Duval is psychic. On any given night, he greets visitors at the door, addressing most by name. His friendliness is hardly supernatural, though—it's a shared habit between himself and his wait staff: remembering the names of returning guests. Some of the servers have even been stocking their mental rolodexes since the bistro first opened in 1997, when designers first planted the red, puckering-lips logo around the foliage-flanked interior.
Along with the warmth of its employees, Baci Bistro's signature element is freshness. Executive chef and co-owner Reza Azeri stands by the appetizing simplicity of made-to-order meals, prepping sauces that harmonize with pastas instead of masking their flavor. Ravioli remains the house specialty, whether it's stuffed with lobster or the surprise ingredient of the day, and meat entrees decorate veal, pork, chicken, and fish with vegetables and wine sauces. The menu also allows children to mix and match their choices of sauces and noodles rather than forcing them to eat like adults, who enjoy wine sauces and wipe their mouths with business cards.
Behind Tokoname's dark-wood storefront and rustic carved sign, chefs craft of authentic Japanese fare by the light of hanging lanterns. Sushi standards such as ahi tuna nigiri and shrimp tempura share table space with more exotic seasonal items, including abalone and monkfish liver. Patrons can also opt to wash down meals with a round of sake cocktails or a beer tower for the table. During lunches at the Manoa location, chefs also drizzle chicken in homemade teriyaki sauce.
A Cup of Tea Victorian Team Room Restaurant and Boutique immerses guests in a Victorian tearoom experience. Doily-clad tables and patterned wallpaper complement lamps fashioned like teapots. Teacups and saucers adorned with colorful flowers hold earl grey, darjeeling, and chai varieties, along with special mixes from around the world. Guests can enjoy their tea with freshly baked scones, soups, sandwiches, and sweet treats.
Once a month at Formaggio Grill, guests indulge in four-course meals paired with fine wines. It sounds like a typical dinner party, save one difference: no one can see a thing. The monthly event is called Dining in the Dark, and Formaggio Grill hopes that it will encourage guests to slow down, savor their dinners, and even reconsider their approaches to fine dining.
Even without the blindfolds, Formaggio Grill touts that mission with careful preparation of Mediterranean-style cuisine in a warm, welcoming space. Chefs smoke prime rib over kiawe wood and toss pastas with housemade sausage. Servers are happy to help pair entrees with selections from a list of more than 50 wines from around the world.
The restaurant envelops diners in warm reds and golds, and low light casts plush red stools and a wooden bar in a warm glow. The artwork of Ron Genta adds splashes of color to the walls, and local musicians take to the stage on the weekends to entertain patrons with smooth guitar sounds or the dulcet tones of a whale’s song.
Hawaiian performer Chief Sielu is on a lifelong quest to educate and entertain the world about Polynesian traditions, a passion that has taken him to appearances on the BBC, MTV, and the Late Show with David Letterman. Dubbed the "coconut man," the chief immerses all comers in island culture at spectacular luaus. On stage, he and his tribe balance revelry and education with high-energy ritual and knife-dancing performances, participatory dances and art making, and a large supper of Hawaiian staples such as poi and braised surfboard fillets. If you can catch his ear, Sielu might have a lot of stories to share: in the course of his ambassadorial travels, he's lit the Olympic torch in Salt Lake City by throwing a flaming spear and been the subject of the documentary film Chief, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival.