A New Menu as the Top of Waikiki Nears Its 40-Year Mark

Left to right: Korean-style poke, scallops on corn and bacon, chorizo nachos

Eight years ago, when I first started working at The Pineapple Room, there was a pear salad I made almost every day: it had poached red wine pears and fresh Asian pears, greens, a raspberry vinaigrette and a cambazola lumpia. It was a great salad, created by the chef de cuisine, Lance Kosaka. I just didn't expect to see it, once again, almost a decade later, at the Top of Waikiki.

Kosaka recently became the Top of Waikiki's executive chef. Before that, he helmed Cafe Julia at the downtown YWCA for a year. I loved his food there—he had brought over some Pineapple Room favorites, such as the mac garlic chicken sandwich and seven-layer taro dip, and introduced some new items such as a granola yogurt panna cotta, smoked salmon bruschetta and pork chop adobo. 

At the Top of Waikiki, it seems Kosaka is playing it safe—too safe, in my mind—by returning to a tried-and-true mostly Pineapple Room menu from years ago. It seems inexplicable to me that such a talented and creative chef would do this— perhaps constraints placed on him by the venue, or perhaps the Waikiki location, clientele and price points dictate a certain menu style more than Cafe Julia did.

Top: duck two ways, yukari and bubu arare-crusted onaga

Whatever it is, I hope the menu starts to take more risks, because Kosaka and his crew can clearly cook. Seafood, like an appetizer of seared scallops on sautéed corn and bacon ($16) and the yukari and bubu arare-crusted onaga on risotto ($36), are expertly prepared, both moist and tender. For the duck two ways ($33), the duck confit may be the best I've had in a long while—the meat soft, the fat melted away, and the skin crispy, but the slices of duck breast with dots of sauce are exactly that: duck with dots of sauce.

The spicy, smoky sausage on the chorizo nachos ($10) plays well against sweet, crunchy, fresh corn and a sharp asiago cheese sauce, although replacing the bagged tortilla chips with fresh-fried ones would make the dish a thousand times better.

The interior of Top of Waikiki has that old-enough-to-be-vogue again vibe, and there's still the glee of being in a rotating restaurant high above the buildings that makes me feel like a kid again. There's potential in this restaurant, nearing it's 40 year mark. Maybe that's the age of risk aversion, but I hope it ain't so.

Top of Waikiki
2270 Kalakaua Ave.,923-3877, topofwaikiki.com

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